‘Ramona Park Broke My Heart’ stuns as Vince Staples’ autobiographical masterpiece

photo of vince staples cover art
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Grade: 4.5/5.0

Through masterful sardonic lyrics and deadpan verses, Vince Staples has proved himself as a unique rapper and singer. On all 10 tracks of his 2021 self-titled album, he dances around complicated relationships with his hometown, Long Beach, explores the glamorization of violence and examines his personal relationships. Staples’ fifth studio album Ramona Park Broke My Heart serves as a companion album to the last, and it refines similar feelings with winsome Lil Baby and DJ Mustard features. 

Ramona Park Broke My Heart is Staples’ heartbreaking autobiography, careful to avoid self-indulgence and instead reflects on relatable, personal home-grown baggage. Sharp and transparent, the album radiates a California nonchalantness with astute lyricism about relationships, fame and turf wars that makes listening to it an authentic and intimate connection between audience and Staples. 

Second track “Aye! (Free the Homies)” helps open the record with an encapsulation of every emotion found on the album into one track. In the intro, a woman calls over the instrumental, saying that “We done lost a gang of homeboys” in a somber yet stern tone. Staples then breaks right into the track with the chorus, capturing a louder, more celebratory tone opposed to the emotional aloofness found in his normal lower vocals: “If I had one wish/ I’d free the homies.”

Staples discusses violence in his adolescence and the pride yet contempt he feels for his hometown with grace. It’s difficult to want to sing along to a song wrapped in tumultuous emotions based on Staples’ real experiences, but he makes it scarily easy to enjoy. “Aye! (Free the Homies)” stands as truly one of Staples’ most enthralling tracks, perfectly balancing his very personal, though sometimes bleak, lyrics with confidence.

While most rappers flaunt fame and money on tracks, Staples takes a different approach. “Magic,” featuring DJ Mustard, sees Staples own up to the responsibility that comes with fame and money, as well as consider how it might have changed him. Staples plainly raps over a minimalist beat, which has become a “staple” for the artist on more recent records. With the instrumentals supporting him rather than distracting from his voice, Staples takes the opportunity to pull himself forward into his raps and lyrics, coming across as clearer and more certain than before. 

Aside from the longer songs on the album, Staples throws in a few one- and two-minute tracks that are just as engaging as the rest. On the album’s first track “The Beach” that lasts just one minute and seven seconds, Staples switches his cadence to quicker, choppier raps over a simple few-chord beat. His witty raps channel nostalgia, and here, lyrics such as “Growin’ up, ain’t had no lights unless it said to check the engine” demonstrate Staples’ brash realness that goes beyond the detached rap stereotype of rags to riches.

Packing a similar punch to “The Beach,” “Slide” boasts a little more than two minutes, and its breezy beat and lyricism make it easy for the listener to bop their head to. Staples’ leveled approach to his records allows the listener to decide what they take away from it: One can either tune into the reality of Staples’ heartfelt lyricism, or opt to mindlessly enjoy the catchy beat and Staples’ low, unique vocals. Regardless, the album succeeds as finely crafted rap, moving through Staples’ life like a novel difficult to put down. 

Ramona Park Broke My Heart, especially when paired with Staples’ last self-titled release, has projected the rapper to new heights. Yet, on Ramona Park Broke My Heart, Staples’ keen candor comes across clearer than before. The rapper brilliantly balances dignity and disdain for his hometown, adolescence and now life in the spotlight with a reality that often lacks in rap music. His poignant lyricism and cohesive narration guide the record through a detailed autobiographical feat that makes Staples Long Beach’s finest.

Contact Kaitlin Clapinski at [email protected].