Vince Staples’ self-titled album is his most personal, laid-back music yet (stream, review)
Vince Staples' fourth proper full-length album is self-titled, and he says this is because he wants to show a more bare, honest side of himself than he ever has before. "This whole time I thought I was being descriptive," he says, "but maybe I was being more cryptic. This one is much more on-the-nose. It fills a void in my discography. It really gives much more information about me that wasn’t out there before." It's interesting to think about how this album is more reflective of Vince Staples the person vs Vince Staples the entertainer, because if you think about it, it's never actually been that clear who Vince Staples was. He's a rapper who's always rejected a lot of what comes with being a rapper, and he's drastically changed his approach with each album. His debut album Summertime '06 is a concept double album in the spirit of traditional '90s rap, its followup Big Fish Theory is a futuristic, electronic album that sometimes barely counts as rap music, and 2018's FM! almost feels like a work of fiction, meant to mimic the act of listening to the radio rather than listening to an album. And those albums are just the tip of the iceberg; Vince has done all kinds of other stuff with his mixtapes and EPs.
On his new self-titled album -- which is entirely produced by Kenny Beats, who also contributed to FM! -- Vince yet again takes a new approach. These songs are relaxed and laid-back, largely void of hooks, and centered on Vince's words, with very little time for voices other than his own. With just eight under-three-minute songs and two skits, it's brief like FM!, but it doesn't feel like a series of snippets the way that album does. It's short because Vince says what he needs to say and gets out, leaving no time for frills. It also sounds entirely different than FM!; that album is loud and dense and claustrophobic, this one is soft and minimal.
The songs on Vince Staples all sound pretty similar to each other, but that feels like the point. Vince's albums are often sonic adventures, but this one feels like a diary put to tape, backing Vince's words with a simple drum machine and a nostalgic sample or two just to give his voice something to rest on. I don't know how much this album was influenced by the pandemic, but it feels like the kind of music you might make after being stuck at home for over a year. Vince Staples doesn't have festival stages or club nights or RapCaviar or the radio in mind. It's just a raw, plainspoken album, closer in spirit to Mount Eerie than to most of this year's Rolling Loud lineups. Still, it manages to be an accessible album. You can pore over every word, or you can just let the music wash over you. Vince Staples succeeds either way.
Vince Staples is out now on Blacksmith/Motown. Stream it below...