Lyrical prodigy Vince Staples speaks his mind no matter the setting. At 23, the Long Beach rapper has used his platform to not only speak on real-life issues, but to properly align himself with the right partnerships. In addition to working with the Michelle Obama library to install WiFi on the streets and real estate ventures (per his manager, Corey Smyth of Blacksmith NYC), Staples has also also dipped into the video game industry with Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs 2.
In October, Ubisoft began promoting the game’s Nov. 15 release with an action-packed trailer that featured Staples’ song “Little Bit of This.” The open-world game, set in the Bay Area, features an African American hacker named Marcus Holloway who attempts to take down a corrupt establishment after falsely being labeled a suspect in a high-tech robbery.
Taking elements of current pop culture including Uber drivers, the game delivers an entertaining experience with slight political and social references to what’s going on in America today, especially with a Donald Trump-like character Thruss who makes an appearance in the game. (There’s even a mission where the player can infiltrate his headquarters and discover that his team is deleting an email server).
Staples sat down with Billboard to talk more about the partnership, his affinity for video games growing up and a little bit of politics.
What made you want to partner with this game?
They used my song, “Little Bit of This,” in their trailer. They hit us up,and asked if we wanted a copy of the game, and I was like, of course. They asked me if I had played the first Watch Dogs and I said yeah. I came to play some of the second one, and they asked me if I liked it or not.
What drew you to Watch Dogs?
When you on tour, you going to be on that tour bus eight to nine hours of the day so it was just basically that but the concept was also interesting. In the first game, you could control the world with the phone. I just wanted to see what it was about honestly. After playing, I kind of got hooked on it. You was able to do so much. The story was kind of neat — dude looking for his niece, drug king out of Chicago. It had a lot to do with what was going on in Chicago at that point in time before a lot of people were paying attention. This game is dealing with a lot of things that we going through now. It got side missions about email hacks, and things like that. It was interesting to me because most games nowadays is pick up the gun and shoot random people or basketball or football. I’m somebody who is interested in people doing things that are unique.
Who introduced you to the game?
It was my nephew. My nephew is eight years old and don’t do nothing but go to football practice and play video games. He lives far away so we basically get the same thing. He FaceTimes me and tries to brag about him being nice even though he’s not. Shout out to JT. I just be buying stuff and giving it to him because his mom won’t let him play the games otherwise. She’s like [he] can play them if somebody else can buy them. He learns a lot. I know when I was a kid, I had an encyclopedia game. It was this one game where you clicked the world map and you learned a lot about history. I learned most of the stuff I know about the world from that when I was in like the third or fourth grade, as far as wars and world art, certain seas, and who overthrew who, and who took care of who and who built the empires on lands. After that, I just played video games.
What was the first video game you played growing up?
Crash Bandicoot. It’s fire. I was trash though. It was my sister’s game. My cousin used to play Mortal Kombat and [Super] Mario — things like that. Then I had like Gameboys and Pokemon, making my mom spend all that money. You know how parents are, doing anything to keep you out of trouble. She did anything to keep me out of trouble — sports, video games.
What’s your favorite part of this game?
I think the humor is interesting. The first one was a lot more serious. This one is more relaxed. The Uber driver is hilarious. My Instagram is booming on the game. The go kart races, the sail boat races — it’s not too political where you can’t do other things. It fills up in a sense of how much you can do, but it’s not too little where you have to be focused on one thing. I remember as a kid when you couldn’t get past something, [the game] was over. Now it’s so vast with the open world. The online portion [of video games] made everything more open as far as the possibilities you can use.
How do you think this game mirrors your own life?
This dude is a hacker and they build a system for the government. They use the street cameras. All the electronics around you [are used] to predetermine who is a criminal. So he got arrested for something he didn’t do just based on how the system works. Basically you can look like a criminal but you’re not. People deal with that in real life. You can talk and act like a criminal, but you’re not. That’s something that actually happens to individuals and gets them arrested. That leads him to want to become somebody who wants to overthrow a system. I think any person who is a part of this country or any of these systems when it comes to how they treat people, it’s easy to relate to someone who takes action into their own hands in whatever situation they’re a part of.
Do you think this game at could debunk some of the stereotypes in the Black community given the main character is a black man who’s a hacker?
Yeah, possibly. Anything can. It’s so much stuff now that we deal with. It can’t hurt. So I think it’s important to focus on the vastness of people in general. That way, all of those stereotypes just sound crazy. There was a point in time where Black people couldn’t make certain kind of music, they couldn’t play certain positions on a field [in sports]. I think the more you show people the vastness of what they can become the more acceptance [comes]
Did you vote in this year’s election?
Do you think young people should pay attention to politics?
Honestly, at the end of the day, politics is politics. Politics affects everybody differently. We can’t say we care about politics and want everybody to feel the same way. Certain people vote for certain people for certain reasons. You can’t just write people off like, you like this person then you’re this. You like [Hillary] Clinton then you support murderers or liars. You like Donald Trump then you’re a racist. It’s not realistic. Everybody trying to push something in their favor so let’s just be honest about it. But the problem ain’t that — it’s just don’t nobody care enough to ask a question, they’re just writing them off. Everybody full of shit. It’s not going to be a point where everybody is happy because we don’t communicate with each other.
Do you think there’s a solution to that?
Yeah, understand it’s not always going to be about you. We chose to be ap art of this system so it’s weird, we got to make the most out of the situation. It’s not that bad [in America] because there are no places with open food and water. We will, for sure, be fine.