It’s a shame for Vince Staples that Kendrick Lamar released ‘DAMN.’ last year, as with the Compton rapper’s anxiety-laden masterpiece removed from the equation, his second album ‘Big Fish Theory’ would’ve stood alone as the most accomplished, exciting rap album of the year. A bubbling cauldron of hyper-modern beats and skittish, lightning fast verses, the album pushed the Long Beach rapper forward to becoming one of the most intriguing, forward-thinking voices in the genre, and on the planet full-stop.
After an excellent one-off single earlier this year in the confrontational ‘Get The Fuck Off My Dick’, Vince has now shared third album ‘FM!’, released with little to no warning. Running to only 22 minutes, it’s a record that feels like a drawing board of the rapper’s influences, collaborators and lifestyle. In line with its title, the record features radio skits, sketches of tracks that appear as interludes of sorts, and a patchwork vibe that doesn’t tie into any particular concept, but serves as a comprehensive portrait of where Vince Staples is at as 2018 draws to a close.
Despite the cut-and-paste nature of the record, which feels like it could appear as a radio station on Grand Theft Auto (and, in turn, will sound best when driving on wide roads with the windows down), it still harbours some brilliant standalone songs. Opener ‘Feels Like Summer’ is the perfect sonic representation of its title. “Let’s go ahead and make you feel like summer,” the opening skit from famous LA radio host Big Boy states, before Vince’s sharp, distinctive flow enters for the first time, before a catchier-than-thou vocal hook from Ty Dolla $ign in the chorus holds the track together gorgeously.
Floating effortlessly into second track ‘Outside!’, Vince’s verses on the album are as impassioned and intoxicating as those on ‘Big Fish Theory’, but instead of using that energy to forcibly thrash against racial profiling and internal anger, it’s channelled into pure joy, his voice bouncing atop playful, gloopy beats. It’s a different side to the rapper, but one that’s no less enjoyable.
The album’s radio station, Big Boy’s Neighbourhood, introduces a whole manner of voices across the record - be it a short-but-very-sweet verse from Earl Sweatshirt or a bumbling on-air contestant who can’t name more than one celebrity whose name begins with V - and Vince appears as much as a narrator and overseer as he does main character; introducing Jay Rock on the aggressive ‘Don’t Get Chipped’ and Kehlani on smooth closer ‘Tweakin’’, he’s more than happy to take a back seat when necessary. While ‘Big Fish Theory’ saw the rapper centre stage, relentless and omnipresent, on ‘FM!’ he lets us tune in to a calmer world, one which he dips in and out of when he pleases, filling in the blanks and staying in the fast lane.