Vince Staples, the eponymous release by the Long Beach rapper, takes quick stock of his lifestyle against the backdrop of his troubled past. Staples, who has long reckoned with the complications of the fame his music brought him, does not linger on this description, instead keeping to the cold honesty and tight arrangements of his signature style.
Kenny Beats, who transitioned into a thriving career as a hip-hop producer after forming half of the EDM duo Loudpvck, handles all production on the album. He also made contributions to Staples’ previous release, 2018’s FM! — another short project (“because who needs more bullshit?” Staples wonders aloud in a Def Jam press release), which, like Vince Staples, was made even shorter by the inclusion of a pair of interludes. As the title suggests, FM! saw Staples wrangling with the commercialized space of radio as a platform for his music, which reckons with the poverty and violence he faced growing up and running with a gang in his native Long Beach neighborhood.
Staples’ music both retells and resists the negativity of his past, stripping away the glamour of a lifestyle sensationalized in popular media. He has repeatedly testified to the disconnect he feels between his experience as a gangbanger and its portrayal in other rap music: “I’m a gangsta Crip, fuck gangsta rap,” he rhymed on his debut double-album, 2015’s Summertime ‘06. On Vince Staples, this disconnect is felt through his flattened, almost deadpan delivery, and somber revelations across the record.
On the lead single “Law of Averages,” Staples paints a hollow picture of his success, undermined by his surroundings and the desires of people around him. “Count my bands all alone at home / Don’t you call my phone / Everyone that I’ve ever known / asked me for a loan,” he raps over the song’s warbling instrumental. Determined not to be consumed by his circumstances, he finds himself increasingly isolated and distrustful. “When I see my fans / I’m too paranoid to shake they hands / Clutching on the blam / Don’t know if you foe or if you fam,” he confesses on “Sundown Town.”
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“The Apple & the Tree,” one of the interludes, looks at this tension from a generational perspective. In a grainy recording, Staples’ mother reflects on irrational moments from her own youth, concluding, “The point I’m trying to make is about where I come from.” A Compton native, she echoes the importance of the environment she grew up in, just like her son in the Long Beach-centered world of his music.
“Mhm” is the album’s most lively moment, sitting on rolling hi-hats and whining synths reminiscent of earlier bops “BagBak” (Big Fish Theory) and “Don’t Get Chipped” (FM!). Its chorus, where Staples hums in affirmation at the end of each line, shows a steadfast, if not proud, acceptance of his place within the hectic world of his upbringing.
Across the album, Staples has little in the way of apologies or aspirations, focusing on the present and its immediate issues. The sharp perspective that distinguished him from his musical peers turns now to himself, leaving behind an honest assessment of the root causes and consequences of his present condition. Though less dynamic in delivery, and less diverse in production, than prior releases, Vince Staples contains all the ingredients that make him such a unique talent.