Long Beach, California’s proudest resident, Vince Staples, is known for crafting intricate albums that ache with melancholic storytelling. This was nowhere more apparent than on last year’s self-titled fourth LP, which took the 42nd spot on our Best Albums of 2021 list for its magnetic moodiness. That record found Vince at his most thoughtful, as he shared his razor-sharp social observations on his upbringing and the world around him.
And he’s similarly contemplative on fifth studio album ‘Ramona Park Broke My Heart’, though this time the 28-year-old has honed even further in on the Ramona Park neighbourhood he grew up in. From the start, the record exudes the bounce synonymous with the West Coast rap, all swollen basslines, finger snaps and flirty guitar strums. The sonically sunny ‘AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES)’ proves that Staples’ knack for compelling imagery remains intact: “Trophy in the hood, ayy / Wish a n**** would, ayy”.
Meanwhile, ‘EAST SIDE PRAYER’, featuring Lil Baby, sees Vince and Atlanta’s biggest rap star relay tales of the resilience they maintained in spite of their environments. Baby perfectly sums this up in one couplet: “Nobody wants to put in the work until they get paid / … I want this shit bad, hope it don’t take long”. On the laidback ‘MAGIC’, Vince is ebullient about his transformation into a hometown hero who beat the odds: “It’s handshakes and hugs when I come around.”
But he truly becomes leans into his theme – for ‘Ramona Park Broke My Heat’ is a love letter of sorts – with ‘WHEN SPARKS FLY’, as he shifts his focus from his old neighbourhood to zoom in on a romanticised ode to his pistol: “I’m ashamed to say I think I hate you now / We should have took them on a chase ‘cause I can’t save you now”. It’s a level of candour we should expect from Vince – he did, after all, tell NME last year: “It’s important for me to tell the truth about my experiences.”
Emphasising Staples’ versatility, ‘Ramona Park Broke My Heart’ continues the revival of hip-hop’s golden age (also epitomised by Cordae‘s 2021 album ‘From A Birds Eye View’). The production is clean and the rhymes imaginative as the artist digs deeper than ever before. Yes, ‘Vince Staples’ was a beautifully personal reflection from start to finish, but ‘Ramona Park…’ enriches the listener’s relationship with the rapper – who hasn’t looked back on their former home with mixed feelings and deep nostalgia?
Release date: April 8
Record label: Blacksmith Recordings/Motown Records UK