Vince Staples’ new effort is just 22 minutes long. As his previous half-length projects (Hell Can Wait, Prima Donna) have proved, that’s as much as he needs to make his point.
On FM!, Staples crafts a hard-hitting album that pulls no punches and further carves his place in hip-hop’s upper echelon. With radio personality Big Boy narrating, the radio concept provides a sense of sequencing, throwing in a few interludes with Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt that serve as a vicious tease to fans. Friends like Kamaiyah, Kehlani, and Ty Dolla $ign also guest, but it’s always still Staples’ show. He commands the hard-hitting West Coast beats of Kenny Beats with a fluidity and presence that’s absolutely phenomenal.
On opener “Feels Like Summer,” he juxtaposes the sun and surf of Long Beach summers with the violence and horror that occurs in the shadows. “Don’t Get Chipped” is darker, even delving into the loneliness of a man at the top. The chilly synths of “Run The Bands” pair well with Staples’ hybrid of boasts and gritty violence. The stark nihilism of “FUN!” is represented best by a line like “My black is beautiful but I’ll still shoot at you.”
The album ends on “Tweakin’,” which, over clattering hats, contrasts his stunting with realizations of the abundance of death around him. It reminds me of a line from the Big Fish Theory track “Party People” that goes, “How I’m supposed to have a good time, when death and destruction’s all I see?”
FM! hits hardest in places like this, where Vince is able to pair sobering reality with loose, shit-talking braggadocio. Few can do it as well as he can.