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REVIEW: Vince Staples – ‘FM!’ (Def Jam / Universal)


In a sentence:

An exhilarating 22-minute blast of bizarre and inventive fun, ‘FM!’ might be a detour in the journey of Vince Staples but shows exactly what music ought to be in 2018.

Last week, when Californian character Vince Staples announced he would be releasing a “very special project”, the music world immediately went into a frenzy. On the back of last year’s superb Big Fish Theory, an album which highlighted Staples’ desire to subvert expectations within hip-hop just 17 months ago, just where would the enigmatic rapper go next? The semi-answer that the 22 minutes of FM! Offers may not clear that up, but it’s a brilliant detour in this man’s musical journey.

FM!, at its best, is a relentless love letter to California and all that inhabits the state; it’s a record with colours and beats popping from all sides. Immediately the record kicks in with the ‘Big Boy’s Neighborhood’ voices, and from there we only delve deeper into the scene. There’s Ty Dolla $ign, Kehlani, Tyga and even Earl Sweatshirt dropping features or interludes in a frantic sequence of tracks that rarely pauses for breath.

When ‘Feels Like Summer’ drops with reverberated subs and hi-hats galore, immediately we are captivated and thrown into the exuberant world of Staples. Big Boy’s narrative of freedom is contrasted by the warning of Vince Staples “We gon’ party ’til the sun or the guns come out”, reminding us that things are far from perfect in spite of whatever glorification may come.

The theme of violence on the north side of Long Beach is something continually referenced throughout the record. ‘Don’t Get Chipped’ is engulfed by irony as the anti-gun Staples discusses buying “a whole crate of guns”, before the ever-pessimistic rapper plays on the idea of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ quipping “Sammy told me that a change is gone come / I’m not going if my gang won’t come”. It’s the cynicism we’ve come to know and love with Staples, and it shows a rapper who is still at the top of his game.

Elsewhere, we get the defining ideologies of the album in the ‘New earlsweatshirt – interlude’ and ‘Brand New Tyga – interlude’. The idea that this project could be something heard on the radio is never more apparent as Staples introduces two artists he loves before taking away the moment almost as soon as it begins. The teasing of what is to come when there is a full collaboration is as frustrating as it is fantastic, with the removal of the terrific trap beat of Tyga being especially infuriating.

It’s the features on the record which make FM! a truly exhilarating listen; Kenny Beats is put at the forefront on all beats, and creates multiple mesmerising moments in the process – while the neo-R&B vocal of Kehlani continually adds to the records luscious sounds with closer ‘Tweakin’’ showing itself to be the best of everything the project has to offer.

Just what is FM!? An album? A mixtape? An EP?  A radio show? The answer is it’s the quintessential definition of where music in 2018 is; FM! is simply a fun love-letter to the classic West Coast sound, while simultaneously highlighting Staples’ constant desire to stay on the pulse. It’s a record which disregards what we have been taught to expect on Summertime ’06 and Big Fish Theory, but ultimately shows why we should be excited for whatever Vince Staples wants to do next. FM! is a short burst of relentless fun, and, perhaps in 2018, that’s all a project needs to be. (7/10) (John Tindale)

Listen to FM! by Vince Staples here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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