By Troy Hasselman, November 7 2018 —
Vince Staples is not one for boundaries. From the massive shifts in production styles between projects in his short and accomplished career to the omnivorous approach he takes to his influences — holding Joy Division and Ray J in equally high regard — the Long Beach MC takes an internet-age approach to culture by identifying the links between seemingly disparate mediums. Last year’s Big Fish Theory explored this contrast by utilizing house-influenced production and enlisting producers like James Blake and SOPHIE for an album that sounds like a nihilistic block party. On his new project, FM!, Staples returns to more conventional hip-hop style and production while maintaining his creativity and ingenuity over a scant 22 minutes.
Themed around a fake California based radio station, FM! explores the themes and modes of west-coast hip-hop and over 11 tracks. With production handled primarily by rising Los Angeles producer Kenny Beats, the project runs the gamut of styles from the G-funk of “Don’t Get Chipped” to the hyphy-influenced “FUN!,” which fittingly includes a feature from Bay Area veteran E-40. The album also includes brief interludes from Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga, with the inclusion of each artist making sense within the context of Staples’s trip through the sounds and modes of the West Coast.
Lyrically, Staples covers anxieties explored on past projects with an increased reflection on the influence of his newfound fame and its link between his new and old life. Staples reflects on his gang-affiliated past and explores the contrast between the seemingly idyllic surroundings of warm and sunny Long Beach and the violence that consumed his youth. This contrast is explored most effectively on the project’s closing track, the Kehlani-assisted “Tweakin’.” The track explores Staples’s past and how it continues to haunt him, despite his fame, as his friends are regularly claimed by gang violence. He continues to worry if he may be next in spite of the recognition he has achieved.
While maintaining an upbeat atmosphere musically and simulating the feeling of listening to a radio station on a sunny California day, FM! proves that Staples knows the darkness that can come with that sunlight.