Vince Staples’ self-titled album is minimalist masterpiece

Photo of Vince Staples album
UMG Recordings, Inc./Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

From his politically charged and regionally centered lyricism to instrumentals so laden with bass they’d blow your speakers out if turned up too loud, Vince Staples knows how to put on a show. But on his newest album, the self-titled Vince Staples, the now-established hip-hop star tones down the lavishness and hones in on the musical staples that make the artist who he is.

With the emotionless tone adopted throughout the album, Vince Staples is a new, yet oddly familiar installment in Staples’ cult discography. Drawing musical inspiration from his 2016 EP Prima Donna, as well as touching upon themes found throughout the rest of his work, Vince Staples is a stripped-down version of the different experiences and elements that make the rapper tick.

“Are You With That?” begins the album with a foray into Staples’ personal life, a part he hadn’t yet shared with the masses. Staples is not afraid to continue grappling with heavy topics, and he makes this clear to listeners right from the start. “Whenever I miss those days/ Visit my Crips that lay/ Under the ground, runnin’ around,” he raps in a smooth, nostalgic voice, harkening back to his upbringing in Long Beach, California. “Sundown Town” is a similarly revelatory peek into the rapper’s mind, a harrowing depiction of his struggles rocketing from the streets to stardom. His vulnerability is deeply enveloping, particularly when he raps, “Hangin’ on them corners, same as hangin’ from a ceiling fan/ When I see my fans, I’m too paranoid to shake they hands.”

Staples proves song after song that he has not lost any of his punchiness or bite despite taking on an overall more relaxed tone on the record. It’s this shift to what is almost a lo-fi take on hip-hop that encourages listeners to focus on the lyrics as well as the flow of each song without being distracted by one or the other. The first single off of the album, “Law of Averages,” is a hallmark of this revamped style of music, featuring harmonized verses and a refined flow.

With legendary producer Kenny Beats once again lending his magical touch, Vince Staples incorporates slightly more trap and electronic elements than Staples’ previous releases, as well as much lighter bass, which adds to the minimalist nature across the album. But that doesn’t mean that Staples’ signature bass hits are entirely missing: They just aren’t as heavy as they are on classic bangers such as “745” or “Blue Suede.”

“The Shining” in particular has an excellent beat that comes close to this heavy sound, but it’s just restrained enough to fit into the fabric of the rest of the album. “Mhm” is another track that resembles Staples’ traditional work but is still significantly milder, allowing listeners to focus on the vibe Staples has so meticulously crafted for his listeners.

Staples’ lyrics are still as relevant and as insightful as ever, fully capturing the essence of his being. While he previously chronicled his experiences growing up in North Long Beach, his love for his local park and the Black experience in the United States, Staples now hones in on what has been regularly going through his mind, splayed out over the course of just 22 minutes. The artist may not have the nonstop bars he usually does, but the subdued vocals effectively get his point across nonetheless.

While Vince Staples may have less vigor than the sharp, reckless and bass-heavy beats of Big Fish Theory or the youthful angst of Hell Can Wait, listeners can still fully comprehend and appreciate the weight of Staples’ full personality and intentions behind the record. Staples traverses the music made by Beats like it’s his home while maintaining a captivating air, even without the flashy, thumping beats that normally drive his music forward. The album finds its strongest features in its simplicity: catchy beats, pointed lyrics and a narrative that, as expected, hits home.

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @callmepbj.