Words by Joe Bulger (@notjoebulger)
Vince Staples is back on the block! The Long Beach rapper made a thunderbolt return to the spotlight this week with the surprise release of his third full-length album FM! It’s his first material offering since standalone single, ‘Get The F**k Off My Dick’, released earlier this year (Staples also featured on Marvel Studios Black Panther soundtrack, gifting his talents to original song, ‘Opps’). On his second album, 2017’s critically appraised Big Fish Theory, Vince’s team up with new-fashioned production talents like SOPHIE, Jimmy Edgar, and Flume clinched him the top spot in several ‘End of Year’ lists. The release rattled the hip-hop zeitgeist with a collection of streamlined, futuristic club-rap bangers that proved bold and experimental but didn’t shy away from Vince’s darkly entertaining personality.
Big Fish’s successor is an all too brief return to form for the Cali rapper. Clocking in at a cool 22-minutes, FM! features only 11 tracks – of which Vince only raps on eight of them. Radio skits are spotted throughout and offer moments of sunny respite that seem to juxtapose Vince’s uncompromising flows. Big Boy’s intro to opener ‘Feels Like Summer’ tantalizes us with a heady whiff of the L.A. lifestyle – “Let’s go ahead and make you feel like summer”, but Vince soon makes short work of this idyllic poolside fantasy. His blackened cynicism leaves the ‘California Dream’ for dead on the sidewalk – “Summertime in the LB wild / We gon’ party ‘til the sun or the guns come out”.
Rising EDM star Kenny Beats assumes production duties on much of FM!, his sticky mix of bright, snappy hi-hats and subterranean bass nipping at your heels and creating a rich, textured quality throughout. Peer beneath the project’s murky surface however, and Vince paints an uneasy picture of violence in his Long Beach hometown. Look no further than Jay Rock’s no-nonsense hook on the cautionary ‘Don’t Get Chipped’ – “Don’t get chipped / N***a, I ain’t got the patience, yeah”.
He isn’t alone; FM! features a star-studded roster of Vince’s West Coast contemporaries (Ty Dolla $ign, Jay Rock, Kamaiyah, Tyga, Kehlani…) however it’s Earl Sweatshirt who really steals the show, his fleeting presence on ‘New earlsweatshirt (Interlude)’ although achingly short does more than enough to whet our appetites for new music from the Odd Future prodigy. The same stunt is repeated during ‘Brand New Tyga (Interlude)’, where we’re again left with out tongues waggling as the skit is cut short after a maddening 30 seconds. Vince already knows what we want, but always keeps it tantalisingly out of reach…
Lead single ‘FUN!’ – a not-so-joyous acronym for the song’s more disquieting hook is a radio-rap barn burner that wouldn’t go amiss on even the most notoriously commercial stations, but again it’s Vince’s bleakly smart lyricism (“My black is beautiful but I’ll still shoot at you, dawg”) that cements it firmly in Long Beach, California. Album closer ‘Tweakin’’ is another sinister skit that mentions the death of Vince’s close friends, a touchstone on FM! and one that the rapper is all too familiar with.
FM! is one of Vince’s shortest full-length projects, but despite the newfound change in production it’s far from his sweetest. Yes, it’s all over much sooner than we’d like, but there’s no denying Vince Staples’ flair for high-octane radio-ready bangers and with four (yes, you heard) new projects already in the pipeline for 2019, hip-hops dark horse has plenty more to offer.
FM! is out now via Def Jam Recordings
Featured image courtesy of Def Jam Recordings