Album Review : Vince Staples - FM! (2018)
Vince Staples is one of my favorite conversation topics. The Long Beach native is loved by virtually everyone, but it’s unclear whether it’s for his music or for his endearing anti-establishment personality. He’s an inherently great rapper who hip-hop fans never seem satisfied with. Staples is so freakin’ good at being conventionally good that it’s unthinkable that he does what he wants instead of what’s expected of him. But my run as Vince Staples’ court-mandated advocate is over. His new album FM! is so ridiculously fucking good that it should shut the nitpickiest of haters up.
On his previous releases Prima Donna and Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples explored the pitfalls of newfound celebrity and his feelings of estrangement from his community. On FM!, Staples takes his honest, critical and self-examinating outlook back to the streets of Long Beach. He said in interview that it was a no concept, no bullshit album that offered only music, which is halfway true. There is a concept to FM!, but it doesn’t get in the way of the music. It’s 22 minutes of catchy, infectious music wrapped in hilarious local radio interludes that makes you feel like it’s blaring out of a street food vendor stand, on a Long Beach summer day.
The instrumentals on FM! are less adventurous than they were on Big Fish Theory. On songs like Feels Like Summer and Outside!, they’re almost an afterthought to Vince’s grim and heartbroken portrait of Long Beach life. There’s this latent anger to his flow and imagery that keeps you from happily singing his songs along with your friends on a night out. Bars like: cold weather won’t stop no gunner/wrong hat, wrong day I’d kill my brother aren’t militant in the conventional sense of the term, but they’re extremely confrontational for the listener. Vince Staples is still fighting the commodification of hip-hop in his own way on FM!
That said, there are scorching bangers that people are inevitably going to singalong on this album. The most obvious is Relay, which is probably one of Vince’s top 5 best songs. The hook on that thing will spread like herpes in a college dorm: Feds chirp on scannneeeer/Got blurbed with the hammer/Yeah, I ain’t playin’ with the DA/I’m finna hit a corner and do a relay. It will stick in your head and Hagler’s hard and heavy beat will keep you dancing uncontrollably. Don’t get Chipped is another memorable track from FM! with its out of tune synth beat and Jay Rock’s soulful singing on the hook. These are simple, straightforward and yet unforgettable.
There are two interludes on the album where the FM! radio hosts are “promoting” new songs by Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga, which are curious. I’m wondering if these were all out free publicity for Vince’s friends. That would be an insanely Vince Staples thing to do. FM! is only 22 minutes long, but it doesn’t have a dull moment. I perhaps enjoyed Run the Bands and No Bleedin’ a little less than the other tracks on that thing, but they might just be someone else’s favorites. FM! features a more stripped down, straightfoward version of Vince Staples, but he continues being himself on it anyhow. I might not understand where he’s from and what he’s lived through, but his fuck-you-you-can’t-understand-where-I’m-from-and-what-I’ve-lived-through attitude is fiercer than ever on FM! and this is what I relate to.