Vince Staples makes summertime splash in mid-November



Vince Staples is making a bold attempt to leap from the fish bowl of his last LP, “Big Fish Theory,” into the vast ocean of mainstream appeal with his recent effort, “FM!” The EP is conceptually unified around a casual stroll through the streets of Long Beach, California, as soundtracked by an FM radio station.

The radio program, “Big Boy’s Neighborhood,” is one of the more prominent hip-hop radio-shows in Southern California. Throughout the project, Vince displays a strong obsession with death. Such a focus ties into broadcast radio’s perceived status as a dying medium.

FM! shows that Staples may be the smartest, most cunning “gangsta rapper” of all time. “FM!” is full of Staples’s particularly conscious brand of gangsta rap. His personal and political insights set him apart his peers. He balances street documentarianism with standard hip-hop tropes like braggadocio and humor. “FM!” shows that Vince’s art is more of a character study than an exploitation of his environment.

Staples has never been flashy — there are no chains wrapped around his neck. He has a deliberate flow that’s oftentimes more understated than showy. When the time is right though, he still knows how to pull out an elaborate performance. This ability is on display throughout the Jay Rock-assisted, “Don’t Get Chipped” track.

While spitting lyrics such as, “Imma take somebody’s soul, he don’t give me what he own, now I’m getting what I’m owed,” Staples uses a childlike voice inflection to come off like a demented cousin of Kendrick Lamar.

Staples always makes room for humor in the absurdity of his boasts. In standout “Run the Bands,” he raps “house so big, need Kanye lipo/nice off-white like half-time Michael/ him no play, him Bateman, psycho.”

The best song on the FM!, “Relay,” hits hard and adds new layers to the grimy, unstoppable menace of Vince Staples. “Relay” shows off all of the rapper’s strengths over a beat that is to die for.

“FM!” isn’t without its faults, however. In a limp plea for radio play, Vince includes a skit solely for has-been, Tyga, who doesn’t add anything to the album but a hollow pop-radio aesthetic. The track “No Bleedin,” which is otherwise decent, has an annoyingly repetitive chorus.

During the 22-minute-long odyssey through Vince’s cynical mind that is “FM!,” the listener is pushed to grapple with death as an everyday factor of life. In the final song “Tweakin’,” Staples documents his friends’ deaths with an alienated tone over an eerie instrumental by Kenny Beats & KillaGraham — even labeling himself “Black Malcolm” because of his strong bond with the recently deceased Mac Miller.

Staples’s last words on the project are a haunting “tryna get rich, get everybody fed but everybody dead” with a whispered voice repeating the phrase “everybody dead.” The track plays out a bit longer with the cold instrumental while somebody yells “look how far we came!” in the background, eventually leading the listener to change the station and for the album to float on in the history of the FM airwaves. After such a listen, it’s difficult for any audience to rest in peace.

Rating: 4/5

Best Tracks: “Relay,” “Run the Bands,” “FUN!”