Vince Staples can just rap his ass off, so it shouldn’t necessarily come across as a surprise that he’s reinvented himself several times into his career at the age of 25. He doesn’t produce so maybe some would imagine him sitting around just ready to throw rhymes at the wall over whatever gets handed to him, but the sonic, visual, and lyrical direction he’s aiming for is always clear, concise, and fully formed. Whether it be the gothic drear that underpinned the catchy sensibilities on Summertime ’06 or the lawless electronic sprawl of Big Fish Theory, Staples always sounded in the driver’s seat, making every detail flow immaculately.
FM! is relatively straightforward, tackling the culture of pop-rap radio mixing, DJ-ing, and even commentary in a short, flowing opus. The quick run-time sounds like an excerpt from a pop-art world where Staples holds the pen, deciding who the big names of the moment are and even crafting a hilarious call-in mini-game where a contestant doesn’t know his name. Hooks and features abound over minimal, pounding production primarily from Kenny Beats who’s clicks, beeps, and 808’s replace the shields of electronic lightning from BFT.
The album continues a thread of fearlessness in Staples’s choice of collaborators. Staples doesn’t care if you think he’s going too commercial or too experimental, if he digs SOPHIE and Ty Dolla $ign he’s going to jump on a track with them and the songwriting always seems to come together due to Staples’ adaptability. People like Ty and Kehlani bring a vocal chops and melodic melodies to the mix, but a tune like “Outside” still jostles on with the help of Staples’ enthusiastic refrain.
The lyrics are of course snarky, but not mindless. Whether it be candid, off the cuff remarks about Staples’ childhood neighborhood: “we gonna party till the sun or the guns come out,” or a more solemnly tuned song like Tweaking, which discusses coping mechanisms and the struggle for mental stability that comes with violence: “When Jibari died was off the porch for homicides/Then when Hefe died, I bought some things to pass the gas/But when Johnny died all I had was shows booked.” Staples infamously said lil Bow Wow was his favorite rapper and came under fire for dissing the 90’s gangsta rap boom and by hiding this sentiment in an overall pop-rap oriented work he showcases the cruelty which comes in wanting to hear the work of “real ganstas” with blood on their hands and darkness in their past in consumable music.
Listening to the type of station Staples is referring to this week, some of the big items were the hook for single of the moment “Mo Bamba” spliced all over the place; verses from rhymer of the moment Cardi B’s growing bag of features; and the in-between eye catching grace of Drake’s rap singing. Here, “Mo Bamba” would be a tiny snippet of Tyga effortlessly bouncing over an impossibly late-night club beat; Cardi B would be Earl Sweatshirt’s 15 seconds of fleeting gravitas, and Drake would be replaced by Staples crowning himself the zeitgeist king of this world he’s created. Although the work is short, it’s merely compressed and Staples somehow has involved himself with enough material to keep an FM station going for a lot longer than 25 minutes.