Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory was, for many, one of the albums of 2017. A synthesis of house, garage and industrial techno polished with a subtle West Coast gloss, the project was an energizing and futuristic experience. It showcased, for the first time, Vince’s ear for truly innovative beats and did so without sacrificing delivery and lyricism, two qualities the Long Beach MC has always had in abundance.
His most engaging attribute however did not take centre stage. Vince is a funny man. Anyone who watches interviews or follows him on Twitter will be familiar with his trademark sardonic tone. Thankfully on FM! Vince allows this facet of his personality to come to the forefront. The project imitates a radio broadcast, playfully mocking the medium by which many of us consume music. Although not a radical concept, Vince certainly squeezes all the satirical juice from this particular fruit. The skits which link the album together as a concept have Vince’s finger prints all over them. He trolls his audience by teasing 20 second snippets of unreleased Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga tracks and, in a pop culture sideswipe, mimics a phone in quiz in which the contestant is asked to ‘name seven famous people whose name’s begin with V’. The contestant fails to mention Vince himself, or indeed anyone bar Vanessa Williams.
The hooks, featuring amongst others Jay Rock, E-40 and Kehlani, are the catchiest and most radio friendly that Vince has constructed to date. On a project focused specifically on radio itself however, this is unsurprising. The production, handled almost exclusively by Kenny Beats, is catchy yet unremarkable and takes a back seat to Vince’s nasal, sneering delivery of piercing one liners and tight, everchanging flows.
Had Vince Staples’ career been reaching its peak ten years ago, rather than in the current era of pink dreads, SoundCloud and Xanax, he’d have been one of the most eminent and revered artists in the genre. Releasing a concept album (if indeed you can call a project with a run time of 22 minutes an album) about radio in a streaming-centric climate is a brave move. But Vince has always been brave in his music. FM! acts as a bookmark, separating two distinct eras in terms of how we discover new music: the radio era and the streaming era. In this sense, and although the subject matter incorporated is nothing new to Vince’s discography, the project conveys a much more profound message than one might initially think.