"It was really stress-free and free-for-all fun," Staples tells Billboard regarding the 10-day session. "There was no selfish creation. Everybody was making music for the situation, not necessarily for the album, but everyone was making music just to make it the best experience possible for everyone."
Billboard spoke to Staples about his upcoming tour, New Year's resolutions, being part of J. Cole's Revenge of the Dreamers rap camp, if James Harden is his generation's best scorer and Chief Keef's importance to hip-hop.
2018 was a pretty big year for you, man. You released your acclaimed album, FM!, and you kind of teased us prior with the whole retirement thing. What’s one word you’d use to describe your 2018 and why?
2018 man, I don’t know. We just worked so much, just ran around so much that it all blurred together. I’m appreciative of it no matter what year it is. The constant workflow will keep you from thinking about it too much.
Are you a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions?
Oh, hell nah.
[Laughs] So you just roll with it.
I just never really had a New Year’s resolution or had a goal. If I say I’m going to do it, I just do it. Some people need that motivation by holding themselves to certain things, like a promise to yourself and I think it’s good that people have those things like that despite what might come their way.
With you dropping FM! last year, are you already back in the studio? What are you cookin’ up for 2019?
Kind of, but not really. For right now, I’m trying to get this tour, plan it out, and go from there. I’m taking it a day at a time and keepin’ it simple. That’s where I’m at right now.
You’re going to be on tour for two straight months. I’m assuming you’re going to be playing a lot of 2K or something right?
Man, I already got it all mapped out. I don’t really go out that much and I stay to myself, that’s really when you get the work in.
How’s your skill level? Do you got the game on lock?
I’m crazy. It’s not even close. It’s not fair.
What team are you running with?
It don’t matter. Trust me, it all depends how you're playing it. Every team got the big time player. After a couple of minutes, you get used to it. Some people just don't know about basketball, they just be playing the game.
I want to actually stay on the topic of hoops, because I know you’re a big basketball head. Do you feel James Harden is the best scorer of your generation?
Yeah, I could see that. You got him, you got Durant. I’m a little bit older, well I’m 25, so I’ve seen Melo as a rookie so you could say him even though he’s more on the end of his career. I’ve seen a lot of good scorers. I’ve seen Gilbert Arenas in his prime. It’s really just about your preference. James Harden kind of reminds me of Melo.
With me mentioning Harden, that goes hand in hand with the next question that I gotta ask you: If Chris Paul returns, do you think Houston has a chance to contend for the title? If they do, would you finally give him his props if they were able to win a title this year?
I don't think so. I wouldn't mind it, though. It's just with Chris Paul, his injuries kind of came -- I wouldn't say at a good time because you wouldn't want somebody to get hurt -- but the fact that it kind of came early -- I think they're going to have their best chance that they would have had.
For your tour, you have Buddy and JPEGMAFIA coming along with you. What’s one thing you appreciate about each of them and their artistry?
I’ve known Buddy since we were kids. I’ve just known him so long that I don’t really see much outside of him just being Buddy. He’s overall a good dude. He’s a good person who’s telling his story, and that’s gonna make good music. His outlook on life is just positive so that comes across in his music really well.
JPEG, I wasn’t really familiar with until it was time for the tour but I knew he worked with Kenny Beats and he’s a friend of mine who I’ve collaborated with. I discovered him through [Kenny]. I was interested in seeing how it goes and where it goes. That’s the best part of the tour. You get to learn about the artist and the artist’s music as you go.
You were one of the few artists that got the golden ticket to J. Cole’s Revenge of the Dreamers III rap camp. Talk about that experience and how it felt to be among your rap peers in the studio.
It was cool. It was a lot of good people making good music. It was really stress free and free for all fun. There was no selfish creation. Everybody was making music for the situation, not necessarily for the album, but everyone was making music just to make it the best experience possible for everyone. It was a great thing to see.
Your GQ piece caught a lot of attention and a lot of eyes. You spoke about your decision to stay sober. What coping mechanisms do you use to not only deal with some of the violence you saw when you were younger, but just the realities and pressures of being a rap star? I know that’s a lot to deal with.
Nothing to be honest. I’m fine. I feel like life is what you make it and I don’t really make it no big deal. One thing with that piece is I’m one of the only urban people on it, and there’s way more urban people that don’t subscribe to those things. They could have talked to J. Cole about not smoking, they could have talked to Kendrick about it. It was a lot of people to talk to. My whole thing with that is, if we’re going to have that conversation, let’s have a real one and not make it seem like it’s so out of the norm for someone to not do those things. Life is life. I’m blessed to not need that stuff.
Congrats on having the song “Home” featured in the new Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse soundtrack. It’s one thing to have a Black superhero like Black Panther, but it’s another to have a Black Spiderman. What were your thoughts on the movie and the idea of having a Black Spiderman?
I think the biggest thing is to not think about it and just accept it, and how it’s not really being combatted that much and that just shows how far people have came. We could work hard to get to where we need to be but if it’s not accepted as the norm for a lot of people, then we’re just kind of talking to a brick wall. Us being able to fill these entities, it can just be. It doesn’t have to be the Black version, it just is what it is. And I think that’s important.
I peeped something that you started on Twitter. You started your peaceful Sosa campaign where you tweet a Chief Keef lyric every day. What do you think makes Chief such an underrated and unappreciated act in hip-hop?
I just don’t think he’s that well-versed. They like specific type of Black people in this thing. There’s gotta be a certain kind of Black kid to garner their attention and admiration. I just feel like he doesn’t necessarily fit that mold, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t make great music and he’s not innovative. He creates things that stand the test of time and will be genre-defining later on down the line. I feel like he’s just good.
Last month, you dropped your Thunderbolt kicks when you teamed up with Converse. For a kid coming out of LA, how special is it getting these kinds of collaborations, moreso as a rapper as opposed to an athlete.
It’s like I said before, it’s the same thing as the Spiderman thing, it just shows you how far we’re coming. It’s us being accepted. It’s me, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Tyler the Creator, Pharrell, Kanye West, Soulja Boy and other MCs in the past. It just goes to show how much the world has changed and we’re being accepted to do what we want now.
You mentioned Soulja Boy, man and I'm curious to hear your thoughts about his resurgence. If you asked me last month, I would have never thought he’d been at Barclays in front of 20,000 doing “Crank Dat” in 2019.
My thing is it’s less about him and it’s more about how we don’t get those opportunities. You’ll have a rock band that has one song or a certain person that has one song and they get to perform that song forever. His is a novelty act and Soulja Boy is a novelty act, but they’re able to play stadiums and still tour and be praised for that novelty, and I feel like we should be able to have that same support. With this, it’s either you poppin’ or you not. The fact that we didn’t expect him to doing a song that wasn’t made that long ago and it shifted the course music and stopped the world for a little bit, the fact that we didn’t think it was possible to be heard again just shows where our heads are at.
With the LA Rams now playing in the Super Bowl, do you plan to watch or are you still on boycotting the league?
I never really was on a boycott stance. I just don’t care like that. I’m not going to invest energy into something I’m not really into. I wasn’t really that big into football so it’s not that hard for me to not watch the games. I haven’t watched one football game all year. I’d rather watch basketball [laughs]. It wasn’t like a big stance, I just haven’t watched football. It’s not like I don’t like the n---as, but I’m also not shocked by what they do.
If you could give me your NBA comparison, who would you pick and why? I feel like you’re Russell Westbrook.
I mean he got an MVP, though. I feel like that’s a Grammy or something.
He is very tenacious, though.
I’m rocking with Russ. We got the same haircut. [Laughs].
Tickets for Staples' Smile, You're On Camera Tour can be found here.