Leaving the apartment, we head to get coffee at a bougie espresso parlor in the South Park district. On the way there, Staples interrupts his own discursive lecture on NBA playoff permutations to wave at small dogs and babies in strollers. They all love him. "See?" he says. "When you act regular, they treat you regular." Spend time around Staples and you'll repeatedly hear "regular" used as an aspirational ideal. For him, the word describes a life in between being an active gang member and being a super-famous rapper, maybe something closer to the type of person he might've been had he not been forced to abandon his erstwhile grad school plans.
His near-austere lifestyle is unusual for anyone his age, gangbanger or celebrity: he's never drank or smoked. And despite his proud 2N affiliation, no tattoos cover his wiry frame. But he still gives rides to car-less friends, picks up calls from jails, and deposits money in commissary accounts. When Staples isn't performing or recording, he's playing NBA 2K on Playstation, following sports, reading, or watching episodic crime dramas. He just finished AMC's Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul. If I want to understand why people join gangs, he recommends Sons of Anarchy. Staples says he always wanted to be "normal… a family dude." As direct evidence of his desire for regularity, he offers: "Beethoven is my favorite movie. Beethoven 2, too."
But if novelist Vladimir Nabokov was right, and genius is nonconformity, Vince Staples will never be normal. That won't stop him from trying, though. During the time that we spent together, he loosely outlines a few basic goals: he wants enough money to invest in real estate, help out disadvantaged schoolchildren in Long Beach — he's currently in talks with Levi's about sponsoring a program — have kids of his own, and raise them in a middle-class L.A. suburb. Maybe somewhere like Torrance, the sleepy residential enclave that sits 20 miles south of L.A.'s downtown core. "I've never met anyone from Torrance who didn't have their head on straight," Staples says.
We make our way from the coffee spot to the Original Farmer's Market on Fairfax Avenue, taking Wilshire to Beverly, cutting past the baronial mansions of Hancock Park to reach this Depression-era landmark on the Westside, with its old-time toffee emporiums, ethnic food stands, and souvenir shops. At the market, a tour guide in a 10-gallon hat points at Staples and says, "That guy is famous." His Tommy Bahama audience snaps photos in response.
Perusing the hat racks in search of Yankees and North Carolina fitteds, Staples comments on the smell of weed smoke. Mid-interview, he's interrupted by a beautiful 30-year-old woman in couture sweatpants, who fans out over him like she'd just run into Zayn Malik.
A few hours later, he'll tweet: "I fell in love at the Farmer's Market."