Vince Staples’ Cold California Summer on FM!

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Rapper Vince Staples has never been one to shy away from ensuring his powerful voice is heard by everyone. Which is why, when I saw that his newest project, FM!, was excruciatingly short, I was both surprised and disappointed. Staples has described FM! as not being an “official” album, furthering the narrative that he makes whatever he wants whenever he wants and doesn’t care what you have to say about it. Even more evidence of this is the content of the album itself.

The longest song on the 11 track album – three of which are interludes, mind you – clocks in at only three minutes and eight seconds. Most every other song is a few seconds over two minutes. In total, at the end of all the excitement of a new release, we have a meagre 22 minutes of content from Vince Staples. Once again, amazing and disappointing, but my disappointment with FM! disappeared when I really thought it over. If Staples only has two minutes to say what he needs to say, he makes sure it’s used well. As it turns out, 22 minutes was all he needed – not a second of them offered any disappointment.

FM! was created with purpose. Staples can’t call it an “official album” because it’s one cohesive piece of art. As a Vince Staples fan, every song feels too short upon an initial listen, but this is an important decision that aids the messages Vince wants listeners to take away from this album. While the songs on this album stand alone just fine, from top to bottom, they seamlessly blend from one into the other, making FM! an experience. Listening to it from beginning to end feels like watching a film.

This ties into the aesthetic that has been carefully curated for FM! – layered between the steady flow of music are radio skits, featuring an appearance from legendary radio host Big Boy, a preview of an Earl Sweatshirt song and even a call-in from a “listener”. Born out of an appreciation for 90s to early 2000s rap and R&B and the culture that engulfed them, the songs are rich and moving. The effortless flow between songs calls to mind images of the radio blasting throughout a block party or during a long drive with some friends.

If you come for the music alone, FM! is easy to get through, but purposefully painful as you take in the place it came from. Lurking beneath the innovative concept is a paramount darkness buried in breezy beats. FM! offers imagery of the so-called permanent summer people in Los Angeles claim to be surrounded by and punctuates this with a reminder of the violence and death lingering in the shadows. The album concludes with “Tweakin’”, the most somber note it could have ended on, for good reason. It’s an ode to lost friends, featuring gut-punching lyrics from Staples paralleled with “Kehlani” sounding more solemn than we’ve heard from him before.

For the most part, however, Vince’s serious and often frightening tone is hidden in fun, upbeat instrumentals. Lyrics from songs like “FUN!” and “Feels Like Summer” juxtapose Vince’s signature snark with grisly imagery. Vince wants you to picture yourself in the California summer among the carnage; it’s clear that time and care was put into bringing these stories to life, and they all hit as hard as he wanted.

Vince Staples is currently one of rap’s most interesting figures. He’s got an eye for detail and intricacy – the level of planning and care that went into each individual song along with ensuring they fit into the big picture perfectly does not go unnoticed. All of his releases have brought something to the table, to the point where I’m unsure if he’s capable of pulling together some sort of ultimate masterpiece in the future – whatever Vince Staples does, he always manages to top it with what comes next.

 

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