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Courtesy of Def Jam Recordings

November 11, 2018

TEST SPIN | ‘FM!’ — Vince Staples

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In the last eight years, Vince Staples has proven himself as one of the most captivating personalities in hip hop. Always unpredictable and always opinionated, a Vince Staples interview can take you anywhere, whether that’s sobriety or explaining why Bill Nye is underrated. FM! captures his personality perfectly; it sounds like if someone read every Vince Staples tweet and interview and then tried to craft an album out of it. This almost makes it sound like a caricature of Vince Staples, but that’s exactly what Vince Staples is, and that’s why this project is unique. I mean, who else would include a 23 second Earl Sweatshirt snippet on their album just to mess with their mutual fans? It’s Vince Staples at his most Vince Staples. From its announcement, (Vince Staples tweeted “You know them tweets everybody send out insinuating they got new music ? This one of those”) to its content, it’s clear that Vince Staples is making the music he wants to make.

The album is structured as a Long Beach radio show hosted by the legendary west coast radio personality Big Boy. Usually skits and radio breaks in an album water the content down, but somehow that’s what makes this album work. Although this album is 11 songs long, only eight actually contain Vince; the other three either showcase new music from other artists or are extended radio skits. Nobody ever asks for brand new Tyga, but this album gives us that to no complaints. One thing about this structure is that it only makes the album listenable when it’s taken together- if you pull individual songs from the album and listen to them on their own, the attached radio skits sound misplaced.

This album could be viewed as a pushback against the current norms in the music industry, where albums are diluted to fit as many songs as possible to inflate streaming numbers. The album is 11 songs but only 22 minutes long, which at first glance makes the album seem like it follows this trend as well. However, the album needs to be taken as a whole, and each sub-30 second album skit is essential to the functioning of this album. No singles were released prior to the album, and its structure makes it impossible to get radio play, or placement among major Spotify or Apple Music playlists. All of this goes against current trend, which shouldn’t make sense considering how Staples is signed to a major label through Def Jam. Lyrics in the album reflect this, such as “Record deal, but I did it independent” on “Don’t Get Chipped.” This deal is essential to him creating an album that fits his exact personality, because no conventional record deal would allow an album in this format to be released.

Summer has always been a theme in Vince Staples’ music, but this time the sound he captures throughout the project fits the general view of summer. Whereas his debut album Summertime ‘06 flipped this image of summer and the happiness associated with it to fit his grim outlook, FM! runs with this exact image. From the album cover that pays homage to Green Day’s Dookie to the opening track, “Feels like Summer,” the tone of the project is established immediately. “Feels like Summer” opens with a radio snippet telling you to vibe and lay back before Vince adds his own spin with the line “Summertime in the LB wild, we gon’ party ‘till the sun or the guns come out.” The album ends right where it needs to.

This format is a good experiment and is incredibly well executed. Although it will most likely be a forgotten component of Staples’ discography, FM! is an incredibly cohesive project and deserves attention. Expect something big from Staples in the coming months.

 

Daniel Moran is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at dhm96@cornell.edu.