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Vince Staples - Vince Staples (Album Review)

Friday, 16 July 2021 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Zamar Velez

Vince Staples always seems to have the upper hand, or at least to have something in reserve that we, his listeners, have to figure out on our own. His self-titled new record, a collaboration with producer Kenny Beats, revolves around glitchy production that would be mellow if the whole atmosphere wasn’t so stifling. The real world hangs heavy over Staples’ loose flows, which invariably have a sting in the tail.

The Long Beach rapper’s lyric sheets are circular routes through violence, trauma, regret and recrimination, and no amount of woozy, nominally hooky samples can dull that edge. ‘Vince Staples’ is only a little over 20 minutes long, but it’s home to enough resigned anger to fill a doorstop of a book.

Staples gives us precious little to cling to in terms of melody or lines that punch out of the speakers with the aim of banking some festival cash somewhere along the way. This is a tired record for tiring times, and it’s all the more effective because it studiously avoids the easy option at every turn.

With one producer in the hot seat throughout, the tone and presentation is watertight and controlled, offering nothing in the way of stylistic swerves or release valves.

The bassline on Sundown Town, for example, feels like it should be a groove but it’s missing the notes that would add up to a head-nodding payoff. It’s pointed—like the fact that it is not what we maybe want or expect is funny. But look at the title, it’s not like we weren’t warned.

Staples, of course, has a rep for being funny. He’s an engaging, meme-able talking head and a spiky, sardonic interviewee. Here, though, it’s like he’s inviting us to try to find a punchline. As MHM fizzles out into snatched, fractured dialogue we’re left with the feeling that art can leave a mark simply by reflecting how hard it is to get excited about something in the here and now.

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