Since he first stepped onto the scene, Vince Staples' music has been characterized by its abrasive and uncompromising aspects. Whether the jarring stylistic choices of 2017's Big Fish Theory or the bleak lyrical content of most of his discography, he's always been an artist whose edge is an integral part of his charm. With Vince Staples, his new self-titled album, the Long Beach rapper has softened that edge, opting to pair stripped-back instrumentals with a more conversational cadence and a newfound knack for melodies, resulting in his most personable and accessible release to date.
Three years since the groundbreaking spate of 20-minute rap albums (remember Ye? Daytona?) Vince Staples is sticking to the form with a new self-titled record that's roughly the length of an EP. Tis time round, the electronic experimentations of Big Fish Theory are long gone in favour of booming trap beats and Staples's unique form of modern-day gangsta rap, and at various points a melodic quality shines through in his voice which has previously gone unheard. Law Of Averages is a brilliant showcase for his cold-hearted bars ("Cherry Ave, Downey Ave, hoe you average / Louis bag, Gucci bag, you got baggage / I will never give my money to a bad bitch") over punchy drums and a chirruping, pitched-down sample, while The Shining is deceptively cute with cascading plinks of melody anchored by a simple i-VI chord sequence.
Vince Staples thrives on contrasts. His lyrics are filled with first-person accounts of a grim adolescence and isolated moments of anguish that feel both lived-in and distant all at once. And then, before you know it, he cracks a joke and reframes the whole experience. The beats on his last three proper albums--2015's Summertime '06, 2017's Big Fish Theory, and 2018's FM!--jump from minimalist hyphy pulses to warbling UK garage tones with a concussive sense of whiplash.
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.