Vince Staples looks back on tur­bu­lent child­hood on ‘FM!’

The Capital - - HOMES - By Greg Kot Greg Kot is a Tri­bune critic. Twit­ter @gregkot

Given the am­bi­tion of Vince Staples’ first two al­bums — the sprawl­ing “Sum­mer­time ’06” (2015) and the more ex­per­i­men­tal EDM ac­cents that fla­vored “Big Fish The­ory” (2017) — the 22-minute “FM!” (Def Jam) may sound slight by com­par­i­son, a place-holder in­stead of a ma­jor state­ment. But listen closely, and the sub­ject mat­ter and the se­quenc­ing sug­gest a more care­fully con­sid­ered work, one that pro­vides a pocket-sized in­sight into the MC’s child­hood.

Framed as an FM ra­dio broad­cast, with skits that in­clude Los Angeles morn­ing-show host Big Boy, “FM!” pro­vides a snap­shot of what it felt like to grow up in Long Beach, Calif., in the early 2000s. Staples was a hus­tler on the gang­dom­i­nated north side of Long Beach, a lifestyle that ran in his fam­ily. Tra­di­tional child­hood op­tions — youth cen­ters, the YMCA, sports leagues, Boy Scouts — weren’t avail­able.

The new al­bum blends the G-funk that de­fined the Long Beach sound of the ’90s via the mu­sic of Snoop Dogg, War­ren G and Nate Dogg with cau­tion­ary tales. The West Coast brand of hip-hop was party mu­sic for for­got­ten com­mu­ni­ties, and pro­ducer Kenny Beats demon­strates the dura­bil­ity of that buoyant groove. But amid the eter­nal summer of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, dark­ness bleeds in from the edges.

“We gon’ party till the sun or the guns come out,” Staples raps at the out­set, un­der­lin­ing the no­tion that ev­ery mo­ment of joy is im­pos­si­ble to fully in­habit be­cause a Long Beach kid al­ways needs to be look­ing over his shoul­der for the next threat, the next gun.

An eerie, trap-beat dark­ness wafts through “Don’t Get Chipped,” but there is anger and re­silience as well. Staples re­flects on a clas­sic song from his grand­par­ents’ era, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and how its prayer for de­liv­er­ance has been an­swered for a cho­sen few. Staples was the way­ward kid who got out. He es­caped the Long Beach car­nage through mu­sic. But he can’t turn his back on his “Norf Side” crew, the kids with no fu­ture: “Sammy told me that a change gone come/ I’m not go­ing if my gang won’t come,” he raps.

On “Tweakin’,” he of­fers a eu­logy to the ones who didn’t make it. Sadness tinges Staples’ tes­ti­mo­nial, but mostly he sounds numb. Kehlani’s singing on the cho­rus pro­vides no re­lief, no “peace of mind.” Staples may have moved from the old, bat­tlescarred neigh­bor­hood, but it’s still with him.


Rap­per Vince Staples per­forms Nov. 3 at Com­plexCon in Long Beach, Calif.

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