Vince Staples’ latest release is possibly his most consistent project yet. Regardless of whether it’s an album, an EP, or a mere makeshift of sorts, FM! is a strong and immersive concept that sees Vince go through 11 tracks in a rapid-fire manner. It sounds like 20 minutes of ad-free urban radio (or just a really good Spotify playlist). FM! is fun, but also chaotic, presumably representative of California life itself. Vince’s deadpan delivery is essential for the dark humour and bleak social commentary of songs like “FUN!” and “Tweakin’”. Whilst his flow can seem expressionless at times, Vince’s lyrics remain as striking as ever. The album’s character lies in its concept and its popping, bouncing instrumentals, as well as the fabulous production by Kenny Beats and Hagler.
This is an extremely consistent work, and enjoyable to boot, but it does feel like a tease; something of a stopgap. That’s not to say it’s throwaway of course, you just get the feeling that something more substantial is around the corner. It has a similar vibe to Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered., an album sandwiched between two monumental works. FM! feels like the product of Vince pretty much doing whatever he feels like, and that sort of creativity is most welcome. Hopefully, the next project is the devastating achievement we’ve all been waiting for.7 10
Favourite tracks // FUN!
FM! sounds like what you’d expect an album called FM! to sound like. The songs are short, the beats are consistent, the mix is vibrant, the skits have a radio station theme, and cynicism bubbles throughout. It’s quickfire West Coast hip hop. I’ve cooled on the album since early listens, but there’s an audacity to the concept that’s hard to ignore. FM! really does sound like a cartoonish snippet of overblown California radio, with all the pomp and sunshine and shadow that entails.
I’ve not been convinced by past Vince Staples releases, but here his caustic demeanour is a fine, often amusing foil to Kenny Beats’ bombastic production. The tracks ebb into each other seamlessly, to the point where our tradition of choosing favourites misrepresents what the album does. FM! flows as a single hip hop onslaught, all tempered by a radio sheen. It’s no Songs for the Deaf, but then it’s not meant to be. FM! frames itself as disposable, but in doing so also feels oddly precious. A one-off.7 10
Favourite tracks // Relay
FM! has been a grower for me, which is surprising given its accessibility. Whistling by at just 22 minutes, you’ll need a few listens to find more than a patchwork of contemporary hip hop. Littered with a healthy portion of features and collaborators (albeit partly made up of thirty-second teasers), the tracklist doesn’t stick to one sound long enough to become tiresome.
Despite opening well, “Don’t Get Chipped” is the first track that catches my attention. Combining a fizzy bass and a hooky chorus, it sets the tone for the album with a moody instrumental and sharp lyrics. The Earl Sweatshirt interlude is a bittersweet moment, staying for mere seconds and yet making for one of my favourite moments on the album, it leaves me yearning for a full-length version of the track being teased, and it’s clear that all of those emotions are intentionally provoked.
“Run the Bands” and “FUN!” also make for highlights, the former sitting into its catchy chorus while the latter revels in its sparse, quirky instrumental. The one track that’s really stuck with me from my first listen, however, is the closer “Tweakin’”. It’s not a perfect closer, and I could certainly have taken a couple more tracks after it, but by itself it marries an addictive instrumental with great vocal features from Buddy and Kehlani and potent lyrics to boot.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with FM!. It manages to add character to each track while staying cohesive, likely helped along by the concept of a radio broadcast rather than a straight album. But it’s hard not to be left wanting more, and while that’s never a bad thing, it can often feel like tracks are so brief that you’re listening to a pick and mix of hip hop rather than a substantive studio album. I’ll certainly be returning to a number of the tracks here, all the while waiting for that bit extra from Vince Staples in the future.7 10
Favourite tracks // Tweakin’
Don’t Get Chipped