Against a cold and rainy fall, rapper Vince Staples came out of nowhere with another explosive and layered project, this time in the form of a 22-minute journey through Los Angeles radio titled FM!.
Staples has amassed a growing fan base due to his knack for combining aggressively blunt bars set against beats that punch hard and bump with attitude. His debut studio album Summertime ‘06 flowed with mid-tempo grooves while last year’s Big Fish Theory beeped and booped with EDM-focused production. Enter FM!, his most commercial-sounding project yet, and to great effect. The album zips through its 22-minute runtime, not letting up for a second — even the interludes and skits burst with energy.
Album opener “Feels Like Summer” eases us in as a radio tunes into “Big Boy’s Neighborhood,” an L.A.-based radio show hosted by Kurt “Big Boy” Alexander. As Big Boy talks about the relaxing times of summer, the beat is brought in: a steady high-toned melody against a thumping bass. Staples then opens the album with two lines central to the rest of FM!: “Summertime in the L.B. wild/ We gon’ party till the sun or the guns come out.” Against the bleak conditions of sunny California, Staples finds the perfect combination of hot and cold.
With only 22 minutes to get his point across, Staples doesn’t waste his vocal talent, finding the perfect flows to fill in every hole. He bounces and bops through “Don’t Get Chipped” with a wordy eighth-note cadence against an equally quick hi-hat. Then, just as quickly, he slows his roll in “Relay,” rapping “Fed chirp on scanner/ Got blurped with the hammer.” His many guests, ranging from Earl Sweatshirt to Kehlani, are efficient and quick in their respective appearances as well.
The tracks may blend together to a casual listener in the first listen, but that’s part of the game that Staples plays. FM! is engrossed in the moment as Staples takes in and reflects the world around him, most notably his white middle-to-high class audience in the music video for lead single “FUN!”.
In addition, the skit of the album finds Big Boy and his black music-focused radio show speaking to someone from Whittier, a town in Southern California that is only 1 percent black. The skit is only a minute long, but you could ponder why Staples chose every aspect of the skit much longer than that. Staples has crafted great black music yet challenges audiences' perceptions of black life as he reminds them of some stark differences between his white audience at Coachella and his own upbringing in North Long Beach.
The record pays tribute to popular radio shows in its mainstream productions and hooks in addition to the song-to-song transitions and interludes that complete the cohesiveness of the experience. Staples, however, is strengthened rather than weakened by his entrance back into the mainstream. The tracks all zip by, with no song going longer than three minutes, so the tracks start just as quickly as they stop. FM! contains some of his catchiest songwriting ever, like “Head on a swivel, no bleedin’ me” as the hook for “Bleedin’ Me” or the fiery, simply written track “Run the Bands.”
Vince Staples is one of the most potent and efficient talents in hip-hop today, and FM! reasserts his dominance in balancing lyrics that hit as hard as his beats. In a press release for the album, Staples stated that FM! had “No concepts, no elaborate schemes, just music. Because nowadays, who needs more bullsh*t?” However, the artistic delivery and deliberate conciseness in every aspect of this short and sweet record begs to differ. Staples is full of tricks, and claiming he isn’t could be one of his most self-aware jokes yet.
Final Grade: A
Carl "CJ" Zabat is a music columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.