Vince Staples’ “FM!” is a paradoxical reflection on gang culture

On November 2, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples released his third consecutive studio album in the past three years, entitled ‘“FM!”

“FM!” is Staples’ most energetic album yet. Most tracks were produced by Los Angeles-based DJ Kenny Beats. Many of the songs on “FM!” featured upbeat and 808-filled production- an ode to Staples’ unpredictability, as his previous album “Big Fish Theory” took a more avant-garde, techno-inspired approach, while the preceding “Summertime 06” was the most traditional-sounding album ever released by Staples.

With no prior promotion or even mention of any album releasing, Staples first announced “FM!” October 29 on after hinting that there would be a music video released in the near future. On the same day, the rapper took to to give more insight into the album’s theme and inspiration, with the caption reading:

“As artists we are nothing without the fans. I took time off from recording my next album to make a very special project dedicated to my biggest fan and supporter since day one. He said he needed something that represented him and where he comes from so here it is. Thank you for years of loyalty, I do this for people like you. See you all Thursday @ 9pm Poppy Street Time!”

Staples, arguably the most nihilistic rapper of the decade, often explores themes of gang violence and poverty in his music. “FM!” is no exception, however, it has more of an ironic tone. In previous albums, Staples addressed the topics of gang violence and death with more of a somber and emotional tone, but on “FM!” he strays from this and sustains the bounciness and upbeat feel of the tracks with delivery that’s just as energetic.

Almost like there’s nothing to it, Staples will recite dark like “Summertime in the LB wild/

We gon’ party ’til the sun or the guns come out.” Staples’ purpose in doing this is simple: it’s symbolic of how quickly and effortlessly deaths occur in neighborhoods ridden with gang violence, such as his own, Ramona Park. He’s not saying that lives are expendable in these situations, he’s just saying that that’s the way it seems, because they are taken so often and quickly that it often goes unnoticed.

One standout track on “FM!” is ‘Tweakin,” the album’s closing track. Featuring R&B singer Kehlani, the song addresses how constant deaths in Long Beach have affected Staples personally, as he references the deaths of his close friends- some occurring after Staples’ ascent to fame, and others before. In the song, Staples raps, “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/Down to burn in hell, I don’t care how my soul look.” These lyrics reflect how experiencing the deaths of loved ones has led Staples to have a rather cynical outlook on society, although he still does what he can to help out the and environment.

“FM!” in itself is a paradox- Vince Staples raps some of the darkest lines he’s ever written on the bounciest of beats in any of his work. As a sociopolitical statement, this paradoxical approach is impactful, and when it comes to the overall sound, “FM!” didn’t lack in that area either. Though the album was short, clocking in only 22 minutes, Staples delivered what was one of the strongest hip-hop projects released this year.

“FM!” by Vince Staples is a bittersweet album that sheds light on all of the factors involving gang violence in LA. “FM!” is short, with only eight full songs, but still gives listeners a lot to think about and be aware of.

Photo courtesy of Vince Staples

Originally published at http://www.thelariatonline.com on November 12, 2018.

I study American History at Howard University. I like to write sometimes.

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