Photo courtesy of Def Jam

Vince Staples: FM!

Vince Staples isn't going to let his listeners hole up for the winter in 2018, offering party bangers and social commentary in the packed 22 minutes of FM!

Vince Staples
Def Jam
2 November 2018

With each advancement in technology, from the phonograph to Spotify, the music listening experience has continued on a trajectory from communal to highly personal. With the exception of live performances, most popular media for listening to music indeed encourage personalization instead of communal listening. Spotify offers personalized daily playlists for their millions of subscribers. Headphones allow you to listen to whatever you want — and however loud you want — without bothering anybody around you. Of course, there are wonderful consequences of these advancements: we’re able to access a vast wealth of music and discover new voices and underrated classics infinitely quicker than before. But on the other hand, there is something so foundational to the DNA of music which gets lost in the individualism of today’s music listening habits. It’s what concerts, festivals, and even radio have always offered music enthusiasts: the opportunity to enjoy music together, to know that others from a myriad of backgrounds and experiences are listening and partying right along with you.

But while media like traditional radio are going away in the headphone age, artists like Vince Staples are using their voice to encourage community through music all the more. Staples’ newest effort FM! finds itself implanted in the nationally-broadcast radio show Big Boy’s Neighborhood, complete with call-in contests (“(562) 453-9382”) and commercials for upcoming music (“New Earl Sweatshirt”, “Brand New Tyga”). The conceptual setting in itself speaks to community, bringing listeners together, anticipating the next song together, and just having fun.

The radio show opens with “Feels Like Summer”, ironic for an album released in November. Maybe he chose the later release to not compete with the other “Feels Like Summer” released by Childish Gambino in July. Probably more likely though in keeping with the community theme is that Staples recognizes that summer is often a season of high energy parties and good vibes. When the weather changes, however, people tend to keep to themselves more. (Or maybe it just feels like summer all the time because he’s from the always sunny Long Beach…) In any case, Staples isn’t going to let his listeners hole up for the winter in 2018. Instead, he delivers 22 minutes of some of the hookiest, danciest banger material he’s ever released. Along with collaborators Ty Dolla Sign, E-40, Jay Rock, and more, Staples is going to make sure the club is as hot in the Christmas season as it is in mid-July.

And yet, while the tracks on FM! may just be party-ready radio bangers, Staples may be getting at something deeper under the surface as he realizes the party life is often a front (or at least a coping mechanism) for the harsh realities he sees around him. And often, we as consumers only scratch the surface with our radio and TV-fueled celebrity and don’t do enough about those harsh realities. “Do you really wanna know about some gangsta shit?” Staples asks on “Relay”, a track about outrunning cops, imprisonment, and broken families. Staples presents a picture of life in the projects over two brief verses, but as the radio host comes back to remind listeners to “keep listening for your chance to win tickets to see Kehlani live”, the impact is forgotten, and we’re back in our safe sedan.

FM! is a brief album, much like Kanye’s work earlier this year, but it packs so much into its tracks, especially given the dual purpose of its radio show setting. The social commentary is there to analyze, or you can just turn it on and party. Either way, Staples exemplifies here the reason for music in community. It brings us together in the good times, and it helps us to listen and understand in the hard times.