Vince Staples loves contrasts. Her lyrics are filled with first-person accounts of a dark adolescence and isolated moments of angst that seem both lived-in and distant. And then, before you know it, he makes a joke and reframe the whole experience. The rhythms of his last three albums strictly speaking, those of 2015 Daylight saving time ’06, 2017 Big fish theory, and 2018 FM!-Go from minimalist hyphy pulses to British garage tones with a whiplash feel. Even in the midst of the chaos, Vince’s high tenor cracks through these sound walls like a broken hairline.
The content of Vince’s bars hasn’t changed much, but his latest self-titled album Vince staples and produced entirely by rap producer turned EDM Kenny Beats, is more uniform in sound. Distorted samples and energetic 808s permeate almost every track, creating an atmosphere somewhere between the brilliant minimalism of his 2016 EP. Prima donna and the confused gloom of his 2012 mixtape produced by Michael Uzowuru Winter in Prague. There is no concept or alleged vanity of the double album at work, no grandiose rhythmic experiments or Big Boy cameos to distract the artist from the center. While this is far from his most exciting music, the album’s reserved musical approach amplifies the brutal staging Vince has used to build his name over the past decade.
For his part, Vince is still in the liminal space between mainstream fame and the commercial end of a .38. He’s been the face of the Sprite campaigns and has an upcoming Netflix show, but death and decaying memories lurk around every corner. Analyzing the difference between right and wrong is hard enough when you’re not famous, but paranoia lingers deep in your mind. The end of “Sundown Town” dwells on the fear of fan encounters that turn into assassination attempts. “Taking Trips” features a striking bar on keeping a pistol in your swimsuit when going to the beach. On “Are you with that?” Vince recalls a childhood spent with friends who are now “underground” before disarming listeners with a hilarious and blunt request: “Fill these voids or fill my bank.” He’s still a smart guy who moves around in a world of bad guys, and money is both a motivation and a balm.
Stories like these have never been swallowed by any of Vince’s songs in the past. Gruesome tales like “Nate” and “Blue Suede” might stick through your memory without the vivid arrangements that fuel them. It’s a point Vince staples often does: The stripped-down production of these songs helps the new revelations sting and tickle a little more than usual. Lines like “Shoot cuz he was poppin ‘hot shit / Now he on a Pro Club” from “Lil Fade” sound more daring in this context, although the songs themselves aren’t particularly exciting. Vince trying his hand at melodies on “Are You With That” or embracing a spray stream on “The Shining” are neat and inviting changes that come with the energy of a shutdown by lowering the thermostat. Vince staples has movement but lacks velocity, which projects his lyrics in the most intimate light imaginable.
Kenny Beats, always the chameleon, responds by offering some of his softest cuts. Mid-tempo synth chirps and drum beats propel both “Are You With That” and “Mhm” while a ghostly vocal sample gives “Law of Averages” the thrill of a James Blake song. . Some songs, like “The Shining”, turned into lo-fi territory. Even if you’re looking for the booming pastel energy of Kenny’s recent collaboration with TiaCorine or the breathless vibes of his work on Vince’s FM!, Vince staples still has a lot to recommend. The sound palette is grayscale without being boring, stoic without lacking in bounce.
Vince and Kenny Beats have an easy chemistry inside and outside the booth, as both constantly prove how well they adapt to all facets of rap. There’s no beat that Vince’s dark diarism can’t mutate, just like there’s no regional style Kenny can’t add to his collection at will. They are two unstoppable forces that prefer to work together rather than fight. Vince staples is a minor affair by design, proof that there is fire even in the duo’s quieter moments.
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