“Dark Times” by Vince Staples Stands Out for Existentialism and Devoted Rap Excellence

Vince Staples may be known more nowadays for his successful “The Vince Staples Show” on Netflix, but that has not prevented him from continuing to pave an even more astounding rap career. 

Being another starlet rapper from Compton with involvement in gangs throughout his youth, Vince Staples released his debut studio album, “Summertime ‘06”, to good acclaim. The album was followed by an even bigger release, “Big Fish Theory”, with songs like “Yeah Right”, “BagBak”, and “Party People” having intricate production, Staples’s signature nasally-flow, and a more ‘in-your-face’ feeling. 

Staples has transitioned to a more relaxed production in recent years, with “Vince Staples” and “RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART” exemplifying this. This trend has continued to a high point with his latest release, “Dark Times”

Photo via Tidal

Vince Staples Is All By Himself

Vince Staples has really challenged himself with this album. The lyrics are more thought-provoking. Production is more unique and detailed. There are no named features. The order is very deliberate. 

Let’s start with the production, which, as mentioned, is more relaxed, but that does not make it boring. A lot of it is isolated. Whether it be a guitar floating atop a low bass line, or a piano echoing on its own, it fully draws the listener in. The tight hi-hat, effortless bass line, and faded guitar on “Freeman” showcase the simple nature of the production. 

That being said, Staples still wants to preserve some diversity, with the energy present in “Little Homies” contrasting the calm nature. The dance feel with the constant downbeat of a bass drum and clap moves the song along. 

Lyrics are a place where Vince Staples always performs, but the lyrics here really challenge the listener. A ringing bell signals some really great lines on “Nothing Matters”, “Floatin’ like a butterfly, you got me on the ropes / I’m tryna dance with feet of clay if cash is all these women want then / I don’t wanna fight no more.” The reference to Muhammad Ali is obvious, but “clay if cash is” is a perfect homophone for the legendary rival to Ali, Cassius Clay. 

There is similar wordplay in “Étouffeé”. Staples says, “Both soles on the ground,” in reference to shoes, and the dichotomy of his souls, one being from bad neighborhoods, and another now out trying to succeed. 

The overall themes reflect the ordering of the album. The album opens with an interlude of soft nature sounds and a drum stick count-off sends us to “Black&Blue”. The disparity between nature and industrial environments is all over this project. “Étouffeé” starts and ends with the sounds of a violent neighborhood: sirens, dogs barking, and gunshots. 

The themes of love and trust also run rampant throughout. Staples perfectly orders the tracks “Liars” and “Justin” which discuss these topics. The first track is an interlude that includes a conversation between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, talking about how it is okay to lie in a relationship, saying the powerful line, “Fake it with me”. “Justin” discusses a moment where Staples has a moment of mistrust with a new partner. 

Staples deals with a lot in this album, and the last track ties it all together. “Why Won’t the Sun Come Out?” is an outro narration discussing how everyone is connected, all the good and bad. The narration ends with applause, followed by a solo piano, as the sounds of birds chirping conclude the album. 

Vince Staples feels at his most mature on “Dark Times”. The RMR fanbase should listen to nature and the violent neighborhood, but most of all, to Staples himself. 

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