Strong texture shifts and nice rhythmic delivery from Vince Staples makes this a worthwhile listen, despite the dependent harmonies and lack of character in most choruses.
This album is truly highlighted by Vince Staples’s nice rhythmic rap style. His lines, unsurprisingly, were very exposed within each song due to the overall intention of getting messages across and showcasing the one whose name is on the cover. In this instance, those goals were well and truly met, not just because of the separation the lines got, but that they were mostly all individualistic and fun. However, this was only achieved within the verses. The verse-chorus form has been a standard for years because, in my experience, it’s the simplest way to create memorable and approachable music for the modern audience. It can still be messed up, though. Staples was not so good at executing this form throughout the album, which was the main melodic downfall. Verses and choruses were too separate from each other in terms of mood, energy, technique, and priorities. The choruses, which are the part of the form that repeats itself, had hardly any drive or purpose compared to what was around them. Only the song “Party People” had a great repeating section to go along with the ever-changing verses. Songs like “Big Fish”, “Yeah Right” and “SAMO” especially had these problems with contrasting sections. What was important, though, was that Vince Staples (or his guest rappers) was able to turn it on and deliver an awesome driven line what he had to. That’s what made this a good album overall.
I got the sense that Staples handicapped himself a bit harmonically, in that it wasn’t much of a thought and the musical structure beneath his lines was directly a result of the actual timbre he was aiming for. For example, the first song “Crabs in a Bucket” sounded very much like an ethereal, stagnant introduction to the album’s atmosphere, which resulted in the actual harmony attempting to be ethereal and stagnant. That didn’t have to be the case; the harmonic structure can only reach its full potential when it first has a life of its own. Even though that never happened here, this album still had harmony that was sensible, congenial, and not getting in the way of the music’s direction. Its changes in activity were always done with purpose, which was a positive of being so linked to the timbre. Even a couple neat basslines crept in. It did its job within the setting and I can’t complain about it too much. I’m sure that many enthusiastic listeners of this music don’t even feel this layer at all, which is okay given the music’s intent. In order for music like this to make a big leap and become solid or great, though, the harmony needs to be more independent and impactful.
There were lots of little happenings within the sound done to a nice effect that really enhanced the music and made it unique. One such thing was a reoccurrence of great texture changes within small atmospheres. There was nothing too big about the sound, always giving way to the solo voice, and not a whole lot of instrumental material was used. Being able to make convincing shifts in texture back and forth with what little there was gave a great amount of personality to the music. The song “Love Can Be…” was especially good at this. Another good aspect was the synthetic textures when used to accentuate the beat and grow the dynamic. This aspect also had its downsides, when those textures tried to be more melodic and frilly, which happened in the middle of the album. They came back strong in the song “BagBak”, which had a simple, powerful sound that really fit in with everything. Perhaps above all, since this may be the only aspect of the sound that reaches some listeners, the beats were sweet and exciting.
Vince Staples seems to be a great example of how rap can thrive with a bit of sophistication, no matter who you are. Rap has gone many different directions over the past 10 years, but it’s becoming apparent that works like this in the more personal, sophisticated realm will stand the test of time better than the commercial rap of people like Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Future. Having the recognizable face gets easy popularity, which Staples does not currently have, but his career trajectory as evidenced in this well thought out work leads me to believe this will enjoy some nice success down the road. Hopefully he continues to follow his own path and be remembered for his positive influence on the music world, but it will take some more music from him, hopefully even more individualistic, for that to happen.
Final Score: 128/180