For those of us who aren't actually from "the streets," we sure love to act like we understand "the streets." We’ve seen movies, read news stories, and we probably have some sort of arms-length familiarity from old-school rappers who pioneered the genre as we know it. The truth is, we're far from understanding "the streets" if we've never lived within them. But in his most recent project, FM!, Vince Staples narrows that gap of understanding (and also critiques it) by taking us to the sidewalks of North Long Beach, where there's perpetually the promising warmth of summer, but somehow violence lingers in the air.
The 22-minute concept album, produced by the noteworthy Kenny Beats, recreates the experience of listening to a SoCal hip-hop radio station — with absurdly seamless transitions between songs. The album also makes use of skits and interjections from iconic LA radio personality Big Boy and his crew from the show Big Boy’s Neighborhood. With a California-stacked, top-notch roster of features — including the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, Kehlani, Jay Rock and Earl Sweatshirt — Staples has curated the most Cali-proud anthem in recent memory. He sprung the project on fans late last Thursday night after hinting about it a few days prior in the most Staples way possible: with a witty tweet.
You know them tweets everybody send out insinuating they got new music ? This one of those.— Vince Staples (@vincestaples) October 21, 2018
Staples takes risks on this one, no doubt. His voice and tone throughout come across a little more playful than we’ve heard in the past, with almost Kendrick Lamar-esque vocal mutations on tracks like “Run the Bands." But the heavy material is still there, living in the lyrics: “Summertime in the LB wild, We gon' party 'til the sun or the guns come out,” Staples says on the album opener “Feels Like Summer.” He’s also sure to throw listeners off with quick interludes from the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga that both sound like your classic radio teaser. Then he jumps right back to the dangers of circling his block, even ironically in songs like “FUN!,” which he simultaneously released the video for on Friday. (The video provides an even more entertaining commentary on the way we see his home from the outside looking in.)
FM! is not a singles-driven piece of work — in fact, ironically detached from its concept, the album likely doesn’t have much radio-play value. But this is what makes the concept so refreshing. Staples' new work is arguably rap’s most cohesive record out right now. It’s an album for the people who might not know the streets of North Long Beach at all — and even more so for those who know it best.