Vince Staples has never fit neatly into the hip-hop world. Uncompromisingly outside the mainstream, especially in a world pulled more and more towards Atlanta-inspired trap, but still popular enough to avoid being siloed away with a small group of hardcore fans, he straddles both worlds in a way that not many artists do.
This outsider sensibility is on full display with his latest self-titled release. Clocking in at around 20 minutes, it’s a completely different beast to the bloated projects which a lot of artists are releasing with increasing regularity. It’s also much more measured and withdrawn than Vince himself has ever been before, a trend hinted at by the decision to name the album after himself. Twisted G-funk inspired instrumentals ooze through the whole project, providing the perfect backdrop to the almost nonchalantly delivered lyrics about the long-lasting effects of his troubled upbringing (at one point he laments: "When I see my fans / I’m too paranoid to shake their hands").
This bleak subject matter is foregrounded more than it has been in the past, but the sense is that Vince’s aim is to provide a personal portrait, rather than to shock or denigrate – again, a sentiment carried by his matter-of-fact delivery, devoid of any pearl-clutching. The interludes, too, lean into this attempt to chronicle his past, with his mother (on ‘The Apple And The Tree’) and a friend from his childhood (on ‘Lakewood Mall’) taking the spots which on previous albums may well have instead been occupied by other rappers.
It’s not easy to write an album about yourself without seeming egotistical, and it’s also not easy to write one which touches on themes of gang violence and poverty without falling into braggadocio or morbidity. On this album, Vince Staples has pulled off both. It may be a short album, but it’s an incredibly deep one.
Words: Jake Hawkes
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