Vince Staples' Newfound Wisdom Hits Hard on Minimalist Self-Titled Album
Published Jul 13, 2021Since he first stepped onto the scene, Vince Staples' music has been characterized by its abrasive and uncompromising aspects. Whether the jarring stylistic choices of 2017's Big Fish Theory or the bleak lyrical content of most of his discography, he's always been an artist whose edge is an integral part of his charm. With Vince Staples, his new self-titled album, the Long Beach rapper has softened that edge, opting to pair stripped-back instrumentals with a more conversational cadence and a newfound knack for melodies, resulting in his most personable and accessible release to date.
That's not to say that Staples' music has ever lacked personality or transparency — even on his earliest mixtapes, the 28-year-old rapper's music detailed the troubling tales of death and disorder that characterized his adolescence — but his perspective appears to have changed as he's matured. It feels like Staples has grown exponentially since we heard him last, becoming wiser with time and seemingly finding some semblance of peace of mind despite his past.
His observations on life, his experiences and his environment are less visceral than they've been on previous projects, feeling more like introspective reflections than they do vivid descriptions of his current life. It's the perspective of a man who is far enough removed from his past to look at it through a different lens, gaining new insight and coming to terms with the things that he has experienced.
It's this newfound perspective that makes the music that much more intimate. It's a feeling that's accentuated by Staples' excellent songwriting and newfound willingness to explore softer vocal deliveries. Staples' flow is silky smooth throughout the entirety of this LP, seamlessly transitioning from catchy hooks to verses where he effortlessly strings his syllables together, all over a collection of airy, atmospheric instrumentals provided by frequent collaborator Kenny Beats.
It's clear that Staples and Kenny Beats — who'd previously produced the entirety of Staples' 2018 album FM! — have come together with a concise vision for this release. Vince Staples is the rapper's most personal and emotionally resonant project yet, and the choice to opt for a stripped-back approach complements the content greatly. Vince's blunt and bleak observations on life, death, humanity, gang culture, paranoia and trauma fit perfectly with the sparse and skeletal soundscape of this LP. It feels like every instrumental here was crafted to give his words the room they need to have the impact they're meant to.
These instrumentals giving room to Staples' words pays off majorly, and it's the reason that this album has such immense depth despite its very short, 22-minute length. Every observation that Staples shares here — whether it be exploring how fame has affected his paranoia on "SUNDOWN TOWN" or his "TAKE ME HOME" revelation that he drives around with the music loud because "when it's quiet out, I hear the sounds of those who rest in peace" — is made all the more harrowing by the minimalistic production, allowing his words to linger a little longer and hit a little harder.
At its brief length, Vince Staples might seem like it's going to underwhelm, but it does quite the opposite. Staples and Kenny Beats' pared-down approach to this album is what makes it so incredibly endearing. The relatively sparse production serves as the perfect foundation for Staples' lyrics, highlighting his abilities as a rapper while also perfectly scoring his incredibly gripping storytelling. It's clear that Kenny Beats understands Staples' vision and what makes him such a captivating rapper, and their great chemistry is what makes Vince Staples such a captivating record. (Motown/Blacksmith)