Vince Staples Releases "FM!"

by Sundai Johnson

With a kind of neighborhood pledge of allegiance, Vince Staples (featured in Flaunt’s “After Dark Issue” in 2016) comes in hot on “Feels Like Summer”, the first track of his new album, FM!. Just a day prior to his return home to Long Beach, CA for a performance as second headliner at ComplexCon, FM! was released as his third album from Blacksmith/Def Jam Recordings.

The album, produced by Kenny Beats and Hagler, is a precursor to his upcoming tour. It comes alongside his collaboration with Japanese designer, Verdy and his weekly live radio show, Ramona Radio, which also launched this morning on Beats1. Known for his lyrical strengths, and concept-based projects, Staples asserts that FM! is “just [about] the music”. This project follows debut album, Summertime ‘06 released in 2015, and second album Big Fish Theory (2017).

Using raw portrayals to capture an ongoing loyalty and tribute to his home city Long Beach, CA, strong visuals grab hold of the complexity found within the narratives put forth in his lyrics. Paired with these lyrics, his characteristic cadence—where he carries words directly over a beat, breaks them in the center, or knows when to stretch a phrase to pull it through the rhyme—demystifies experiences of race that are more commonplace than they are provocative.

Set against beats that are both contemporary and remnant of a timeless, and already legendary sound, lyrics can cause those listeners unfamiliar with the content or context at the basis of his work, to feel as much an insider, as an outsider. What sets Vince Staples apart, is the depth in his music that commands we listen to the story whether it is one we can tell ourselves, or one we could never speak to.

Despite that this project is not classified as centering around a single concept, the strong narratives and artistic intentionality we are familiar with are not lost. The visuals for FUN!, track seven on the project, combine Google Map images with various camera shots and slightly aerial angles, portraying moments that are presented not as performance, but as truth. Without a compromise in sound or lyrical weight and fluidity, FM! is a continued expansion of a body of work that is likely to continue to shape-shift and take new form over time.

The album artwork by Verdy, serves as a vibrant, illustrated display of the Southern California, backseat-hype aesthetic of the album. FM! is also a reminder of the room that exists for artists to produce work in which the sole purpose is to honor the integrity of the medium, and does not need to indefinitely be attached to a larger concept. There is as much a freedom in this as there is in using art as a platform for bringing voice to silenced narratives, as the basis of freedom is choice. Vince is showing us, that there is brilliance in both.