Within hip-hop’s vast universe of artists, there’s a special class of rappers whose personalities are as captivating as their music. Vince Staples is in that class. Across all mediums, he is entertaining and thought-provoking. Staples has the best tweets and gives the best interviews; the profiles written about him are second to none. Only a handful of rappers today are more interesting than the Long Beach-born polymath. In an industry where content is king, his crown is secure.
No matter how hard his tweets make us laugh, or how enthralling his profiles may be, there is nothing Staples can do that is more exciting than his music. He is a damn good rapper; arguably, one of the best major label artists to emerge from a post-Odd Future internet. With no two projects alike, there’s a rush of wonderment surrounding the release of his just-announced new album. What will it sound like, rather than what will he say, is always the biggest question mark.
2018 has been a year of laying low for Vince Staples. Back in March, while promoting a hilarious retirement Gofundme, he released the middle finger single, “Get the F**k off My Dick.” Staples' only other musical offering this year was a strong guest appearance alongside Kendrick Lamar and Yugen Blakrok on “Opps” from the Black Panther: The Album. Now, after more than a year of relative silence since his critically acclaimed sophomore album, The Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples returns with FM!.
FM! is yet another album released with minor details. No singles, no official list of guest features, and almost no background information besides an obscure Instagram post. Going into FM! blind doesn’t come with worry; in Vince Staples I trust. He is one artist who has yet to disappoint me.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Feels Like Summer"
It’s only right that an album called FM! begins with a radio sound bite. Big Boy's Neighborhood! Keeping it L.A. The build up is ominous. I like where this is headed. Vince just arrived. There's a really nice knock on these drums. This sonic palette is a little more conventional than the avant-garde electronic-esque beats he’s usually skating over. I like this a lot. Ty Dolla! From gangs gathering to fight to a full block party. One thing about Ty, his voice has a Hennessy warmth that brings a touch of sun to the coldest production. “Still struggle with the past, same strap.” A strong intro.
Oh! I’m liking where this is taking me. THESE DRUMS COULD HIT A HOME RUN! Someone call the Atlanta Braves. Vince isn’t playing at all. Kenny Beats sent Vince the pack he was holding for 03 Greedo. This is what people have wanted to hear from Vince since Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2. He’s sliding on the most bombastic banger with suave gangster rap talk. I need a 40 oz. I should’ve known this caliber of a gangster rap album was coming when I had a trick-or-treater come to my house dressed as a crip. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to break in or asking for candy. He was getting me prepared.
3. “Don’t Get Chipped” ft. Jay Rock
Really short records. I like the vibes, though. I also like the vocal inflection he’s using. His voice sounds higher than usual. It’s actually very Kendrick-esque. He’s writing some really good tricks. JAY ROCK! Oh shit, these two together is better than placing bacon on a cheeseburger. Few artists have Vince’s seamless, weightless flow. He is a verbal air walker. Damn, no verse from Jay Rock. The hook is good. The bass is as bad as a fifth-grade class after eating a gallon of ice cream.
These keys! Vince wanted to make a gangster rap album for contemporary ears. It’s sorta like when 21 Savage did Savage Mode with Metro Boomin, how the beats were almost as frightening as the lyrics he was rapping. Everything feels modern: the production, the hooks, and even the way he is approaching these verses. Hagler accidentally sent the pack for Gucci Mane. OH SHIT! These drums could raise the crime rate. Man, not a bad record yet. Vince is hitting all the right buttons. Another radio clip. I love how they are being used for transitions.
5. “New earlsweatshirt (Interlude)”
EARL! Wait, it’s like a faux premiere. EARL SOUNDS GOOD! “R.I.P to my pops.” Damn.
6. "Run the Bands"
That was too quick. I need a rewind. Someone stop the review. Damn! The snare just knocked my mustache off. THIS IS A BANGER! NO! THIS IS THE ONE. Man, Vince wanted to make an album that would erupt at a show. I felt the same way about KOD. Cole wanted to be a conscious rapper with big records. This is a record. The beat is hitting me harder than Mike Tyson’s boxing glove in ’96. A get-money anthem from the Long Beach son. It’s very Kendrick-esque and I love it. Run it back from the top. “I’m not the one, don’t slip.” I love that Big Boy is all over this album.
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7. “FUN!” ft. E-40
Okay! This sounds more like No I.D.’s fingerprints. Yet, it still has that knock. What a strange percussion. Man, I wish Vince Staples could’ve been signed to Star Trak Entertainment in 2001. He would’ve made magic with The Neptunes. One thing about Vince, he understands all the different ways you can tap dance in the pocket. E-40! What a Cali-ass album. Someone brought out the tambourine and my shoulders are moving high enough to touch my ears.
8. "No Bleedin”
Man, this is a fun house of sounds and appearances. Oh! This is a Kamaiyah bounce. This man is going all across California. Production is stellar. I shouldn’t be surprised this is a Vince Staples album in 2018, but color me shocked. Kim! She sounds great. Moments like this make me want to rewind A Good Night in the Ghetto from the top. Where is YG!? He needs to throw a red rag on this somewhere. Can we get a remix?
9. "Brand New Tyga (Interlude)”
Just like with the Earl interlude, this is a Tyga snippet. Damn, I do miss when songs were premiered on the radio. It was an exciting time. I can’t lie, this sounds like another banger.
10. “(562) 453-9382 (Skit)”
At first glance, I thought this number was Mike Jones’ cell. It’s a skit. A caller is doing a contest with Big Boy's Neighborhood on-air. He asked him to name seven famous people whose names begin with a V. He failed, hahahaha.
Yep! I don’t know what this is, but I’m on board. These keys and these drums are a Peanut Butter & Jelly caliber combination. Vince sounds like he’s floating through the beat. Like a ghost. Talking about all the homies who died. Oh yeah! This is something. He’s so open. Vince is weird. He's far from the most introspective rapper, but this is sorta like his “u.” The juggling of fame and the life he left behind. “Trying to get rich, get everybody fed, but everybody dead.” Damn. Not so much survival guilt, but survival reality. Real rap.
Final (first listen) thoughts on FM!:
Well, that was unexpected. Thrilling—a rollercoaster of a rush—but utterly unexpected. The title FM! and the ongoing radio theme make me wonder if the conventional methods are somehow connected. Songs like “FUN!,” “Run the Bands,” and “No Bleedin” sound like Vince Staples’ version of radio records in 2018. Outside of FM!'s closer, “Tweakin',” every record is a ground-trembling banger. As a rapper who has often talked about being a fan of rappers who had big radio moments, it makes sense for Staples to build a world where his music is the radio.
Aligning with producer Kenny Beats was a tag team that fellow DJBooth scribe Dylan Green dreamed of, and the reality is better than anything anyone could’ve imagined. The Connecticut native is having a stellar year—his 2018 résumé includes Freddie Gibbs, Rico Nasty, Key!, and 03 Greedo, among others—but bringing Vince into a more modern rap sound may be his most remarkable feat thus far. Vince Staples' live show has always been impressive, but once he begins touring FM!, the experience will be roof-lifting.
As I wrote during the listening portion of this review, similar to J. Cole, Staples finally has an album that is filled with the kind of sonic mayhem that will cause crowds to react, not just rap along. The transition into an established sound doesn’t alter the artist. More than anything, it allows him to speak more about his modern life, the reality of a Long Beach survivalist who became a rap star. Some of the most honest moments of his career happen over lowrider rumbling beats.
FM!, much like Freddie Gibbs and Curren$y’s newly-released joint album Fetti, is painfully short. I will say, the satisfaction I get from FM! satisfies the hunger I had for what Vince would sound like if he stepped in the now, and he sounds DAMN good. He owns the moment without losing himself. FM! is simultaneously a Vince Staples album and a modern West Coast album.
The radio was once the most important medium for an artist. If you weren’t being played on the radio, you simply weren’t heard. With FM!, Vince finally has an album with the potential to catch the world's ears. I hope they're listening.
By Yoh, aka I Hope Vince Staple Never Retires, aka @Yoh31
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