Vince Staples just dropped the year’s hottest summer album in early November - only two weeks after Halloween, three weeks before Thanksgiving, and about two full months after Labor Day. His fifth project, "FM!," takes on the aesthetic of a hip, poppy summertime California radio station for its brief 20+ minute runtime. The opening track, “Feels Like Summer,” starts exploring this idea of how Los Angeles can feel like summer year-round - and it's not because of the weather. Rather, life never quiets down much around Ramona Park, Vince Staple’s beleaguered home neighborhood on the south side of LA. Just like the weather, the streets never cool down in the City of Angels. And even over upbeat production and its distinct summertime sound, Vince Staple’s melancholic lyrics won’t give you a chance to forget that fact.
Designing "FM!" to mimic 20+ minutes from a fast-paced South Beach radio station is a novel idea that gets executed almost flawlessly. The different skits, call-ins, interludes, and personality of the radio hosts divide the album up into discrete snippets and keep the album’s fast pace rolling. The songs themselves are never longer than three minutes and - true to the concept - initially sound like something blasting from a teenager’s car on a muggy July evening. That is, until you tune into the lyrics. Vince Staples has always rapped about the hardships of growing up in a complicated part of LA, and even the album’s sunny aesthetic doesn’t change that. The music video for one of project’s standouts - “FUN!” - takes a stab at his own listeners who consume his music blindly. That is to say, white suburban teenagers who glorify gang violence and view the ghettofication of America as but an entertainment product.
But, regardless of the consumer being ignorant of institutionalized poverty in the States or not, its tracks sound absolutely fantastic. "FM!" also boasts impressive features, with a Tyga track, E-40 coming in for a hook, and most importantly a 20-second-teaser-interlude from Earl Sweatshirt.
Now, Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt go a long way back, since well before 2013, when both artists were still coming up. They collaborated heavily on Earl’s 2013 album "Doris" - Vincent Stapler being featured on three of the 15 songs - as well as on Earl Sweatshirt’s most recent major project of "I Don’t Like S---; I Don’t Go Outside" in 2015. Since then, save the spare few feature verses or leaked tracks, Earl Sweatshirt may well have been a ghost. After the hiatus, Mr. Sweatshirt is finally coming back into album mode - and Vince Staples gave him a feature, an interlude to his own - to shout news of his return from the rooftops. He’s been teasing new music with 20-second snippets on Instagram and even released a single on November the 8. Now that it’s Earl Season - Sweatshirt Weather, if you will - it’s refreshing to see two artists who came up together dropping music and, hopefully, hitting their full professional stride together.