The question that has haunted and hung over psychologists, and even students in introductory courses to the field, asks: To what extent does our environment shape or mold us into who we are? It’s the classic debate of nature versus nurture. In Vince Staples’ latest, he unravels the strings that fabricate his origins, balancing across the taut twines to stand across the memories that embody who he is. He explores the relationship between himself and his home, tapping Kenny Beats to assist in the task of unfurling the sounds to his peregrination.
Vince Staples’ production is free from obtrusive or roaring sounds, starkly diverging from previous albums like FM! and Big Fish Theory. The Long Beach rapper shoulders a more modest tone to tackle heavier topics. Drawing curtains aside, he peers through the window to reveal the reality of his stories, all borrowed from his past and childhood. On the opening track “ARE YOU WITH THAT?” beyond the pulsating synths, Staples narrates compelling images of blood spilling and states the jarring line: “had to fight for my life.”
The tone of the album steers deeper into songs like “SUNDOWN TOWN,” hopping from scenes of sleeping on a couch to a deluge of bullets. The album eventually takes an interlude with “THE APPLE & THE TREE,” leaving listeners to vigilantly listen to the almost deceptively quaint guitar plucks accompanying a spoken clip.
“TAKE ME HOME” sees Fousheé lending her vocals for the chorus. The title itself places a juxtaposition between what Staples has noted in the previous songs and his current emotions. From recanting what he saw in his community and the need to shift away certain patterns and systems, home is still home in the end. The track ties in closely to the song, “THE SHINING,” unveiling uncensored revelations of the heartfelt love for the place where he grew up, which continues despite his success and fame.
Staples has never evaded the labyrinth of emotions or topics that have gripped his mind, nor has he ever made music for the taste of the mainstream and radio. Even amid his provocative experimentation and genre-combining throughout his various albums, he shuffles his cards and lays them in front of listeners for us to pick up and observe for ourselves. Vince Staples underscores the rapper’s messages and lyrics against the backdrop of unembellished sounds and low-tempo productions. The album seems to arrive at a moment where the rapper picks up the rounded puzzle pieces of his life and fits them together to render a fully vivid and intimate image of the environment that sculpted him.