It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Vince Staples — well, musically anyway; if you’ve followed the Long Beach native on any social media over the past several years, then you know that Vince has become arguably hip-hop’s most captivating character, with his hilarious, tongue-in-cheek personality constantly on display online, in interviews, and in videos.
It’s always ironic, however, given the nature of his artistry and his often grim subject matter. Vince takes his music seriously and, as a result, has also become one of gangsta rap’s most visionary artists. No one project of his sounds like the other, as he is constantly meddling in different sounds, from the relatively-minimal sounds of Summertime ’06 to the afrofuturistic, electronic/dance experimentation of Big Fish Theory.
Other than a single, “Get The Fuck Off My Dick,” that he dropped in March, and a guest feature on the TDE-curated Black Panther album earlier this year, the last time we really heard from Vince was Big Fish Theory, which was released over a year ago. After confirming on October 21st of this year that he had new music on the way, he announced last Monday that he was dropping “a very special project” that he took time off from his actual album to make. This special project, FM!, eschews any overly-convoluted concepts or profound statements, shortens the runtime, and shoots for a feel that is decidedly more “FUN!” than that of most of his previous releases.
FM! is unapologetically West Coast, from the sounds all the way down to the features. Vince taps a roster full of California natives: Ty Dolla $ign, Kehlani, Tyga, Kamaiyah, Jay Rock, Buddy, Vonnie D, and Bay Area legend E-40, with popular LA-based radio host Big Boy and the cast of Big Boy’s Neighborhood embedded throughout the project to give the appropriately titled FM! its radio show feel. Perhaps most exciting of all the features is an appearance by Odd Future co-pioneer Earl Sweatshirt, whose almost-complete absence from the music scene over the past few years has left people legitimately concerned about his well-being and/or craving for new music. He quells despair, albeit in a short, 20-second radio segment interlude.
Big Boy begins this project, on the song “Feels Like Summer,” by saying, “Whatever day, vibe, month it is, it just feels like summer…And being that it always feels like summer, let’s go ahead and make you feel like summer.” Sonically, FM! does just that: its goal is to bask in the summer, just like the city of LA does, regardless of the season. The production, courtesy primarily of trap producer Kenny Beats (who’s having one hell of year with collaborations with Freddie Gibbs, Rico Nasty, and 03 Greedo), draws inspiration from some of the West Coast’s most vibrant music scenes — southern California, the Bay Area, etc. — as well as elements of electronic music, grime, and trap, to display a sonic buffet of absolute slappers that gloriously capture the summertime party vibes present on this album’s cover art. (Knowing that Kenny Beats is a former EDM DJ helps to understand that these beats were essentially crafted with concert audiences and party atmospheres in mind.)
Which, again, is paradoxical given the gloomy nature of some of the subject matter (“Cold weather won’t stop no gunner / Wrong hat, wrong day, I killed my brother”). But of course, what Vince has excelled for much of his career isn’t much different from what the most esteemed gangsta rappers are known for: masking their bleak depictions of gang life behind an array of bouncy beats (e.g. “Norf Norf”). The production here, however, is some of the bounciest and most banging beats of any project he’s ever released, to the point that a passive ear might miss some truly despairing moments.
FM! is short and bittersweet; it’s an exciting celebration of the West Coast that’s creative enough to fit the bill of a conceptual project, and simple/commercial enough to please audiences far and wide.