Long Beach, California’s proudest resident, Vince Staples, is known for crafting complex albums that hurt with soulful storytelling. Nowhere was that more apparent than on last year’s self-titled fourth LP, “Vince Staples,” which took No. 42 on our Best Albums of 2021 list for its magnetic moodiness. This record found Vince at his most introspective, as he shared his pointed social observations about his upbringing and the world around him.
And he’s equally contemplative on fifth studio album ‘Ramona Park Broke My Heart’, although this time around the 28-year-old has focused even more on the Ramona Park neighborhood he grew up in. Right from the start, the record exudes the bounce synonymous with West Coast rap, all the swollen bass lines, finger snaps and alluring guitar strums. The ‘AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES)’ proves that Staples’ talent for captivating imagery remains intact: “Trophy in the hood, ayy / Wish a **** did it, ayy”.
Meanwhile, “EAST SIDE PRAYER,” featuring Lil Baby, sees Vince and Atlanta’s biggest rap star tell stories about the resilience they’ve maintained despite their surroundings. Baby sums it up perfectly in one verse: “Nobody wanna work till they get paid /… I really want this shit, hope it doesn’t take long”. On the laid-back “Magic,” Vince is exuberant about his transformation into a local hero who defied the odds: “It’s handshakes and hugs when I come.”
But he really leans into his theme – because ‘Ramona Park Broke My Heat’ is kind of a love letter – with ‘WHEN SPARKS FLY’, as he turns his attention away from his old neighborhood to zoom in on a romanticized ode to his gun: “I’m ashamed to say I think I hate you now / We should have chased ’em ’cause I can’t save you now”. It’s a level of candor we should expect from Vince – he did, after all, say NME last year: “It’s important for me to tell the truth about my experiences.”
Highlighting Staples’ versatility, “Ramona Park Broke My Heart” continues the revival of hip-hop’s golden age (also epitomized by Cordae’s 2021 album “From A Birds Eye View”). The production is clean, the rhymes imaginative, and the rapper digs deeper than ever. Yes, “Vince Staples” was a beautifully personal reflection from start to finish, but “Ramona Park…” deepens the listener’s relationship with the rapper — who didn’t look back at his former home with mixed feelings and deep nostalgia?
Release date: April 8
A record label: Blacksmith Recordings / Motown Records UK