FM! uses radio motif to tackle real-life issues

Courtesy of Def Jam Recordings

Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer

11/08/17

Vince Staples’ latest work FM! is a surrealist interpretation of gang violence, pop culture and the glorification of rappers. As impressive and daunting as this selection of topics is, Staples really shines in the cohesiveness and flow of the concepts on this album.

In the opening track “Feels Like Summer,” a sound bite from Big Boi’s radio show Neighborhood creates a stereotypical image of summer with references to chilling out and taking life more easily. Then, the first verse drops and Staples ruins the mood he previously tried to cultivate with the line, “Summertime in the LB wild / We gon party ‘til the sun or the guns come out.”

This theme of pop culture clashing with the reality of the situation — which, in this case, is gun violence occurring more often in the summer when many Americans are relaxing — continues throughout the album.

However, the third crucial theme to the album — the glorification of rappers — does not enter the equation until the third track, “Don’t Get Chipped.” The first line of the song, “Can’t wait till I’m rich / I’m finna buy a whole crate of guns,” discusses how rappers flaunt their street cred throughout their music even after they’ve become famous and have enough money to renounce that lifestyle.

After being introduced, these themes are then juggled throughout the album as a type of dialogue happens from song to song. Every track after the first three features Staple rapping about riches and gun violence with only short intermissions created in guest verse format.

Earl Sweatshirt breaks Staples’ flow on the fifth track of the album after a brief radio reference on the previous song calling for the listener to dial in to receive free Kehlani tickets. This echoes the commercialization of the news cycle that often breaks up heartbreaking stories of gun violence.

Later in the album, Tyga has a guest verse for the ninth track. He enters after a brief introduction by a radio jockey before talking about prolific rappers living the high life.

The track right before the finale, “(562) 453-9382 (skit)” has a fictional caller dial in to a radio show game to win the previously-alluded-to free Kehlani tickets. The caller, comedically, fails to name more than one famous person with a name starting with V (Staples wasn’t mentioned) and what follows is the radio host joking that he must be “tweaking.”

Once again, this illustrates the divide between pop culture casually referencing drug addiction in a careless manner, when the reality is that many people suffer from various forms of drug addiction that are not considered comical.

Finally, “Tweakin’” is a song featuring Buddy and Kehlani which brings together all three themes. Buddy touches on gun violence in the intro before Staples takes over in the first verse by discussing the friends he has lost to gang violence.

Then Kehlani adds to the previously built-on gun violence topic by singing the pre-chorus, “We just lost somebody else this weekend, no no / Think that I am jumping off the deep end, yeah yeah.” She follows this up by talking about drug addiction in the chorus.

Finally, Staples brings up the final themes by addressing his prominence as a rapper before Buddy once again discusses gun violence.

The three artists oscillate between the glorification of rappers, gun violence and the newly introduced topic of drug addiction before the conclusion sweeps all of their ideas away with a radio style closing for a commercial break.

The ending suggests that all of these topics will continue to get attention in the media and pop culture circles, but the reality of the situation won’t change. In this sense, life goes on, but not in the usual kumbaya associated with that phrase.

FM! is a rare take on the relationship between gang and gun violence, the glorification of rappers and pop culture that deserves more attention than it has gotten.

I realize that saying these topics deserve more attention is a concession on both Staples’ part and mine. This album calls out pop culture for raising awareness without action while also raising awareness without any call for action or explanation on how to act. This is perhaps Staples’ biggest flaw in the creation of FM!

Still, I can’t help but believe that this album has somehow addressed these topics in a nuanced manner worthy of being called out. I don’t think the majority of Americans realize the extent of the situation and in all honesty, if Staples is correct, how could they?

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