American rap’s mighty financial muscle has elbowed rock to the margins and cleared space for weirder rappers to play – and get paid. Californian Vince Staples started off as an Odd Future affiliate a decade ago, when it was unclear whether the west coast collective could convert their cult popularity into lasting success. Now that Odd Future co-founder Tyler, the Creator is a Billboard chart-topper and Brit award winner, talents such as Staples, who grew up making densely futuristic music, can spy stardom up ahead. Like Tyler’s 2017 breakthrough, Flower Boy, Staples’s new album is much more personal and accessible than anything he’s put out before.
It’s less distorted than you’d expect, with warped backing vocals, jittery percussion and little scraps of melody wafting around some of Staples’ best flows yet. There’s a typical west coast tension between its mellifluous sound and nihilistic words. Are You With That? is one of the loveliest songs you could hope to hear about murdering strangers over drug money. Even better are the ruminative Lil Fade and Taking Trips’ clammy, oppressive heat – love letters to his hometown, drafted with a poison pen.