Vince Staples' 'FM!' is rap’s "Red Dead Redemption 2" and more takeaways from the album

‘FM!’ is a brilliant album, damn near perfect. Staples has gone commercial.

  /  11.07.2018

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Vince Staples is at his most captivating during album press runs. His music is perhaps the most mood centric in hip hop. To enjoy a Vince Staples album, you have to be in the mood to listen to just Vince Staples. This is because his albums are often so starkly different that you’d be hard-pressed to find connecting features and narratives. Summertime ’06 was conversational and full of straight-forward misery. The Prima Donna EP was short, yet sprawling and adventurous with luxe underpinnings. Big Fish Theory was sharp and electric like Pikachu wearing a spiked belt. What makes FM! such a detour from Staples’ wide-reaching creative palette is that this time, you don’t need to be barking up his alley to appreciate it. This is playlist music that’s still adventurous to extend past Spotify’s RapCaviar. From the glossy “Feels Like Summer” to the murky waters of “Tweakin,” Staples has grasped the proper balance between eclectic and expected.

Here are four takeaways that we’ve gleaned in our analysis of the project.

Vince “No Holds Barred” Staples

In an interview with Joe Budden’s “Pull Up” in July, Budden asked Staples about his newfound openness and commercial awareness — the latter allowed him to launch his own Snapchat show called “F*H!” A melancholy look came over Staples’ face when he explained his newfound fuck-it attitude. The artist spent so much time trying to maintain his grassroots appeal that he was making things weird for his surrounding family and himself. To that end, he decided to embrace the celebrity. The last of the strings that were tethering him from bubbling stardom had been cut.

FM! is the full realization of embracing that next level of rap superstardom. There was always an off-kilter, basement-bred quality to even Staples’ most lively cuts. That’s no longer. His new album is full of glitz and glam, and features ranging from Ty Dolla $ign to Jay Rock. Interludes are snippets of Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt at their boldest with tastes of new singles that are as jarring as they are smooth. It’ll piss you off, but it’s Staples uncompromised. He’s bringing whatever’s in the kitchen sink and traversing gangster territory he previously believed that he passed. There is no word that can describe the range of sounds that exist on this album besides “breathtaking.”

Define “party record?”

Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist is a list of the industry’s “who’s who,” regularly getting updated with many of the same faces. It gets boring seeing Lil Pump up there with every new release. Every now and then, a sneaky rising record pops up on it — it used to be “Mo Bamba.” Now, it’s “Leave Me Alone.” To be included with the big dawg names, these records have to slap a certain way and record labels have to gauge their effectiveness before they’re given the stamp of approval. The way to see just how huge they are comes down to how much they can jumpstart a party. To this end, a lot of these records sound similar; often featuring horribly-sung melodies, off-kilter lyrics, and rumbling bass-lines. They’re then deemed party records -– or “moshpit starters” because those are all the rage -– and become the obsession of the public.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find Staples on RapCaviar — at least, it used to be hard (he’ll undoubtedly make it up there now). FM! seems built like it’s in search of crafting these bass-heavy knockers that were all but absent on Big Fish Theory. Instead of having an album comprised of 8 similar versions of what it takes to get the party rockers in the house tonight, Staples tests out a number of different styles to see what sticks best. “Feels Like Summer” carries a slight chill and a distinctly Californian bounce, while Ty Dolla $ign carries the pop radio energy into the next stratosphere. “Don’t Get Chipped” is a frantic head knocker light on bass, yet heavy on the atmosphere that causes heads to crash in the moshpit. “Run the Bands” is a smart play on traditional trap. Make a list of club song styles and then, listen to the album. You’ll find that Staples has freaked each one -– masterfully, too.

The fun is in the tease, my good friend

This is it. This is the record that the world will embrace because of its adventurousness and commitment to making the listener laugh at the many minuscule details, thanks to the wordplay in tracks like “Christian Dior” and “Crippin Bior.” Then, shortly after, Staples made a song about murder called “FUN!” by bringing in Big Boy — a legendary fixture of Los Angeles radio — to set the mood for a summer of fun… for an album released in fall. FM! is the “Red Dead Redemption 2” of music, aside from length. There are so many subtle nuances and stylistic touches to the work at hand that you can become lost in figuring out all that it has to offer. As an avid player of “Read Dead Redemption 2,” I can freely admit to nerding out over horse nuts that droop (You spend a lot of time riding horses on that game, believe me). I feel the same about FM!

Even with everything going for it, one could imagine an artist becoming carried away when they know that what they have shits on the competition. Especially for Staples, whose received critical acclaim for each project he’s put out so far. But, he wisely keeps it constrained and he’s all the more better for it. Only two songs on the album go longer than three minutes, yet the others that scrape by at around two minutes don’t feel short in comparison. Staples fits a lot of wordplay and ideas into couplets. By doing this, he managed to make you understand why he hadn’t been robbed, and his reasoning for beating up an online troll. He isn’t rapping Twista-fast, either. He’s breathing and picking his words carefully, which lets you feel his style. I mean really feel it. The interludes are maddening, but sensible. Staples is playing with expectation and gives the listener just enough to pique their interests.

Vince understands the idea of presence more than many of his peers

Rap is an art form of presence. Making yourself stand out, cutting through the instrumental, brandishing swagger as an instrument as much as the voice. More often than not, artists fail at one — or all three — of these qualities. Snoop Dogg is perhaps the best example of an artist whose silky voice and effortless cool make any song. No matter how good or bad they sound, the tracks are instantly recognizable as a Snoop joint. He’s managed to stay relevant for almost three decades and it’s no fluke.

Staples, coincidentally, sounds like Snoop could be his cousin. He similarly understands presence, how to maintain it, and how to brandish it. His voice cuts through the pounding bass and powerful baritone voices on “Run The Bands” like a steak knife through butter that was left out, dripping a suave marinade throughout the song’s cold presence. “No Bleedin” sounds like it exists in an alternate universe and appears only two songs later. Staples connects the songs with a confidence through his authentic, street-weary bars that chills. He could teach a class on chemistry (because who likes chemistry?) and it would be more captivating than playing “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Sorry, the game is just that good.

FM! is a brilliant album, damn near perfect. Staples has gone commercial. It was bound to happen –- his interview and public persona are more interesting than three of your favorite rappers’ “Breakfast Club” interviews combined. The intelligence was always there and it’s evident in his past works. But, now the world has caught wind of it. FM! is but a glimpse of just what Staples can do when he has the confidence. But, if history tells it, the next version of Staples will be drastically different. According to his comments at ComplexCon, it’s coming in January. FM! is short and a fleeting moment of glitz that’ll suck you in, unlike the niche work that’s made him an artist of an acquired taste. On his most commercial project yet, Staples isn’t just the rapper with the best press presence. The music critic’s belief that he’s one of the best is now much more understandable to even the laxest rap fan.

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