Many times we’ve heard artists explain a decision to self-title an album several records into their career by claiming it’s because it felt like the purest distillation of their sound to date; the most accurate representation of their creative outlook they’ve yet achieved. This is an intriguing prism through which to view Vince Staples’ fourth full-length, given that his discography so far has been defined by its unpredictability, by the panoramic variety of beats he’s played around with, by the often lofty conceptual nature of his work, by the fact that he still seems to operate in the no-man’s-land between alternative hip-hop and the mainstream. Is Vince Staples representative of a change in direction?
As with everything Staples does, there’s not a straightforward answer. This is a complicated, multi-faceted affair that defies easy categorisation. Like its predecessor, 2018’s wilfully chaotic FM!, this album runs a shade over twenty minutes, but the similarities largely end there; that record’s exhaustive electronic experimentation is eschewed in favour of production from Kenny Beats that harks back to the breezy ’90s heyday of the West Coast.
The instrumental palette ensures a sense of cohesiveness uncharacteristic of Staples – woozy synths weaving their way through these ten tracks, with the beats routinely unhurried – but lyrically, Staples is at once a little less obtuse than usual whilst still revisiting familiar ground, as if the laidback feel of the album has encouraged him to open up a touch. The territory he ventures into, though, is reflective both of past bars and of comments he’s made in the press; the record is littered with references to his wariness of the trappings of fame, particularly on ‘Law of Averages’, ‘Sundown Town’ and ‘The Shining’, all of which hint at a nervy state of mind belying the sound of the record. Vince Staples is a long way from his most adventurous work, and yet remains riddled with his idiosyncrasies. As a pure platform for his core skillset, it works.