Vince Staples 2021
Photo: Zamar Velez / Courtesy of ID PR/Motown Records

Vince Staples Is in Beautiful, Dark Limbo on New LP

With his latest album, Vince Staples mines an artistic, existential, and notably fertile limbo. It’s his most reflective and sober perspective to date.

Vince Staples
Vince Staples
Blacksmith Recordings / Motown Records
9 July 2021

Following the release of several EPs, Vince Staples received widespread acclaim for 2015’s Summertime ’06, a full-length work of assertive and dense lyricism. With 2017’s Big Fish Theory, he fused verbal maximalism and hook-filled melodies, crafting a prickly yet pop-friendly sequence. With the following year’s FM, he continued to hone rapid-fire lyricism and heightened attention to detail, exploring a wide range of sonics.

The new, self-titled Vince Staples shows the artist adopting his most reflective and sober perspective to date. Over a concise but inspired 22 minutes, Staples offers what often resonates as a funereal tribute to his past. Previously brimming with a confidence that blended perennial gangsterism and a certain epicurean enthusiasm, Staples is now equipped with an unexpected capacity for discernment and street-wise discretion. With this in mind, Vince Staples can be considered a coming-of-age album or, more precisely, a memo from Staples that he has indeed come of age.

On the opening track, “Are You with That?,” he recalls, “We was them kids that played / All in the street following leads / Of ni**as who lost they ways / Some of them outside still / Some of them inside graves.” While Staples still identifies with his past, he’s making peace with the fact that he’s traveled a long way from his roots, personally and artistically, even if what he experienced during his early days remains his primary creative catalyst.

While the album is mostly free of guests, the set’s extras add texture to the project. “The Apple and the Tree” features a woman (listed in the credits as Mama) relaying a story about her erstwhile bent for violence and how she’s still prepared to defend herself should the need arise. Similarly, “Lakewood Mall” is narrated by a man who reflects on a stop-and-search, vividly recalling a “pearl-handled” gun. In short, Staples was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. The tracks highlight how growing up in situations where violence is the norm has a lasting legacy, programming one to be adversarial, on-guard, and survivalist, even when such coping methods are no longer required.

The lingering impact of violence is a theme that Staples deftly examines throughout, including on “Take Me Home”. “Don’t wanna dream ’bout the shit I done did / You know these trips come with baggage / Been all ’cross this atlas, but keep coming back to this place / ’Cause they trapped us / I preach what I practice, these streets all I know / And there’s no place like home.” Fousheé, the only credited guest, nails a soulful chorus that reaffirms the project’s plaintive mood. On the set’s closer, “MHM”, Staples again addresses how violence impacts one’s hardwiring, hinting at the power of habit. “Full of vultures so you know I watch my back / couldn’t give it up guess I got attached.” He’s between worlds. Though he may have emeritus status in the world into which he was born, Staples recognizes that he no longer fully belongs. Personally, if not creatively, he’s a man without a home.

With his latest release, Staples embraces a verbal and energetic sense of economy distinct from his prior work. Lyrically, he addresses such tropes as violence, friendship, romance, and the perks and problems related to popular success, as he has done throughout his oeuvre. His delivery, however, is unprecedentedly rife with understated tensions, tonally complex, and compellingly nuanced. His soundscapes, too, are more elegantly sculpted and restrainedly crafted than we’ve witnessed on previous outings, courtesy of the talented Kenny Beats. With his latest jewel, Staples mines an artistic, existential, and notably fertile limbo.

RATING 8 / 10
PopMatters