Words: Dhruva Balram
Vince Staples has always had plenty to say. He’s also never been shy about saying it. On his third album, ‘FM!’, his message is brisk. The overarching theme of things being cut short is at the forefront of the project; of life being lived to the fullest while death could be around the corner. The album features only 11 tracks. Staples appears on eight of them. Radio skits are interweaved throughout, as if you’re outside on a blazingly hot day, drink in hand with the radio playing. Some of the skits, like LA radio legend Big Boy, are there to juxtapose Staples.
Big Boy’s intro to the album is happy and relaxing. Staples cuts it short by rapping, “Summertime in the LB wild / We gon’ party ’til the sun or the guns come out”. “Other skits act as interludes; a new Earl Sweatshirt song is played and then ends before it really begins. Tyga gets through 35 seconds on ‘Brand New Tyga’, as if someone is teasing it for a future release. This, again, plays into the theme found on ‘FM!’; one of joy ending abruptly.
The production, mainly handled by Kenny Beats, is a hazy mix of clackety-clack hi-hats, booming bass; each track has a rich, layered feel. It’s only when you pay attention to Staples and his hand-picked selection of guest stars that you understand how violence can erupt at any time.
Staples uses ‘FM!’ as a reminder of the realities people live within California. It’s a mirage, he says – sunny, it’s warm, it’s relaxing: it’s the Hollywood Dream. Lying underneath is murder and death – summer, after all, is a time of wildin’ out. Whether it’s Kamiah spitting bars like “You can’t be friendly when you bangin’” on ‘No Bleedin’ or Jay Rock’s entire verse on ‘Don’t Get Chipped’, you’ll hear the jittery, anxious feeling of what it’s like to live with violence every day.
One of hip-hop’s most iconic characters, Staples has set himself apart from his peers numerous times before. He makes whatever the fuck he wants and ‘FM!’ is just another example of that. Each idea is significantly different from the last and this latest album is an immersive look at the grizzly realities of millions, a notion he re-iterates on the album’s final lines: “Tryna get rich, get everybody fed / But everybody dead”.