Review: Vince Staples’s Fourth Album Offers a Snapshot of the Rapper’s View of Humanity

Vince Staples’s eponymous album keenly draws contrasts between the rapper’s upbringing and the life he now enjoys.

Vince Staples, Vince Staples
Photo: Zamar Velez

Vince Staples’s music is laser-focused on a single time and place: his adolescence and early adulthood in Long Beach, California. Across four albums, the 28-year-old West Coast rapper hasn’t been able to shake his past, haunted by the ghosts of “dead homies” and the survival tactics, both physical and emotional, that he developed from living in poverty. His eponymous fourth album continues in this vein, as Staples raps about “trying to drown the violence out” on “Take Me Home,” and provides turn-by-turn driving directions to his old neighborhood on “Mhm,” as if to signal its magnetic pull.

“Fuck a mansion/Asked when Imma move to Malibu or Calabasas/I can’t never do it, I’m too active,” Staples declares on “The Shining.” A rejection of the expectations of a mainstream rapper and celebrity informs his music and persona: He allegedly doesn’t drink or do drugs, and he rarely raps about material things, nor does he seem to relish his fame much at all. If there’s minor shift on Vince Staples, then, it’s one of disposition, as Staples seems more at ease in his voice. He sits back on his heels vocally on tracks like “Are You with That?,” adopting a less tightly coiled delivery that at times could even be described as gentle.

Throughout the album, Staples keenly draws contrasts between his upbringing and the life he now enjoys. The chorus of “Law of Averages” finds him taking pleasure in launching multiple plays on words at once, linking purses and emotional baggage, and Long Beach avenues with average looks. Elsewhere, “Taking Trips” offers a less effusive account of his old life butting up against privileged access: “They lighting candles on the curb, they not diptyques,” he notes, boldly squaring a community paying tribute to its losses with an awareness of luxury goods.

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The album’s production is the least showy of any of the rapper’s projects to date. Handled almost entirely by Kenny Beats, it’s sturdy but unobtrusive, favoring slower BPMs to match Staples’s less hurried pace and allowing the snares to smack resoundingly. Little grace notes like the lullaby toy sound in “The Shining” and the video game noise in “Sundown Town” abound, but with few big, dazzling moments and at just 10 tracks (two of which are interludes), the beats, like the album in general, are sometimes so unassuming as to be unmemorable.

At his best, though, Staples peerlessly interrogates his anxieties with a bone-chilling sense of morbidity. “Hangin’ on them corners, same as hangin’ from a ceiling fan/When I see my fans/I’m too paranoid to shake their hands,” he confesses on “Sundown Town.” Composed of two-minute fragments that function as snapshots of his dim view of humanity, Vince Staples is another brief but trenchant effort from the rapper, his leisurely approach suggesting a newfound confidence.

Score: 
 Label: Universal  Release Date: July 9, 2021  Buy: Amazon

Charles Lyons-Burt

Charles Lyons-Burt covers the government contracting industry by day and culture by night. His writing has also appeared in Spectrum Culture, In Review Online, and Battleship Pretension. He holds a B.A. in Film Studies and English from Vassar College.

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