Illustration by Kiran Aranha
Bursting onto the rap scene with a charismatic personality and hard hitting lyrics, Vince Staples has gained respect from fellow rappers as well as an adamant fan base. Rising to prominence through his features with rap group Odd Future and collaborative project Stolen Youth, with recently deceased rapper Mac Miller, it was clear from early on that Staples was an extremely intelligent rapper with a lot to say. His dark humor and occasionally sadistic view on the world have captivated many listeners. Staples has never been afraid to shy away from darker topics in his music. The recent release of his album FM! proves to be nothing different, yet Staples explores a wider range of topics and themes in this album then he previously has, surprising many of his fans with a fresh variety.
Hailing from Long Beach county, Staples has always been a provocateur. From his blunt interviews to his hard hitting lyrics, he has never been afraid to cut loose to his listeners regarding his dark past and views on the world. Much of his music references his years spent in Long Beach, where as a teenager and young adult he was heavily involved in drug and gang culture. Although he has very rarely been willing to give specific details about his past, his music makes it clear that it is not a lighthearted topic. Yet a lot of his music has focused more on this darker past and not so much his witty and satirical sense of humor, which he typically displays only in interviews and through social media.
In his third studio album, however, Staples finally dives deeper into his captivating personality. He plays with ideas of fame, relevance, and pop culture throughout the album, and uses two skits as well as eight songs and an interlude to express these ideas. Using personal experiences brought his music to a very intimate level, giving insight to fans on his past through music.
The album itself is a wild and extremely short ride, lasting only 22 minutes. From song titles with exclamation points such as “FUN!” and “Outside!” the album seemingly takes a lighter tone than past works by Staples, yet the lyrics themselves speak to much more satirical work. “FUN!” in particular focuses on this theme of taking a seemingly upbeat and relatively simple concept and evaluating the implications it has in relation to societal expectations regarding gang affiliation, which as mentioned before played a huge role in Staples early life.
The haunting chorus “We just wanna have fun / We don’t wanna f*ck up nothin’ … / We don’t give a f*ck about nothin” seems to focus on the idea of having reckless fun without considering the consequences. It is Staples reflecting on his past as well as the culture he grew up in, which from an early age condoned these sorts of actions. It is Staples using new concepts to explore dark themes of his past.
Staples also plays with ideas of social relevance on the tenth track of the album, a 52 second excerpt from “Big Boy’s Neighborhood,” a Los Angeles based radio show. In it, Big Boy, the host, asks the person he’s interviewing to name seven people who have a name that begins with the letter V. The person can only name one, Vanessa Williams, although the person being interviewed hails from Whittier, CA.
Although this seems like a somewhat strange way to tackle ideas of social relevance, it does make sense. Staples has often been cited as a rapper who is forgotten due to his somewhat rare features and darker toned music. By taking an interview from a popular radio show that focuses on rap culture, where the person being interviewed was from southern California, Staples expresses his feelings of lack of representation.
Most of the album pays attentions to these themes of pop culture and gang affiliation. While the lyrics are hard hitting as ever, the album is quite short and considering three of the eleven tracks are not actual songs, it would have been nice to get more tracks. What Staples gave was great, but not quite what one would consider a full length album.
Although the album seems like it is Staples first take on lighter themes, the lyrics tell us that this is far from the truth. While it does show a transition in the rappers style, and the acceptance of different techniques to express his ideas, the deeper meanings remain similar. This speaks to Staples artistic inspiration and depth.
While it could have benefitted from more length, Staples keeps it concise and does not waste a breath in expressing his evaluation of pop culture and his past. With FM! Staples has once again returned to deliver a unique take on the world in his own way.