“I’m a dude that just does different things,” Vince Staples said in an interview last week. It’s a typically understated self-assessment for a rap heavy hitter who seems genuinely uninterested in fame. It’s also an apt one: the 28-year-old is indeed a dude that does different things, and does them well. His latest album, the self-titled Vince Staples, is further proof of that.
This is the latest in a string of impressive experiments from Staples, whose career so far has been defined by curveball after curveball. His ghoulish, minimalist 2015 debut Summertime ’06 was followed up by the electronic dance music of Big Fish Theory two years later. (The album’s ingenious matchmaking of SOPHIE, Flume, Kučka, Kendrick Lamar and a gurgling sample from actor and internet star Hari Nef on “Yeah Right” is representative of the risks Staples routinely takes.) Next came the rambunctious and multi-toned FM!. That album’s mock radio show premise cleaved closer to the internet humourist fans had come to know and love on Twitter, where the rapper posts things like: “The national anthem don’t even slap.”
Vince Staples – produced by rap-favourite Kenny Beats – is another outlier among outliers from an artist adept at shaking free of what came before. The album is in tune with the same Nineties G-funk that has previously inspired Staples, only this time, he slows it down. Initially at least, with downbeat tempos on early tracks such as “Sundown Town”. But even the album’s more energetic tracks feel fuzzed-out, thrumming in the way that music does when you’re pleasantly buzzed on a smouldering hot afternoon – like sunstroke but in a soothing way.
Staples has never shied away from using music to digest his violent past. On Vince Staples, it is his lucid lyrics that cut through the fog. There may be a pop melody lurking beneath the moody summer anthem “Are You With That” but the lyrics (“I want to shoot a n**** in the head”) are typically upfront. “Don’t get murdered,” Staples instructs listeners at the beginning of “The Shining”. Elsewhere, he raps about the residual paranoia left over from his years spent in a gang and the multiple near-death experiences he’s endured.
Interludes – supplied by fellow rappers on previous albums – now come courtesy of his mother (“The Apple & The Tree”) and childhood friend (“Lakewood Mall”). No wonder Staples called this his most personal record yet. Perhaps it’s this new vulnerability that makes the album so great. Or maybe it’s the whip-smart one-liners. Or the vivid storytelling. Staples will say this latest triumph is just a dude doing some different things.
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