His strongest + most ambitious work since Big Fish Theory
Karl Blakesley
12:11 5th April 2022

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The first thing you should know about Vince Staples is that he is an extremely hard worker. Since his emergence in the mid-2010s, it seems the American rapper has been constantly keeping himself busy, and not just with music either. He’s done some voice acting, has his own Netflix show on the way and has just released his debut graphic novel, Limbo Beach, via Z2 Comics. On top of that, he is currently supporting Tyler, The Creator on his 34-date US tour and will be performing at Coachella in the next couple of weeks.

However, despite his many side ventures and busy schedule, his own music remains his top priority—a fact evidenced in the frequency of his output. Now on his fifth studio album Ramona Park Broke My Heart (RPBMH), this one comes less than a year after its predecessor and it seems that was by design.

Released back in July, his self-titled album was concise and to-the-point. Masterfully produced by Kenny Beats, it was a thrilling and introspective 22-minutes that marked Vince’s most personal work to date. However, now we're presented with RPBMH, it seems like that album was merely a prelude for this new 16-track odyssey and tribute to Vince’s hometown community, the Ramona Park neighbourhood of Long Beach, California. Written at the same time as the self-titled record, this is the direct sequel that sees Vince broadening his scope and giving listeners even greater insight into his West Coast upbringing. 

Any reference to Vince’s hometown found in his work 'til now has been rather fleeting. However, now he is ready to tell his unfiltered Ramona Park story. The result is a vivid and always engaging personal reflection that expands on the groundwork laid by last year’s self-titled album but with one key difference. As Vince himself puts it: “This one has more answers.”

'The Beach' sets the scene perfectly as the opener, almost operating as a short prologue here. “In the city baby your first rap might be a murder rap,” he states, as the track ends on the startling contrasting sounds of applause and rapid gunfire. From this, it’s clear from the get-go where Vince’s head is at. This is him dissecting his life, analysing where he is now, what could have been for him and is the reality now for those growing up in Ramona Park.

He continues this train of thought on the subsequent tracks, with 'AYE! (Free The Homies)' and 'DJ Quik' seeing him draw parallels between his life now and that of those back home in Ramona Park, with him longing to save them all from the tough streets. 'Magic fits' in nicely next, the excellent DJ Mustard-produced lead single that finds Vince in a celebratory mood over the fact he was able to pull off the magic trick of a lifetime—overcoming those early pitfalls and making a successful living as an artist.

After a short, spoken-word interlude, 'When Sparks Fly' then arrives to offer up one of the album’s real highlights. Built around a soulful R&B groove produced by Kenny Beats and sampling Lyve’s 'No Love', it finds Vince in a romantic mood for what seems like a straight-forward love song...until you realise the thing drawing his gaze is a personified gun. It’s quite brilliant and easily one of Vince’s most accomplished tracks to date. 

From there, Vince continues to work through the battle between love and war going on inside his head, and indeed in Ramona Park, with this struggle expertly represented in the feel-good 'West Coast' sounds but often dark, gritty lyrics. 'Papercuts', for example, plays on the numerous fights over money that can happen—whether gang-related or simply chasing down child support payments—whilst 'Lemonade' sees Ty Dolla $ign join Vince for a track that serves up strong “summer nights in Cali” vibes. 

'Mama’s Boy' is another big highlight, with Vince addressing his workaholic attitude as he raps “Money ain’t everything, but I promise it helps the pain”, before his mother’s voice hypothesizes that his need to graft all the time comes from her working three jobs as he was growing up. Recent single 'Rose Street' works well as the final act, bringing the record full circle before 'The Blues' serves as the album’s epilogue. It ends on the sounds of waves crashing, calling back to the album’s opener and seemingly symbolising the endless cycle of life in Ramona Park.

This is easily Vince’s strongest and most ambitious work since Big Fish Theory. An album that sounds great, but also offers an intricately crafted and at times brutally honest portrait of his hometown, highlighting the maze of social traps from which he was lucky enough to escape. Without a doubt, one of the hip-hop projects of the year thus far.

Ramona Park Broke My Heart arrives 8 April via Blacksmith Recordings / Motown Records UK.

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