FM! (released November 2, 2018)
If you grew up a music fan in the 90s, I’m willing to bet that your infatuation started with radio. Mine sure did. My aunt hooked me up with a Walkman one Christmas that was literally attached to my hip for a half a decade.
The thing didn’t even play tapes or CDs, it was just an AM/FM tuner. But I didn’t need frills – all I needed were my rotating set of DJs, the Rock It or Stop It segment around 7 p.m. that let us vote on new music, the evening countdown at 8 p.m., the boom-bap hour at 9 and the quiet storm segment immediately afterward.
That walkman was my VIP pass to a whole new musical world.
But that was then. Radio is a much different landscape in 2018, and I’m not just saying that because AARP is knocking on my door.
With new music so readily available these days due to Da Innanets, YouTube and podcasts have become the new musical outlets for this generation of fans. And it’s not like I haven’t gotten on board too.
Still, whether it’s the magnetic energy of a good DJ, the unpredictability of the playlists or just maybe it’s just plain ol’ nostalgia talking but there’s just something fun about radio.
And the homie Vince Staples is here to recapture that magic.
FM!, the third LP from the Compton-born MC, is an ode to the airwaves, effectively recapturing the spirit of those days when the radio was the soundtrack to our summers.
In fact, the first track, “Feels like Summer,” lives up to its name, making November feel like July thanks to catchy production from Kenny Beats, who reigns behind the boards for almost the entirety of this project. Though the atmosphere is light, Vince, as always, brings weighty topics to the party, bluntly stating “We gon’ party ’til the sun or the guns come out.”
“First month still feel like summer/Cold weather won’t stop no gunner.” The block is always hot.
Never one to bite his tongue (remember when he reminded us that “the national anthem don’t even slap?”), FM! finds a comfortable balance between commentary and carousing. Not nearly as bleak as Vince’s minimalistic debut and more accessible than his electronic-fueled sophomore effort, FM! is easily his most radio-friendly effort to date.
And that’s obviously by design.
Ty Dolla Sign, who I swear shows up on every album I’ve reviewed in 2018, appears on “Feels Like Summer,” while E-40 comes through with signature ad-libs on the westside party starter “FUN!”
“Relay” and “Run the Bands” are infectious earworms that are guaranteed to make the crowd go insane at Vince’s next live shows. But he doesn’t let the fame go to his head. On “Don’t Get Chipped,” he’s quick to remind us that despite a “record deal, I did it independent.” Despite three LPs and a couple of EPs under the Def Jam banner, Vince hasn’t strayed from his mixtape roots.
That mentality is what keeps Vince grounded and gives his music substance. “Tweakin'” shows Vince wrestling with the loss of his friends to violence and the harsh realities of an unforgiving world:
Had me up in church at a young age
Should’ve had the n**** at the gun range
Woulda been a lot more useful s***
Who up in the pulpit truthful s***
Bunch of poor people gon’ use the s***
Might as well go and get used to it
Tryna get rich, get everybody fed
But everybody dead
You might have come for the party but you’re gonna stick around for the sermon.
From the brief interludes showcasing new music from Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt to the interjections from radio legend Big Boy, FM! really feels like a throwback to radio’s heyday. And at just 22 minutes, it’s a breezy, digestable listen, easily Vince’s best work since his beloved debut Summertime ’06.
I wish today’s radio playlists were this consistently good.
Best tracks: “Relay,” “Don’t Get Chipped,” “Feels Like Summer”
4 stars out of 5