Long Beach, is a city that is warm throughout the year, ending it with a carefree, relaxing quality. Its inhabitants can make use of the good weather to party and unwind. Perpetual summer brings many benefits but as the maverick rapper Vince Staples reveals, it also gives rise to a much darker side. Through the duration of 11 masterful songs, Staples documents his hometown’s bittersweet yet alluring culture and reaches the top of his game as one of contemporary hip-hop’s most compelling artists.
Over a breezy dance beat in ‘Feels Like Summer’, we are introduced to the striking contradictions of Staples’ home. “You get a chance to lay back you get a chance to laugh” is the upside of the Californian climate but at the same time, heat brings violence to the streets. The partying is accompanied with gun crime on a shocking scale which swiftly brings an end to the revelry. Whilst there might seem like a ‘chance to chill’ the grim reality is often different. For many in Long Beach, the paranoia and angst that exists with the constant threat of attack are just as synonymous with summer temperatures. This contrast is brought out brilliantly by Staples’ producer Kenny Beats who joins the macabre lyrics with rhythms that are made to get people moving on a dancefloor. Staples’ anguish at his city’s dysfunction reaches a giddy climax on ‘FUN!’: “we just wanna have fun we don’t wanna fuck up nothin’”.
The same theme of fun being curtailed is symbolised in short and sweet features by Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga. Here Staples showcases local talent and celebrates the West Coast’s constant knack for producing rap genius. While in the past he has delivered his trademark no-frills realism against jarring and often menacing background sounds FM! involves a different approach. The party-friendly G-funk production of Beats allows Staples to bring his complex and against the grain themes to a wider audience. The result is an accessible but sophisticated album that only West Coast superstar Kendrick Lamar could rival.
Image: digboston via Wikimedia Commons