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Nick's Picks: Vince Staples and Tyler, the Creator at the Armory

On Wednesday, February 21, Rochester’s Main Street Armory will host two artists in their prime. Vince Staples and Tyler, the Creator, both coming off critically acclaimed albums in 2017, are making the best music of their respective careers.

Tyler, who first gained mainstream notoriety in 2011 with Odd Future, a talented cohort of misfit artists, demanded attention with his deep snarl of a voice, unique style, shocking lyrics, and graphic music videos. Tyler’s debut album, Goblin, ushered in a new era of alternative rap with a collection of nihilistic, sometimes immature, and, when it was at its best, intimate songs. Goblin featured abstract, DIY beats that were like nothing else being made at the time. Wolf, Tyler’s second album released in 2013, largely followed this same formula.

A jack-of-all-trades, as Tyler’s fame soared, so did the amount of projects he worked on. Some of his titles apart from rapper include fashion designer, music festival host, app creator, actor, and producer. As Tyler asserted himself as a force in all areas of culture, his music seemed to come as an afterthought. While some of his former Odd Future contemporaries like Syd and Frank Ocean flourished, Tyler’s music fell by the wayside—he didn’t release an album for two years. He returned to the studio in 2015 for his third project, Cherry Bomb. A largely experimental album, Cherry Bomb was messy, monotonous, and lyrically hollow, leaving fans wondering if Tyler’s best days as a rapper were behind him.

Flower Boy, released in 2017, proved that while Tyler is immersed in other creative fields, he is still capable of making music as smart and as touching as anyone.  Deft production, creative, beautiful melodies, and the intimacy that has always been the best part of Tyler’s music are what make Flower Boy special. Tyler reveals a damaged psyche rife with isolation and confusion through contemplative, thoughtful lyrics. While this album evokes a much softer sound than previous projects, it is not without at least one head-banging, potentially riot-inducing song, as is evidenced on the fiery single “Who Dat Boy,” featuring A$AP Rocky.

Vince Staples, a fellow Southern California native and former collaborator with Odd Future, is in many ways the antithesis of Tyler. Staples, a cultural phenomenon in his own right due to his witty public commentary on everything from the NBA to politics, is calm, subdued, and controlled.

On his first studio album, Summertime ’06, released in 2015, the MC raps about class, social issues, depression, and anxiety—in short, reality. It proved to be a successful freshman campaign for Staples, his album was praised for sharp, cutting lyrics, impeccable flow, and solid, no-frills production.

Staples’s follow up project, Big Fish Theory, is thematically consistent with Summertime ’06 but acoustically it couldn’t be more different. Staples enlists electronic music producers SOPHIE, Flume, and GTA, among others, for twelve tracks of inventive, avant-garde, fast-paced club rap. Even with complex, entrancing beats swirling around him, Staples spits perfectly and retains control throughout. From start to finish, Big Fish Theory’s thirty-six minute runtime goes by in a flash with gripping sound that doesn’t let go until the last song ends.

Tyler and Staples’s Rochester stop is one of twenty-three on their North American tour. Doors open for Wednesday’s show at 7 p.m.

Follow Nicks Picks on Twitter at @NickAbreu585.

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