With its summery beats, “FM!” comes at the perfect time as we all yearn for warmer weather; unfortunately, it probably won’t bring you the joy that most associate with the summer months. Long Beach, Calif., rapper Vince Staples is back with his third studio album, fresh off the success of “Big Fish Theory,” which dropped last year.
Known for his dark, heavy beats, boastful lyrics and staccato flows, Staples has achieved moderate success in the hip-hop industry. With hits like “Norf Norf” and “Big Fish,” he’s successfully made a name for himself in the mainstream and garnered critical acclaim for albums like 2015’s “Summertime ‘06.” However, on ‘FM!’ he largely abandons the moody production style of his past, creating a dissonance between the tracks’ warm beats and nihilistic lyrics.
At only 22 minutes, “FM!” is significantly shorter than Staples’ previous albums and is closer in length to his two EPs, 2014’s “Hell Can Wait” and 2016’s “Prima Donna,” as well as G.O.O.D. Music’s recent string of releases. Unfortunately, “FM!” doesn’t come close to releases like Pusha T’s “Daytona” in terms of consistency or production value.
The warmer production style of these songs clashes with both the album’s November release and Staples’ usually dark and wintery beats. The opening track, “Feels Like Summer,” featuring Ty Dolla Sign, introduces this new direction, backing it with a lot of energy. The Dolla Sign hook is OK, but it’s not all that catchy and the autotune gets grating the second time the chorus comes around. Lyrically, the song is a typical venture for Staples, featuring lyrics about the dangers in his hometown Long Beach, despite its sunny California exterior.
“Outside!” is of equal quality in terms of flow and production, but the hook on this song is much worse, ruining what would have been an otherwise enjoyable song. Vince Staples has never been a very good singer, and would likely be better off leaving his choruses to guest features. His vocal delivery on the track “Relay” is terrible, as he raps mostly in his nasally upper register, which makes the chorus so grating that it’s painful.
The interlude “New earlsweatshirt,” featuring Earl Sweatshirt, is the best track on the album, despite the fact that Vince Staples doesn’t appear on it. Unfortunately, it didn’t make me excited to continue listening to “FM!” — it made me want new material from Sweatshirt. It’s also shoehorned into the tracklist at an awkward place, between two songs that it has no thematic connection with, but it’s a welcome break nonetheless. Funnily enough, the best song on the album is followed by the worst, “Run the Bands.” The mantra that Juicy J chants throughout the track gets old really fast, and makes the three minute song feel much longer.
“FUN!” is a much needed reprieve, as it’s probably the best Staples song in the entire tracklist. The bubbly production and entertaining hook make it one of the few songs that successfully captures the summery and upbeat vibe that the album was meant to have. A couple of other songs come close, but their beats just aren’t memorable enough to stick in the listener’s mind. If anything, it shows that Staples can pull off this kind of song if he tries, but unfortunately this level of effort isn’t consistently present on most of the project. The beat on “No Bleedin,” for example, sounds cheaply made and lazy, which is unacceptable for someone with as much production experience as Kenny Beats.
Following this, Staples puts an interlude and a skit back-to-back, which doesn’t do much other than pad the album’s already meager length. This would suggest that he didn’t make enough songs that were fit for release, but most likely wanted to release a follow-up to “Big Fish Theory” to capitalize on the project’s success. The Tyga interlude isn’t nearly as good as Sweatshirt’s, and the skit, a clip from a radio talk show, contributes absolutely nothing to the project. Both of these tracks could and should have been cut.
The closing track, “Tweakin,” displays Staples’ remarkable cadence and features a pleasant hook by Kehlani, but it comes too late in the tracklist to save the project from its many shortcomings. Still, it’s always good to end on a high note.
Plagued by bad choruses, lazy production and a lack of memorable tracks, “FM!” is the weakest project Vince Staples has released to date. The album feels rushed, with only a few songs feeling well developed. Its biggest saving grace is actually its runtime; if this project was any longer, it would be that much worse off. It’s a real shame too, because, for the most part, Staples’ verses on this album are on par with his usual work. At the end of the day, the album isn’t terrible, but Staples can do much better.