FM! could fit in your party playlist, but its lyrics’ truth hits as hard as the boom of its bass.
On November 3rd, California rapper Vince Staples dropped his third studio album. I had been (im)patiently waiting for the release since Vince had announced it three days before, and was waiting with my phone, earbuds ready, for 9PM EST to arrive. It was well worth the wait. Upon pressing play on the first track, I heard the very familiar voice of Big Boy, host of LA radio show Big Boy’s Neighborhood. This West Coast shoutout had me invested right off the bat, considering I used to listen to Big Boy’s Neighborhood every single morning. I was immediately connected to the album and understood the theme behind its name, FM!
Aside from the Big Boy plugs throughout the album, FM! is remarkable. Listening through it the first time, you’ll vibe to Vince’s tight flow and the deep groove of each track (crafted by Connecticut producer Kenny Beats). Listen again, and you’ll pick out the amazing and notable artists featured on the project — Ty Dolla $ign, Kamaiyah, Jay Rock, Kehlani, E-40, and Tyga all make appearances. Listen again, and you’ll realize why you’re listening to this album for the third time in a row — FM!, consistent with all of Vince’s past work, is special because the truth in Vince’s lyrics and the message beneath them hit just as hard as the boom in the bass. Take the first track, “Feels Like Summer,” as an example. Yeah, it goes hard and could be the newest addition to your party playlist, but lyrics like “Cold weather won’t stop no gunner/ Wrong hat, wrong day, I’d kill my brother” reveal an underlying deep and substantive commentary on West Coast violence and a view of the world through Vince Staples’ eyes.
This unapologetically honest storytelling is nothing new for Vince; his 2017 album Big Fish Theory was also full of references to the hardships of growing up surrounded by violent crime. “Crabs in a Bucket” illustrates this experience with the line, “Cock back, blast, put ‘em in a bag/ Prolly gon’ regret it in the retrospect/ Got a lot of problems I ain’t let go yet.” And his 2014 song “Nate” (off the Shyne Coldchain II mixtape) is a deeply authentic and unfiltered recollection of Vince’s complicated relationship with the memory of his father. Throughout his career, Vince has openly rapped about topics that are common in hip-hop—gangs, violence, police, addiction—but he does it in a way that’s uniquely his own. While many of Vince’s peers come dangerously close to glorifying or endorsing these things, Vince lays it out in a way that forces us to recognize how much personal struggle has gone into the creation of his music, and the rap genre as a whole. He tells his story not to boast about how hard he is or to propel himself further towards fame, but to represent his home and remind us to consume rap with a more conscious mindset. Vince eloquently dispels the perception of the rap life as glamorous and brings us back to reality with this lyric from FM! track “Tweakin'”:
Bunch of poor people gon’ use the sh*t
Might as well go and get used to it
Tryna get rich, get everybody fed
But everybody dead.
Listen to FM! in full here.