Blacksmith / Motown · July 9, 2021
Throughout his career, Vince Staples has always struggled with the way his music, particularly his lyrical content, was consumed. To him, many listeners seemed to shrug off the stories of his run-ins with violence and loss as disposable entertainment. He highlighted this gripe in an interview while defending the mother who made the viral rant against the graphic lyrics of “Norf Norf,” Staples’ breakout single:
“When you see a film, and you see a murder scene or a rape scene or something that’s displaying an element of trauma, we don’t look at it and go, ‘This movie’s f****** great, I’m having a great time, are you?’ We feel for that. Know what I’m saying? But it doesn’t necessarily happen in that sense when we’re speaking about music. So I didn’t make that song for it to make people happy.”
In Staples’ previous project, FM!, he presented a tongue-in-cheek critique to this dismissive listening by juxtaposing grim lyrics with playful beats and radio tags. With his new self-titled release, however, Staples seems to go the opposite direction: he trades the upbeat satire for a delivery that’s sobering and direct. With Vince Staples, he makes sure the listener is paying attention to what he has to say.
Vince Staples has the same lyrical themes as Staples’ previous works: life gang-affiliated. However, there’s a dive into his life far more personal than the ones he ever gave to listeners beforehand. He talks about his run-ins with death and danger with a sense of grief, rapping as if he was spilling his thoughts to a therapist, but done in a way that still manages to be catchy. His melodies and flows come off as fluid and effortless, almost as if Staples’ rapping skills can’t help shining even amidst an unfamiliar tonal shift.
The production, done by Kenny Beats, matches the tone of the lyrics and delivery. Most songs on the album are more mellow and melodic than the rest in Staples’ discography, but each track has a unique groove that manages to become an earworm. From the quasi-ballad “Are You With That?” to the bouncy Monte Booker co-produced “Taking Trips,” the songs themselves range enough to keep a listener interested, but retain the same motifs which keep the project concise.
Totaling just over 20 minutes, Vince Staples is all meat and no filler. In a world of oversaturated rap releases, the concise project is a breath of fresh air. The project is short enough with the right amount of replayability, allowing a listener to make consecutive playthroughs without getting tired. With each listen, you grow a deeper connection with Staples’ stories and feelings. Even if you’re not from the same background, you begin to better empathize with what he went through as he paints a fuller picture of his point of view. It’s unavoidable, and that’s exactly what Staples wanted.