Vince Staples: Virtuous confusion

Vince Staples at the White Stage | Mark Thompson photos

It’s perhaps understandable that Vince Staples, one of the moment’s most vital rap stars, wasn’t sure if he’d ever been to Japan before. “I think it’s my first time here,” he said early into his hour-long set at the White Stage Sunday evening.

Then again, it could have been some other cognitive dysfunction. He also asked what time it was, and seemed bewildered, more than once, at the size of the audience. Not that he probably had never performed before such a large crowd, but rather that he couldn’t wrap his around the concept of this happening in Japan.

Consequently, the concert, though often intense and certainly fast-paced, had a certain uncertain quality to it. Staples kept asking for the crowd’s approval, which they offered unconditionally, but he never seemed to buy it. “You wanna party?” he said, making good on at least one of his briefs, which is a nostalgia for the kind of hip-hop founded on weekend get-togethers. But Staples is also uneasy with his lot as a party animal, as exemplified by his visual motif.

He was the only person on stage — no band or even a DJ — and the background was a grid of TV screens of familiar American TV shows, all of which somehow featured Staples, as it he’d seen himself in them while growing up.

“I love it out here,” he confessed during the confessional “Late Night,” and if was tempting to think he was talking about Fuji’s natural setting, maybe it was just the fact that he was out of his element, preaching to a crowd that wanted to be entertained but had yet to make sense of where he was coming from. Most rappers wouldn’t have bothered, but Staples genuinely seemed to care, and while the crowd dodged and weaved to the potent beats and Staples’ exceptional conversational flow, they couldn’t quite satisfy his desire to connect on a level that maybe he himself didn’t understand. “I hope everybody’s happy today,” he said, apropos of nothing but indicative of everything.