The radio is home to all of the most popular from your region. It’s not necessarily highlighting the best when it comes to a genre of music but the sure-fire songs. Vince Staples teleports us to a sunny yet realized observation at one man’s world that knows the terrors of the Summer and its fleeting enjoyment brought to you by the radio station with FM!
FM! is right at home within Vince’s discography for discussing the stark reality that he’s never shielded away from with production that gives his lyrics a backdrop of up-tempo pop and bounces when he calls for it. In the back half of the album, the sounds of summer and the electric beat are replaced by more downtempo and G-Funk as Vince digs into what makes a dangerous, but normal life for the young Long Beach rapper. The project is short, clocking in at just twenty-three minutes. Across eleven tracks Vince gives us deadpan raps with a nasal voice that has the West Coast sound with accessibility as it continually loops from the production from Kenny Beats, Hagler, KillaGraham, and Cubeatz. FM! Is an album that brings together the fun and danger of Summertime in unison to biographical stories and what that means in this hectic time that is known to increase violence in the streets.
FM! acts as an encapsulated moment reminding listeners us all that there’s more to the Summer than the Radio and highlights the dangers that are behind the music stations when you turn the radio off. “Feels Like Summer” starts the album with Kenny Beats who produces the bulk of the project with an electric energy that Vince immediately capitalizes on with verses about the difficulties of life in Long Beach. “First month still feel like summer Cold weather won’t stop no gunner / Wrong hat, wrong day, I’d kill my brother.” The Ty Dolla $ign feature gives the song the proper air for a Summer song it needs with Vince’s words setting it against his real-life accounts that are bouncing across the production. Vince’s cut and dry voice alongside the bumping sound clashes well with all of the tracks that follow. The sequencing in the album is as we hop from song to song. “Outside!” ups the tempo and gives us an anthem as he runs through the cardinal directions all participants in the chorus in a way as he asks “who ’bout that life?” while holding onto recounting being at his relatives house with guns and running up on others that bring the songs down to earth through the energetic feel that it gives off in the early parts of the album. Going into “Don’t Get Chipped” the bouncing vibe turns dire as Staples and Jay Rock gives us a warning with this song. Trying not to get beat up and/or killed is put plainly by Jay Rock. “Don’t get chipped, don’t get chipped, don’t get chipped Nigga, I ain’t got the patience, yeah My hustle like a mental patient, I’m tryna ball”
The adaptability of Vince’s rapping is showcased through his verses giving us a great display of his ability to be succinct. He’s telling instances of gang violence, the smaller moments that’ll sit with a person as their survival is in question, and what comes after as they’re able to talk about it. Vince while keeping things short and to the point, keeps the production in league with the subject material in the process. With “Relay”, he drives home the harshness behind him with the gangster influences that are ingrained in his music. The transitioning disguised as the radio is a smooth way to tie in previous songs to the interludes and the skits that are on the album. Speaking of interludes, a pleasant surprise was the “New earlsweatshirt (Interlude)” that comes off as a new release on Big Boi’s station. It comes on and by the time it registers that we’re blessed with new Earl Sweatshirt, the twenty-two seconds of knocking drums and an irregular beat are over. “Run The Bands” is an undeniable hit for the album as the infectious chorus maintains the anthem-like sound throughout as Staples raps with a breakneck speed when “Run the bands, run the bands, hey” isn’t right behind him. FUN! is another banger in a different light, it has the DNA of what the album has given us thus far but it’s reminiscent to Staples work during his time on Big Fish Theory. It’s a shoulder-shaking song with enough power to make you want to dance, the case can be made most of the album would cause this reaction because it’s a project made in the vein of what the radio will do to you. Even in the midst of delivering a pop-styled record, Staples highlighting the different ways life is plagued by the violent tendencies of the summer bring it back to its gangster roots, “Don’t be lookin’ funny when we come up in the store My black is beautiful but I’ll still shoot at you, dawg” can perfectly sum up how Staples has balanced the two sides of the material on FM! It’s expressed definitely on FUN! and it’s accompanying video that just shows people wanting to enjoy themselves to “not fuck up nothing.” E-40’s presence on the track strikes the tone for the second half of the song that allows him to ride out the song with a groovy repetition going for him as the song closes.
No Bleedin is the peak of the album when it comes to the hard-hitting production, Staples and feature Kamaiyah are in unison for the entire song. The production from Kenny Beats on this song specifically pushes you to get up and dance or fight the closest person to you while yelling the chorus. Kamaiyah verse on the album perfectly illustrates the violence that comes with talking to someone that’s 100% ready for war. The verse is practically a call to arms and verse to be used with anyone you have a problem with, it comes off cool and nonchalant with an air of eagerness from Kamaiyah. Both Brand New Tyga (Interlude) and (562) 453-9382 (Skit) both maintain the radio station personality that the album has kept up throughout with Tyga’s interlude acting as a teaser for new material that sounds like a very nice Summer Hit. The skit is a hilarious short break with Big Boy that features a challenge I recommend everyone tries at home to see if you do better than the unlucky caller. The final song Tweakin’ is a somber finale to the album. It’s a midnight stroll made into a song with the feeling and tone of the entire album shifting with the song. Tweakin’ can be described as the darkness setting in after the long day in the summer sun goes down. Buddy and Kehlani assist Staples as he puts his emotions and feelings about his life and the commonality of losing people on the track with the sinister, dream-like production behind him. “When Jabari died, was off the porch for homicides Then when Half had died, I bought some things to pass the guys But when Johnny died, all I had was shows booked” Kehlani’s hauntingly good chorus covers the song in a melancholy feeling about an emotional subject that many have said their peace on, “Just got a call ’bout my tweets (Tweets, yeah) Told me to watch what I’m sayin’ (Sayin’, yeah) Just got a call ’bout the streets (Streets, yeah) Told me to watch for a Jeep (Jeep, yeah)” The lyrics on Tweakin’ hit differently with Staples illustrating what life has been and what it is with stardom now another thing he has to worry about. He’s spoken about the instances he’s rapping about before and with Tweakin’ the Summer days come to an end, as we know them too.
Ending the album comprised of songs meant to mimic the happy-go-lucky, fun in the sun mood that one might think is Cali’s specialty on a note of reflection and remembrance about what Summer means to black people when tensions grow and the weather gets too hot is the only place Vince and company could take FM! Perfectly mimicking a Summer Day in Long Beach, Vince brings it home with a project that encapsulates his world that we’ve seen time and again (with Prima Donna and Summertime ’06 coming to mind) FM! is a short project with lots of reasons to revisit it in the future. A concept that’s used so sharply it’s ingrained in the way you approach the album, making you want to take it from the top and give it a spin for a car ride. Vince Staples has another winner with this album, keeping the songs consistent, the features playing to their strengths, and the production across the board from all involved being top notch. Now go turn on your local radio station!