Is celebrity real? Does it have any depth or is it hollow? Is it possible to tame the fame monster and come out the same on the other side? These are the ideas Vince Staples toys with on “Prima Donna,” a deliberation on ego, adaptation, and continuance. It explores stardom’s role in the self-implosion of a celebrity rapper. At this stage, Staples is atop the rap world but on the verge of a meltdown. There’s the slightest bit of tension in his voice as he wonders if this is all even worth it, but then he considers the alternative: “I’ve been broke. I ain’t going back.”
Staples has become known for his candor and wit, and “Prima Donna” is a vivid showcase for both. His careful phrasings and tightly-wound wordplay articulate the high and the lows of “being somebody” as they dodge through a fiendish hellscape. DJ Dahi, one of the architects behind Staples’ dark opus,Summertime ’06, brings along that same off-kilter production, layering booming 808s with clicking hi-hats, distortion, and infernal screeches.
Toward the end of “Prima Donna,” the drums vanish and all that’s left is Vince’s cold voice, coated in reverb. He unfurls the ideas at the chaotic intersection of gangster rap stardom. It’s a meditation on his life’s contradictions: A gunman fed up with gun violence; a gangster rapper fed up with singing and gang-banging; a star being fed up with his rising profile and with change. “I just wanna live forever,” he repeats, his words straining under the weight of each sentence, carrying even more meaning after hearing the opener “Let It Shine,” where the rapper commits suicide. At its core, isn’t fame-seeking just another attempt at cheating death?