Vince Staples is matter-of-fact: about his music, about his upbringing in Long Beach and about his sobriety. If anything, the FM! rapper has become more direct and slightly prickly explaining his choice to avoid alcohol and drugs over his career — an understandable decision, considering how quickly outside observers tend pigeonhole sober rappers. In an interview with GQ as part of a feature on sober musicians, Staples described his reason for sobriety as a survival mechanism and, in his opinion, a different approach than the other musicians — Steven Tyler, Julien Baker, Joe Walsh — interviewed for the piece.
“I am very sure that I’m gonna think different answers than Steven Tyler or anyone involved in this piece. I’ve lived a completely different life,” Vince said. “What I’m saying is: The drug usage was the last thing on my mind. When you’re surrounded with death and dismay and poverty and all these things that happen every day, I didn’t have time to worry about using or partaking in certain things. People where I come from don’t use drugs in a recreational sense. We’re not at a party, or at the rock show, or at the rap show, doing lines in the bathroom. Where I come from, life comes day after day after day, and people use these things to cope. People use drugs as a coping mechanism, and I’ve always held that reality. Reality hurts, but so does addiction—it’s just which pain you choose. That’s the reality of my situation.”
Staples admits that he didn’t have the luxury of time growing up to stop and think about his sober lifestyle, and that the violence around him was a more pressing concern.
“I never had time to think about whether my father’s addiction issues led to me not doing drugs, because I was too busy trying to cope with the reality of people dying and people trying to kill me every day,” he continues. “That was really where my focus was. When you have to think about your next 15 minutes—you have to think about the walk to the store, you have to think about how you’re getting to school, you have to think about the bus ride home, you have to think about how you’re going to sneak a gun into the football game—the last thing I was thinking about was getting high.”