Vince Staples’ artistic eclecticism comes from his willingness to paint his story with different brushes on the same canvas. It’s his ability to draw from his experiences with introspective and reflective raps over colourful and creative soundscapes. His 2015 album Summertime ’06 was my first introduction to the talented LA artist. The double album was vast with different sounds and stories, telling tales of his youth while being bringing a social consciousness that is straight and direct, while keeping grounded in his raps and visions on life. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength. 2017’s Big Fish Theory was an experimental, club and techno-inspired body of work that was punchy and quite bold in execution. Since then, he has partnered extensively with producer extraordinaire Kenny Beats, with whom he has released the critically acclaimed short album FM! and now his new, self-titled album Vince Staples. His musical journey is an interesting one, his growth over the years has been noticeable at times and more subdued at others, but his willingness to keep pushing his sound and story forward is what makes him such a fascinating artist.
This new album is quite a surprising change of pace. I loved Big Fish Theory and FM! for their punchy, bold and heavy sound, and Vince Staples’ straight-forward yet revealing stories about street life, his difficult adolescence and vulnerabilities. That contrast between minimalist, electronic production and that gentler side to his story makes his music work for me. Vince Staples is a change in tone from that – it’s a gentler, more delicate project that features a gentler, more subtle and soulful sound, courtesy of Kenny Beats’ softer production. Tracks like “ARE YOU WITH THAT?” and “SUNDOWN TOWN” are examples of that softer, more soulful sound I mentioned, and while I prefer the brutal minimalism of his production, the warmer and more inviting sound of this project in particular makes it seem like his most personal album to date. The subtle yet colourful chimes on “THE SHINING” as well as the somewhat drill-inspired drumming makes for an engaging listen. “Still in search of (Yeah) / ain’t no N.E.R.D.” is one of the many lines he proclaims on this project, and while it may seem like a clever N.E.R.D reference, it’s an example of his bluntness and often cynical view of life. No-one Ever Really Dies is what N.E.R.D stands for, and it’s the exact opposite of how Vince Staples views the state of the world. He has lived it and seen it all. His friends and contemporaries living through the struggles, people within his community dying. It’s sobering confronting these realities all the time, and it showcases Vince’s maturity as a writer and artist. He’s been vocal about the portrayal of drugs in hip-hop and the negative effects of it within the culture. This is clear yet again on “TAKE ME HOME” featuring Fousheé (who’s gorgeous vocals steal the show here), where he states “Swallowing my pride, like them pills y’all be on / I hate when you high but you hate feeling lost”. This dichotomy of trying to drown sorrows and mental health issues through drugs that keep pushing people down this spiral of self-destruction is pretty saddening, especially considering some of the socio-political issues that may influence that state of mind and being. On his excellent lead single “LAW OF AVERAGES”, he states “Fuck a bitch, I don’t trust no bitch with my government / Fuck a friend, I don’t want no friends with no open hands”, showing his mistrust from people outside his inner-circle. The darker tone of his lyrics are just so revealing and personal, and with the lighter beats, the dichotomy of his music is stronger than ever.
Vince Staples is in a way Vince’s most revealing, introspective and personal album to date. Combining Kenny Beats’ softer, more soulful soundscape with these intricate verses about his own life and struggles makes it one of my favourites of his. There’s still a lot to digest and reflect on, but his willingness to constantly push his sound and speak candidly on themes of personal struggles and loss makes him on of the most intruiging artists making music today.