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Vince Staples and the Art of the Self-Titled LP

     Vince Staples’ new self-titled album is succinct, honest and pretty fucking great.  It’s not often a self-titled LP makes its way to the forefront this late in an artist’s career but Vince saved it for his most personal record to date. If we count 2014’s “Hell Can Wait”, this is Vince’s 6th album and first since 2018.  Staples has never shied away from vividly describing his hometown of Long Beach but this album takes it a step further.  With production from Kenny Beats, this album is Vince’s most unique sonically. The new direction pairs perfectly with the snapshot into Vince’s psyche that he highlights on this album.  Before we dive in though, I think it’s important to start with this live performance from NPR’s Tiny Desk:

  • “Vince Staples” by Vince Staples
    • Released July 9, 2021
    • 22:02, 10 songs
    • Standout Tracks:
      1. “Law of Averages”
      2. “Take Me Home” f/ Fousheé
      3. “Mhm”

Long Beach’s Own

     Vince Staples is Long Beach to his core. From the way he talks to the way he dresses, even his mannerisms (as you see above).  Vince’s flow is always laid back, always smooth, always on beat and forever Long Beach.  In “Law of Averages” he calls out Cherry Ave, Downey Ave, Dairy Ave and Locust Ave.  He spits “You will never catch me slippin’ out in traffic” (a line every native Southern Californian can relate to). He screams out his 303 area code, shouts out Lakewood Mall and the 91 freeway.  These references will likely go over a casual listener’s head but Vince is painting his picture by setting the scene.  It’s a portrait of a city rife with violence, division and racism all under the umbrella of the warm California sun.   

     Certain artists can’t help but reflect their surroundings and Vince Staples does it better than almost everyone.  He’s so west coast that it’s made his music seem like a coastal phenomenon rather than the global acclaim I believe his music deserves.  Besides the overt shoutouts to Long Beach, Vince describes growing up in the city in subtle yet jarring ways.  His matter of fact approach can seem disingenuous but it’s actually the opposite. He’s telling it as he sees it and that’s precisely what makes him one of the most important artists in West Coast Hip Hop.

Self-Titled

As I alluded to above, it’s interesting that Vince saved his self-titled album for this moment. In some ways, Vince is an unknown. Some fans remember his verse on Earl’s “epaR” while others stan the Larry Fisherman (aka Mac Miller) produced “Stolen Youth.” The sheer quantity and quality of his rap career to date is staggering. Despite this though, Vince still has trauma to unpack.

On his standout track, “Take Me Home” Vince laments “I don’t wanna die but I will for the cause // swallowing my pride like those pills y’all be on.” Later on he spits “When it’s quiet out I hear the sound of those who rest in peace // Tryna drown the violence out but let ’em say that they want beef.” Vince doesn’t mince words or use language that could be misconstrued. Instead, he chops his sentences down speaking clearly and intelligently about the situations he grew up in and the toll it took on his psyche. Staples isn’t looking for sympathy though, he’s simply being real and rolling with it as he has his whole life. And he’s found the perfect soundscape to express those feelings over.

Kenny Beats

We got a snapshot of the chemistry between Kenny Beats and Vince Staples on his episode of The Cave as well as their collaborations on Vince’s “FM!” album. Kenny has this innate ability to harness the energy an emcee is giving off and adapt to it (think Kenny’s collaborative album with Denzel Curry). He doesn’t force a style or a specific type of beat on the artist.  For this album, it resulted in a stripped down version in which Vince’s voice, bars and melodies take center stage. Kenny arranges the beats around the Vince’s story and it’s why this album feels so unique.

     Despite the nature of this album, Kenny plays around with the concept freely. Inserting samples and  little melodies here and there. Kenny’s production is top tier throughout.  Even on interludes like “LAKEWOOD MALL” Kenny can be heard tinkering and building a soundscape that fits in the background.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Vince and Kenny sat in a studio for a week straight and made this album without a distraction or disruption. It’s tight, cohesive and catches both artists at the perfect time in their lives.  

“Are You With That?”

     Vince appeals to our senses from the jump on this album.  He wants to bring us into his home and into his mind but he’s got to make sure we’re ready.  This album isn’t for everyone.  For old school fans of Vince, this album is a departure from his typical offerings.  For newer fans who have seen more interviews than listened to actual music, this album could be jarring in its honesty. Personally, this album talked to me in a way that was both personal and informative.  At some points, Vince represents all of us. Cruising around the city, windows down, bumping music.  At others, he’s describing a seedy underbelly that not even the California sun can eliminate.  A reality that only Vince himself can express and that expression is beautifully real. So when he asks “Are you with that?” … you better be sure that you are.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (superstar)   



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