Of James Baldwin's prose style, Harlem Renaissance icon Langston Hughes said "he uses words as the sea uses waves, to flow and beat, advance and retreat, rise and take bow in disappearing." When you listen to Vince Staples' "Blue Suede" it becomes clear that Staples' cadence works in a similar way, an unrelenting torrent of lyrics that strikes repeatedly like a boisterous sea. How does he achieve this effect? I'll discuss briefly a couple of passages that illustrate how.
First, listen to the passage toward the end of the first verse (around minute 1:12 in the video):
For each of these lines you can tap out the stresses on a table, for example (I'm indicating stressed syllables in caps): WAtch out for JUdas VICE and G Unit / FIVE OH FUckin with the YAyo too...
Note that when VS transitions from that first line to the next the cadence picks up pace; he does this by beginning line two with three stressed syllables in a row (FIVE OH FU-). And then, in the next line, a formidable eight stressed syllables in a row (L-B-P-D GET SPRAYED ON TO), a cascade. The point here is that VS varies the stresses of his syllables to build up the cadence, then to let it retreat with fewer successive stresses, then to build it up again, just like a building tide, rising, crashing, receding, and coming back stronger than before.
A related cadence feature in "Blue Suede is Staples' chiasmatic tendencies (which are also on display in my favorite track of his, "Norf Norf"). Chiasmus is a rhetorical feature with which the speaker juxtaposes words in the shape of the letter X (hence "chiasmus"), in the pattern A-B-B-A. A great example of this is in Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Law for the Wolves": "...for the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack." We can say this is an "X-shaped" syntactic pattern (order of words) because chiasmus "crosses" the words or concepts involved: "pack, wolf"; then "wolf, pack." Let's turn back to a passage from VS's "Blue Suede":
This passage from the second verse (around minute 2:15 in the video) is much more subtly chiasmatic than the passage from the Kipling poem; but I'd argue it functions in the verse in a way similar to more traditional forms of chiasmus. You can hear the internal rhyme in "little" and "livin" in the second line, as well as in "live" and "whoopin" and "Crippin" in the third line. The chiasmatic switch happens with forms of the word "live," in the sequence "little, livin," then "Live or, whoopin," so the sounds form an A-B-B-A pattern. Listen again if my explanation falls short here.
(A fun aside: note the felicitous wordplay Staples uses in the passage above: "Death row 'till they put you in the Pikachu to fry." Here "Pikachu" is the electric chair; the Pokemon character Pikachu can generate electric current.)
Once again, the chiasmatic pattern allows Staples to rapidly "turn over" from one line to the next, producing that same cascade effect we get in verse one when he increases the number of consecutive stressed syllables.
The stylistic comparison with Baldwin's writing, which was undoubtedly influenced by the "preacher cadence" of the sermon (Baldwin's father was a preacher) (compare, if you like, with Baldwin's essay "Notes of a Native Son") is one thing, but there's also a relevant political connection between "Blue Suede" and Baldwin's "Notes" (and wider oeuvre of political writing).
Staples' refrain "hope I outlive them red roses" is, I think, one of the most poignant lines in contemporary music, given the real dangers gun violence, abandoned urban communities, overincarceration, and other forms of juridical and broader institutional racism pose to young black men (and their families) in particular. "Young graves get the bouquets" calls our attention to victims of gun violence, cut down in their youth; and the intimation of Staples' persona in this track that he hopes he can survive beyond the lifespan of the cut roses placed on young graves is at once overwhelmingly sad and understandably real.
Throughout "Blue Suede" Staples gives us a sense of the traps and false choices inherent to life in his community, one in which Staples' overt gang loyalty makes more sense than it should. "5-0 fuckin with the yayo too" and "L-B-P-D get sprayed on too" suggest that there is no good side or bad side; police (Long Beach Police Department) are involved in drug deals too, a consequence of which ("get sprayed on too") is getting shot at like anyone else involved. Lines like "finna kill a n**** walkin to his mom's tonight" acknowledge two hopelessly conflicting imperatives: love and protect family (an acknowledgment of filial attachment), but maintain the violent, unwritten codes that hold neglected communities in balance in the absence of any plausible reason to trust predatory law enforcement and neglectful politicians. Baldwin understood how such malicious neglect, born of institutional racism, creates false choices for those living under its reign. "To smash something is the ghetto's chronic need," Baldwin wrote.
Nevertheless, Baldwin also advocated strenuously for hope, even when to be hopeful challenged rationality. He recognized two conflicting imperatives:
In light of Baldwin's choice to fight injustice even as he understood its inevitable ubiquity, we can understand Staples' "hope I outlive them red roses" as both evidence of a deeply unjust reality and a genuine statement of hope, a sentiment that registers as much greater in the scope of its relevance than the wishes of a young person who looks at a bouqueted grave and sees himself in it. I'm not sure another line in contemporary music hits this hard.