Album Review: Vince Staples – DARK TIMES

So, it’s been a while since we had any new music from Vince Staples with 2022’s Ramona Park Broke My Heart but he hasn’t been slacking. He’s been doing stuff on the small screen, appearing in that Hulu remake of White Men Can’t Jump with Jack Harlow (I haven’t seen it but I heard not-so-good things) as well as The Vince Staples Show, which you should watch on Netflix (It’s like 5 episodes and not that long; plus, it’s great).

However, I did not expect we would have an new album out anytime soon. Vince did announce that there was going to be new music from him but we thought it would have been just a single or something. But instead, it’s his sixth studio album… and the last one he’s doing for Def Jam Records.

Yeah, in case you’re confused, the last two records of his (the self-titled one and Ramona) were on Motown Records, and the last Def Jam thing he did before moving on was FM! But yes, this is his final record on Def Jam Records, and I think at this point I’m not going to be surprised with what Vince says on here, but I guarantee that it’s going to be some good stuff.

Now, how will Dark Times fare within this time frame?

Well, given that most of the records we’ve gotten from Vince are often contemplative, introspective and are sometimes a downer when you go into the lyrical content and subject matter (whether it’s about his neighborhood, his past, and whether his people are alive or not), I don’t expect much of a change-up but maybe a little in there.

I mean, the intro “Close Your Eyes and Swing” begins with a haunting, atmospheric instrumental with the uttered line, ‘To live is to be, like the nigga in the tree.’ Yeah, when you mention that, that one might’ve been kinda dark once you’re thinking about it. That leads up to “Black&Blue,” and it goes into how he feels like he’s top of the world while still seeing the reality of his past world from gang-banging or “folklore’ as he calls it; hence black and blue aka the colors often used to describe sadness and negative emotions.

Maybe we livin’ haram, can’t go to prom, send me a prayer up
To the Heavens above, is it a mansion for thugs? (Mansion for thugs)
Where did Tupac and ’em go?
 Where Nipsey Hus’ and ’em go?
Swavey and Drakeo? Ricche and Slim Foe?
I spend a lot of my time missin’ our kinfolks
Put ’em inside of a rhyme, hopin’ they live on

“Government Cheese” sees him grappling with more losses, one of them being his homie in prison experiencing survivor’s guilt, and there’s also him having to bury his older brother and putting on a face that everything’s all good. “Children’s Song” is basically Vince telling everyone that he’s not really about that life, as he just wants to live a normal everyday life and also to not play with your Crippin’, play with your kids. Yes, I also noticed in the opening when he said, “Pressin’ five ’til the pen, free my Aphex Twin“, he was actually referring to a type of glock, not the musician Richard D. James.

“Shame On The Devil” was the first immediate single to come before the album’s release (like as soon as the announcement came – albeit as a 50-second promo clip), all about not giving in to the vices that come with fame like drugs, alcohol, partying all night, and loose women. Given that Vince has been doing fine with that as he’s stated in interviews that he doesn’t do any of that, he’s all good and the hook, sung by Staples and singer Baby Rose is remarkably well done.

Shamе on the Devil
I’m touched by an angel
The Lord made me special (Made me special)
I’ve prayed for days like this (Thank God)
Shame on the Devil
I’m touched by an angel
The Lord made me special (So special)
I’ve prayed for days like this (Amen)

Now, up from here, the production has been saturnine and emotional given some of the content from earlier; however once “Etouffee” comes on, that bouncy and triumphant feel with the hook that has that New Orleans Bounce vibe is easily the most energetic track of the album and possibly my favorite. That hook is just so catchy.

The next two tracks talk about relationships; the first being the short interlude “Liars” where it’s an intercept of a 1971 interview with Nikki Giovanni & James Baldwin, and they are talking about relationships and arguing that a relationship requires two people. That’s followed by the track “Justin” where Vince raps about him meeting a girl and thinking that they’re hitting it off and might grow into something, but as soon as her actual boyfriend comes, she refers him to her little cousin Justin to avoid him thinking she might be cheating. Yes, I know during the outro, Vince says that women lie a lot but that’s him feeling disappointed since he was into her and knowing that the said boyfriend might be a bit scary to deal with.

“Radio” reminds us of the days of being glued to the radio listening to your favorite station, and considering where Vince is in, he references Big Boy in the Morning and stations like 92.3/94.7 The Wave. In the 2nd verse, Vince does some references to music as it’s something needed whenever you’re going through something.

I know my real ones from the ghetto relate
I know they finna play some Nelly today
My favorite rapper ’til I hit seventh grade
And Eron played “Below The Heavens” and everything changed
A better day was just a stones throw away

Wasn’t really tryna hear it, ’til she kicked me to the curb
Now it’s Smokey Robinson and after that I play Roberta Flack
Etta James and Amy, waitin’ for the day she take me back
Michael and his brothers, make me wonder ’bout who lovin’ you
Brandy understand me, broken hearted, sittin’ in my room
I got a lot on my chest, can you play my request?

The next few tracks are relatively short with “Nothing Matters”,  “Little Homies” & “Freeman” with the former doing an interpolation of Lauryn Hill & D’Angelo’s “Nothing Even Matters”; the median is trying to keep your head up for the little homies whose going through all sorts of daily drama in their life, and the latter is well… this is his last album on Def Jam, so he’s basically saying his farewell and it’s all good, hence the title “Freeman.” Does that mean that Vince is now independent? He might be, I have no idea as of yet.

Then we have the final track “Why Won’t The Sun Come Out,” and it’s more of the epilogue of the album as it’s a spoken word piece performed by singer Santigold. It’s more like a conversation done after Staples played her the album, which this line was uttered:

“It’s easier for a girl to come over and give you pussy, than it is for her to come over and give you a hug”

Also, the instrumental with this does do the spoken word aspect justice and makes a fitting end of the album.

Now, we have been hearing a lot of praise and acclaim for this project and saying how this is his best record since FM! and I have to say that I disagree.
It’s his best album since Big Fish Theory.

Yes, he still does talk about some heavy subject matter but not everything about it is a downer of some sort; Again, everything is viewed through Staples’ POV and as always, he does it with a realistic approach. No overdramatization, no fluff, just telling it how he sees it. It shows us what we already knew about Vince here: that he is a mature person who had a lot to deal with in his life.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY IT.  It’ll be a dark time indeed but the album does shine a light on how good it is.

DARK TIMES is on Blacksmith Recordings/Def Jam Records and is available on digital download and streaming services. 

One thought on “Album Review: Vince Staples – DARK TIMES

Leave a Reply