Prior to Vince Staplesâ€™ new self-titled album, the Long Beach rapper hadnâ€™t released a project since 2018â€™s frenetic FM! The anticipation for a follow-up from his fans was palpable over the last three years, but when Vince Staples arrived on July 9, it likely wasnâ€™t what they were expecting.
Of course, no artist should be confined to one particular style, but anyone looking for high-octane bangers such as â€œBig Fishâ€ from 2017â€™s Big Fish Theory or even â€œNorf Norfâ€ from 2015â€™s Summertime â€™06 wonâ€™t find that here. Thereâ€™s a certain energy missing that was found on his previous projects, almost as if they forgot the more dynamic part of the album on the cutting room floor.
Here, Staples is in a more reflective mode, delicately riding the Kenny Beats-produced project with more apathy and less joie de vivre. And thatâ€™s not necessarily a bad thing â€” itâ€™s just different. But again, while Staples was off making people laugh with The Vince Staples Show or his seemingly endless Twitter musings, inside he was wrestling with some personal turmoil that bleeds into nearly every song on the 10-track effort, lending the overall musical aesthetic a sleepy, nearly joyless vibe.
Vince Staples is now 28, seven years older than when he dropped his promising debut EP Hell Can Wait with Def Jam in 2014. As he inches toward 30, an age where most people really start to focus on their purpose in life, itâ€™s blatantly apparent heâ€™s struggling with aspects of his current existence that were previously foreign, including his newfound fame and unwillingness to abandon his beloved Northside Long Beach for the safer streets of Malibu or Calabasas.
After all, Staples grew up watching gang violence swallow his community, giving him the license to so casually spit about once wanting to shoot â€œa couple n-ggas in the headâ€ on the mellow, synth-driven album opener â€œAre You With That?â€ He romanticizes about his former gang life frequently throughout the album with both a sense of regret and pride, while remaining loyal to the city that raised him.
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As Staples astutely raps on â€œTake Me Homeâ€ featuring R&B singer FousheÃ©, â€œDonâ€™t wanna dream â€™bout the shit I done did/You know these trips come with baggage, been all cross this atlas/But keep coming back to this place â€™cause it trapped us/I preach what I practice, these streets all Iâ€™ve known/And itâ€™s no place like home.â€
Then thereâ€™s the ascending synths and hypnotic bass of â€œTaking Tripsâ€ where Staples confesses heâ€™s always strapped and struggling with who to trust, another common theme.
â€œI hate July, crime is high, the summer suck (sheesh),â€ he raps. â€œCanâ€™t even hit the beach without my heat, itâ€™s in my trunk.â€
Another highlight is the infectious hook on â€œThe Shining,â€ which finds Staples loosely singing and rapping with voracity at the same time. Lines such as â€œStill in search of (yeah)/Ainâ€™t no N.E.R.D.â€ prove Staplesâ€™ penchant for clever wordplay remains sharp. Itâ€™s also refreshing to hear a rapper scoff at the â€œbitches, Bentleys and billionsâ€ mentality thatâ€™s so often at the forefront of mainstream rap.
â€œFuck a mansion (you lame),â€ he says. â€œAsked when Iâ€™ma move to Malibu or Calabasas (hell nah, you lame)/I canâ€™t never do it, Iâ€™m too active, she attractive (huh?)/But she plastic I canâ€™t get with that shit (how? Huh?).â€ He takes it up a notch on â€œLaw Of Averagesâ€ when he essentially clowns materialistic women obsessed with Birkin and ChloÃ© bags.
But Staples is admittedly more suspicious of people around him than ever, which he demonstrates on â€œSundown Townâ€ with, â€œWhen I see my fans Iâ€™m too paranoid to shake they hands. Clutching on the blam, donâ€™t know if you foe or if you fam.â€
Even so, Staples is simultaneously more sure of himself, too â€” he knows what he wants and doesnâ€™t want. Like on the slightly more uptempo album standout â€œLil Fade,â€ he marvels at his longevity in the game with, â€œDeath threats, I ainâ€™t lose a step yet (so what?). Still hanginâ€™ like a Warhol (Warhol).â€
In addition to eight full songs, there are also two interludes on the project â€” â€œThe Apple & The Treeâ€ and â€œLakewood Mallâ€ â€” which arenâ€™t 100 percent needed, but they do provide a little insight into Staplesâ€™ upbringing.
Much like Tyler, The Creator did on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, Staples uses a recording of his mother on the former to paint a portrait of life inside the Staplesâ€™ household. She says she willingly lied on the witness stand to prevent his father from going to jail for shooting somebody while talking about how she was singing in the church choir with a gun in her purse.
These subtle glimpses into Staplesâ€™ inner circle allow Vince Staples to almost play out like a personal journal and re-introduce his fans to a more evolved version of the Motown artist.
While very sonically cohesive, there are too many times when the album borders on fading into nothing but background music. But this project takes the proper time and attention to fully digest. After repeated listens, it suddenly becomes crystal clear â€” this is mood music. This is the result of Staples ruminating on some heavy topics and Kenny Beats being able to deliver the emotive backdrop required to let his complex emotions and creative freedom shine through â€” if only it came with a few more punches.
vince staplesâ€™ album is overly solid and the lack of hype is concerning
â€” pitou (@KailaFrm815) July 15, 2021
I GENUINELY, DEEPLY LOVED THE NEW VINCE STAPLES ALBUM AND I THINK I WOULD CONSIDER IT MY FAVORITE. LISTENED TO IT 3 TIMES IN A ROW ON MY WALK HOME AND DECIDED THAT THE SECOND TIME AROUND.
â€” AGENT OF FORTUNE OUT SEPT. 15TH, 2021 (@tengenseibussy) July 15, 2021
The Vince staples album might be one of the best albums to drop in the past few years tbh
â€” Justin Smith ðŸ‡ðŸ‡¹ (@28Jsmith12) July 16, 2021
Sounds commercial. I ain’t never heard you sing or use melodies until this album. Not saying it’s trash, but definitely not a Summertime 06 or Big Fish Theory vibe. Barely sounds west coast
â€” Chico B. Dusty (@MattSweeet) July 13, 2021