Vince Staples Brings back Shocking, Charismatic Energy on “FM!”

With his seventh release in as many years, Vince Staples returned to the West Coast sound that characterized his debut studio album, Summertime ‘06. ‘06. Since then, Vince fans have been starving for his return to that style, and while Big Fish Theory showed artistic growth, it didn’t fulfill our need for his grimy, angry sound.

The seven-song, 23-minute FM! put all doubts to bed, aggressively turning back haters and moving forward with the bumping, thoroughly fun album, majorly produced by longtime collaborator Kenny Beats.

FM! is driven by its radio show interludes and skits, with beloved LA radio host Big Boy MCing the whole way. Tracks like “New earlsweatshirt” and the end of “Run the Bands” make the album feel like a genuine cut off of an LA-based radio show. It’s a great concept for an album and is developed evenly throughout the 23 minutes, but short songs like “No Bleedin’” and “Relay” are missed opportunities for Staples to let his charismatic energy shine.

The album has a fast tempo and shifts gears frequently, making it more difficult for new Vince listeners to follow. Despite the fact Vince will never admit he cares, the risk proved not worth it in terms of streams. As a result, he only streamed at 30k during the first-week, significantly lower than same-day releases from Metro Boomin and Takeoff.

Only Vince and his ironic sense of humor would drop a summer-themed album in the throes of fall, but his creativity and ear for production immediately bring heated flows and burning beats. Big Boy opens the album with the region’s return to summer, a perfectly Vince moment.

Big Boy brings back the beach days and starts the album with “Feels Like Summer,” as Staples warms the song with excitatory friction, priming listeners for the hard-hitting flows that decorate the project. Vince features another LA native, Ty Dolla $ign, who does well to give fans a warm chorus, but that’s about it. Ty’s features are getting more and more predictable, and his inability to get personal takes away from Vince’s close-to-home delivery.

“Outside,” is a bass-bumping, almost annoying ode to the lifestyle Staples lived as a youth in Long Beach. His “who bout that life” refrain is singalong-able, and his verses hit hard, but the track barely eclipses the two-minute mark, making it difficult to leave an impression.

“Chipped” is another fast-paced banger, with Vince taking a higher pitch for his flow. Vince taps in fellow LA rapper Jay Rock for one of the highlights of the album. Vince bodies two strong verses supported by a bumping chorus from East Side Johnny. Vince’s fun delivery strengthens clever lyrics throughout the track, highlighted by several different clown references. During the second verse, Staples brings some shine to Tommy the Clown: “Throw a party on your block, like I’m Tommy the Clown.”

“New earlsweatshirt (interlude)” is 25 seconds on what could have been a banger, but it ends as just a teaser for what hopefully will be an album for the beloved rapper that hasn’t gotten it together since 2015. The interlude will go down as an all-time great if it actually is an indicator of an album, but we’ll have to wait and see. If it’s not, it probably just represents Vince and Earl as buddies that are just trying to fuck with everyone. Let’s hope for the former.

On “FUN!” Vince’s classic nasally and aggressive flow juxtaposes a bubbly, ringing instrumental, and with a predictably silly feature from E-40, the track makes for the most fun listen on the album. The message of the song is clear: “We just wanna have fun / We don’t wanna fuck up nothing”

The chorus is supported by more energetic ad-libs from E-40. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out- not a lot of rappers flexing their Google Earth capabilities these days.

“Brand New Tyga,” could have been the perfect interlude to continue the momentum that he started on “Taste,” but another lifeless performance from the meme rapper that hasn’t been relevant since 2012 somewhat slows the momentum of the album- every song before this provides value, but this skit only pushes the irrelevance of radio in the streaming era. Let’s just say that the track would have been more aptly titled “That 2012 Tyga That Nobody Really Liked, But Hey, It Kinda Slaps.”

The album’s closer, “Tweakin’,” provides for a deeper look into Vince’s perspective. Taking a left turn from the sound of the rest of the album, Staples looks inward, with lyrics about growing up in an area where gun ranges are more useful to young black men than the churches. Despite its darkness, the track does well to conclude an album that could have been overlooked due to its lack of substantive lyrics.

Kehlani does well to cultivate the brooding feeling started by Staples, with an ominous chorus; “We just lost somebody else this weekend, no, no / Think that I am jumping off the deep end, yeah, yeah / Nothing out of something, now it’s leaving / Tryna find my peace of mind, it’s fleeting.”

A great album in concept, FM! may be limited by its brevity. With an average song length of about two minutes, only “FUN!” has a good shot at converting energy into streams.

The radio station concept was well-executed, and the purely West Coast feel that Vince develops is refreshing in a trap-beat music landscape. That being said, like Big Fish Theory, FM! will only retain replay value within Vince Staples’ fanbase.


– Gormski

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