Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart

An outstanding album that ranks with his best work...

Vince Staples has never been an artist to take the expected path. 2015’s outstanding ‘Summertime ‘06’ made his name, lauded in the XXL Freshman list. Follow up ‘Big Fish Theory’ was an about-turn, though, with the rapper absorbing a multitude of electronic influences into his sonic palette. A disorienting experience, the 20 minute radio-themed skit ‘FM!’ took the rapper even further out.

If 2021’s ‘Vince Staples’ represents something of a return to his roots, then new album ‘Ramona Park Broke My Heart’ doubles down on this. Undoubtedly his most autobiographical work yet, the production walks the fine line between experimentation and finesse – appropriately for a record that discusses identity, ‘Ramona Park…’ arrives with an unrivalled assurance on where its sonic boundaries lie.  

Lyrically, Vince Staples deals with the comfort home brings, and the alienation he experiences as someone who made it out. Manoeuvring between blunt truths and assured poetics, it’s a record rich in fine detail, with its broad, 16 track span illuminated by a mere smattering of guests.

‘The Beach’ dives into that West Coast sound, before closing with a shocked interruption of gunshots. The jarring juxtaposition of violence and glamour permeate the record, with Vince Staples refusing to excuse both the factors that cause gang culture and the destruction it wreaks. ‘DJ Quik’ is a sub-aqueous thrill, it’s full fathom five production lingering against his sharp delivery. ‘Magic’ blends G-Funk to epic trap snares, while ‘East Point Prayer’ is a cinematic collaboration between Vince Staples and Lil Baby.

A project entranced by world-building, ‘Ramona Park…’ never divulges its secrets easily. ‘Slide’ is punchy, energetic, but framed by introversion, while Ty Dolla $ign feature ‘Lemonade’ rejoices in the California summertime while refusing to face away from the darkness that inhabits the area.

‘Rose Street’ is the love-song-that-isn’t-a-love-song, a playful yet bruising encounter; ‘Mama’s Boy’ flips notions of masculinity on their side, with ‘Bang That’ – one of two Mustard collabs on the record – deliberately toying with audience expectations.

‘The Blues’ brings the record to a close, filtering through some of the facets that border the project as a whole. The drifting West Coast vibes, the sense of return bringing only alienation; as Vince himself puts it, “money made me numb…”

A brave record that asks awkward questions both of its maker and his audience, ‘Ramona Park Broke My Heart’ is a document of personal evolution and what its possible to bring along with you. An attempt to filter out the parts that truly matter, it’s a triumph, and perhaps the finest album yet in his storied career.


Words: Robin Murray

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