It would be easy to say this year in hip hop is a showcase of big names putting out great work. We have already gotten grade-A performances from Kanye West, Mac Miller and J. Cole- and we have new work from the Wu-Tang Clan and Deltron 3030 to look forward to (hopefully). However, this year has also seen the rise of newcomers who are putting out great work on the road to fame. Big K.R.I.T released his sonically excellent King Remembered in Time and Chance the Rapper brought a lot of cerebral fun in Acid Rap. Vince Staples' new LP Stolen Youth definitely continues this trend. (Listen to it for free here)
"Intro" sets the tone of the album. It opens with a chillingly beautiful choir singing. Slowly, the song begins to expand and build up, drums kick in, for a moment it is almost ambient with birds or insects chirping. Then Vince barrels in; he wastes no time with clever wordplay or explanation, instead he unleashes a barrage of intense mental images of violence and loss and pain.
"Lie from delusion.
Die on the street,
Then reside in the ruins.
Run and hide from police,
Then throw the nine in the sewer."
Vince is a ferocious storyteller; every single verse he drops adds another layer to the listener's understanding of his mind. The places Vince takes you are familiar yet unique. His authorial voice is clear and concise, his persona is dark and intense and personal. He talks about his real life in a way that anyone can viscerally understand.
The various featured artists don't feel like they just needed to fit a tracklist, Mac Miller is surprisingly solid on his track and Schoolboy Q absolutely owns "Back Sellin' Crack". The lyrical quality is as good as a studio album.
Something must also be said about Larry Fisherman's production. If the album succeeds at transporting you into Vince's mind, that is partially because Larry expertly sets the stage. Though geographically set in the West Coast the album feels very East Coast-inspired. It is claustrophobic and baroque, it's emotive while not overusing audio flourishes. One of the best moments in the whole album is in the song "Guns & Roses" where the hook is punctuated each time with a jazzy bell.
I feel like Stolen Youth is going to get buried in all of the great hip hop this year, I just hope Vince doesn't get buried as well. He is one of rap's best new voices.