Dark Times

Dark Times

Vince Staples knows his songs aren’t soundtracking too many wild Friday night parties; they sound way better on the long, contemplative walk home. “I’ve always been aware of where I fit within the ecosystem of this whole thing, and that allows me to create freely,” he tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “No one’s coming to me from a fan standpoint looking for a single, or looking for a party record. But I do know the people who listen to my music are probably looking for thoughtfulness or creativity.” Since breaking through a decade ago with his debut EP Hell Can Wait, the Long Beach rapper has been the go-to guy for heady West Coast rap: songs that may not make you dance, but always make you think. Still, his sixth studio album (and the last one on his Def Jam contract) isn’t quite the downer that the title suggests. Where its predecessor, 2022’s RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART, looked back at his bittersweet youth, Dark Times is a snapshot of Staples right now: on top of the world on paper, but the reality is trickier. (“I think I’m losing it,” he raps on the bass-heavy “Black&Blue”. “Hope you’re along for the ride.”) On “Government Cheese” he grapples with survivor’s guilt, mourning his brother and lying that all’s well to his friend in prison who saw him on TV. Still, light enters through the cracks with breezy, soulful beats from frequent collaborators Michael Uzowuru and LeKen Taylor, not to mention Staples’ trademark dry wit: “Don’t be no crab in the bucket, be a Crip at the Ritz,” he quips on “Freeman”. There’s even a few tracks you could bump at the function: “Étouffée”, a love letter to New Orleans rap, and “Little Homies”, a lo-fi house jam on whose hook Staples crows, “Life hard, but I go harder.” And no matter how heavy things get, Staples is realistic about what his work means in the grand scheme of things. “They're just songs, man,” he says. “It doesn't need to go past that point. I know everybody values things differently—but for me at least, put it out, people listen to it, they like it or they don't. And then if you get to do it the next time, that's the gift that you get is the ability to do it the next time, because most people don't get that.”

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