Written Before Listen
Vince Staples is a California rapper whos well known in the hip-hop scene. With songs like “Norf Norf”, “Big Fish” and “&Burn” with Billie Eilish, Vince Staples has a couple of hits behind his belt but this time around, he has centered himself around a fanbase that remains strong. When I reviewed his previous self titled release, I gave a somewhat negative review, but the highlights of that project such as “Are You With That”, “Take Me Home”, and “MHM” have become some of my most listened to hip hop songs of last year. With that being said, I'm intrigued to hear what Vince Staples has in store for us now so without further ado, let's get into it.
Vince Staples has always been a serious rapper on the mic. Despite his online persona, you’re bound to get nostalgic storytelling and introspective phrases and Vince is no stranger to that on this album. My favorite example of this has to be “When Sparks Fly” where on the outer shell, Vince writes a love song, but with lines about hiding from the police and going a hundred rounds when busting it down, it’s really about his gun. It’s like an “I Gave You Power” part two. “Papercuts” shows Vince’s attention to detail on money and “The Blues” is the conclusion on how that mind state affected him negatively. Another track I like lyrically is “Player Ways” and it's about how Vince’s past and trauma have made it hard for him to find love. It’s really deep and introspective and it gave me goosebumps once or twice while listening to it. Overall, I honestly think his lyrical skill has improved since the previous album and I truly love any improvement.
As producers go, there are only a couple of notable producers. Kenny Beats returns on “East Point Prayer” and it’s more minimal and vibrant than anything I thought he would make for Vince Staples. We have two DJ Dahi beats with “DJ Quik” and “Papercuts” and despite the former being pretty deadpan, the latter has a great sample flip and solid Vince verses. We also get two beats from DJ Mustard and I do like the beat for “Bang That”, the real highlight is “Magic”. Something about those chords, the ice cube sample, and the bouncy drums is just nostalgic to the time when Mustard was everywhere. There is also “Slide” where Mike Hector produces and it’s one of the harder-hitting beats on the record. With other great beats, we have the ratchet beat on “Aye”, the old school vibe on “When Sparks Fly” and the introspective vibe on “Player Ways”. Overall, I think the multiple producers is the way to go for Vince as this has way more highlights than the self-titled on the production side of things.
So, Vince Staples has always been someone original and I still feel that way, but I feel like he is taking a direction that is similar to that of Kendrick Lamar, most specifically good kid m.a.a.d city as Vince tells his stories from the streets with trendy production and with multiple different emotions. I also think the beat and flow for “Player Ways” kind of reminded me a little bit of Drake. Finally, with songs like “Aye” and “Magic”, Vince brings it back to the party days of 90s west coast hip hop. Think of Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, Ice Cube, and DJ Quik but modernized. I think Vince Staples knows what influences to use and when, and for an album like this, it makes sense that he would take influences from this time and in that location.
Comparison To The Self-Titled
So, let me get to my gripe about this record. It’s pretty similar to the self-titled in ways. I do think there are off-putting and one-dimensional beats on this thing, I do think Vince’s performance could be a bit better and less monotone and I don’t think it’s as entertaining as albums like Big Fish Theory and Summertime 06. It continues with a very similar vibe, but I think it’s an improvement. I did grow to enjoy the self-titled more but those gripes I had remain and they kind of follow with this album at points.
Alongside that, I would say that there are times when Vince focuses on a mainstream hit and times when Vince focuses on the opposite. It’s weird because, with previous projects, he would be able to do both in one song effortlessly with songs like “Norf Norf”, and “Big Fish” and even with his previous project with “Are You With That?”. So, I guess my verdict is that Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a more cohesive and enjoyable listen than the self-titled, but I do think it has similar weaknesses.
So, It’s certainly an upgrade from his previous album, to be honest, I think it might be his best since Big Fish Theory, but it does come with its underachievements so with that being said, it has notable highlights and has some notable weak points, but luckily the strong tracks overshadow the weak ones.