As hinted in my review of his mind-boggling lyrical magnum opus of a song, “Summertime” (2015), Vince Staples is a beautiful and inspiring little enigma. After growing up in the hood and gang-banging on the streets without the presence of any role models, Vince had to teach himself how to grow old. And after breaking into the hip-hop world with two of the strongest and most critically acclaimed rap albums of the entire decade—Summertime ’06 (2015) and Big Fish Theory (2017)—his career took off. Still, the young man behind this burgeoning persona was going through a lot. Yet this year, his eponymously-titled fourth studio album, Vince Staples, signifies the California rapper’s maturation as both a human and an artist.
His most emotionally resonant record yet, Staples’s 22-minute LP is lean and smooth. Meanwhile, the production—done entirely by Kenny Beats—signifies yet another perfect match by Kenny Beats for Vince’s subdued yet radically natural flow. The tracklist, consisting of 10 songs in which the quality is more or less evenly distributed, is comparably seamless. And there’s a sense of youthful, vibrant energy that compounds Vince’s trademark bleak cynicism about the world in which he grew up. And this feels fitting, given all that he went through from watching his crack dealer father abuse his mother to seeing his close friends die on the street.
The album is such that you can listen to it sequentially or you can just pick out the songs you like. The tracklist starts out strong with “Are You With That?”—one of my favorites on the album and one that reflects on Vince’s early life (coupled with a solid beat), followed by another fan-favorite “Law of Averages” (though I didn’t like it as much). Then comes a string of high-quality tracks: “Sundown Town,” “The Shining,” and “Taking Trips,” my favorite of this stretch. This strong sequence is followed by an interlude track which then leads into “Take Me Home,” which I find to be perhaps the most lyrically compelling song on the album. “Take Me Home”—clocking in at under 3 minutes like most of the songs on the album—features the album’s only vocal feature (performed by soul singer Fousheé) and some of its most potent bars, zoning in on the strife of a complicated relationship.
After “Take Me Home” comes the last three songs on the album. “Lil Fade,” the first of these three, is an upbeat banger that capitalizes on Kenny Beats’ subtle yet catchy production. The next song is an interlude, followed by the final track: “MHM.” This last song closes the album on yet another catchy and upbeat high note where the vocals and the production share the spotlight evenly. And ultimately, there’s something profound that emerges from this admittedly lowkey tracklist. Indeed, Vince Staples is a master of balancing the sometimes obfuscated line between simple and subtle. Furthermore, his combination of delivering long verses with expert control (all without needing to stop and take a breath) and his storytelling—which dwells in the themes of the gangster life to which Vince was so accustomed, as well as aspects of his life since then—mix perfectly.
Granted, I did not get as bogged down in the details of the tracklist as I often do with fairly impressive albums, but it did not feel necessary. Vince Staples—while it is a worthy continuation of this intelligent rapper’s oeuvre—is not an elaborate LP. It just seems that Staples is satisfied at this point in his career. And though the songs are highly accessible, they don’t live up to the spectacular aura of Vince’s first two albums (two masterpieces). But that is okay; Vince Staples is its own work of art. I recommend it to all hip-hop fans, though I bet that most non-fans will not like it. Still, there’s something strangely powerful about niche music tailored only to certain listeners. And fellow Vince fans know this all too well.