Vince Staples: FM!

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By Henrique DaMour

FM! is a 22-minute, beautifully selfish middle finger to the streaming era’s double-albums, and an absolute masterclass in juxtaposition. Vince Staples takes you on a ride through Long Beach in the middle of the summer where the only two sure things on a hot day in the LBC are parties and the often-ignored but never-escaped threat of gang violence.

Aware that he doesn’t have a lot of time to spare on FM!, Staples uses the first track, “Feels Like Summer,” to hit the listener with a microcosm of the album as a whole. The aforementioned juxtaposition of fun with firearms is heard as early as the first bar when Vince raps, “Summertime in the LB wild/We gon’ party ‘til the sun or the guns come out,” because in the land of the endless summer that is southern California, this is Vince’s reality: live it up until the party’s over, no matter who or what makes that call. And then there’s the assist by Ty Dolla $ign, whose smoky croon leaves you smiling and singing along. I mean, if Ty says your haters can’t touch you and the pretty girls are gonna check you out, is there anything at all to worry about?

This thematic duality is sonic as well, which means that from a pure listenability perspective, Vince also has a foot in two camps. On one, er, foot, it is an exciting, party-ready album with catchy hooks and head-bobbing beats. And on the other, it is a lyrically dense and complex work that makes you appreciate and think on not only what Vince is saying and how clearly personal it is to him, but how he says it all through varied flows and voices. If you aren’t really listening, you can let loose and dance—and that’s OK. If you are listening, it’s not nearly as fun, but you glean so much out of it that by the time Vince is done you question if it was really only 22 minutes.

The beauty of the duality is that it’s exactly what Staples wants FM! to be. On a micro scale, you have lyrics like “My black is beautiful, but I’ll still shoot at you, dawg” off “FUN!” that contrast the chest-beating pride and chest-shielding armor that are simultaneously donned in Long Beach. On a macro scale, every track has production that is its own special brand of eerie and unsettling, but that eventually makes you forget you were ever any kind of uncomfortable by dropping into a banger of a chorus with lyrics about stunting in the sunshine.

Vince Staples is a master of social commentary via sarcasm and trolling. And while one wouldn’t think that this irreverent persona would be the most effective vehicle to convey Vince’s experiences with police brutality and gang violence in his city, he uses satire ingeniously. This is especially apparent with Vince’s personality in his music videos, and even his Sprite commercials. In his music, Vince’s deadpan delivery is able to both be funny and convey the gravity of a given situation—a deceptively thin line that skillful satire like his can straddle. And here, Vince turns his attention to Long Beach, where the boogeyman of unannounced violence can ruin any day in a flash: “Wrong hat, wrong day, I killed my brother” he raps on “Feels Like Summer.” Obviously, this sardonic sincerity is extremely hard to accomplish in a tasteful way with such weighty subject matter, so it only makes Staples’ careful and incisive artistry shine even brighter when he so consistently makes it work.

MusicNoah Franklin