Vince Staples Ramona Park Broke My Heart Motown
Magic, the lead single from Vince Staples’ latest album, is, courtesy of producer DJ Mustard, driven by a West Coast hallmark that courses through the rest of the record: G-funk. A sound that came out of, and defined, south-central LA hip-hop in the late 80s and early 90s.
Staples, now 29, was born in Long Beach during the height of the violence that characterised the era, and which, for a while, was part of his own life before music offered a different path. Although a child of the 90s – when musical scenes were split by allegiance – Staples has emerged as an artist who’s pursued collaboration, often to unexpected ends; his second album, Big Fish Theory, melded hip-hop with avant-garde electronica and featured the likes of SOPHIE. Looked at one way, Ramona Park – named after the neighbourhood in which he grew up – is a very different record. A nod to the past, both in sound and themes.
When Sparks Fly, is an extended metaphor cosplaying as a love letter – albeit from the perspective of a firearm (“Everywhere you go, we together, inseparable/ You know I’m down for whatever, protective of you”). Bang That plays like a confrontational party song with a sting in its tail (“Ain’t no dancing on me in the party, I’m the gunman/ 14 shooting up the function”). But this is an album that defies surface-level interpretation. Throughout, Staples interweaves spoken-word vignettes to illuminate a deeper message. “I’d like to think that had I not had to work… maybe he wouldn’t have become a monster,” a woman says at the end of Mama’s Boy, a song about how gang life offers a warped sense of belonging to those who have none.
Ramona Park foregos the glorify/vilify binary, instead exposing the moral tensions that exist between these two states. Staples has always been an accomplished storyteller, but here he leans into his past experience to create something that feels personal, unromanticised. Indeed, Ramona Park recalls generation-defining films like Boyz N the Hood and Moonlight; works of art which explore hope in pain, beauty in ugliness, and the way trauma repeats itself generation after generation. It’s hard to summarise a record of this complexity, but maybe the sample used in the outro to Magic comes closest: “See, when you come from nothing/ Then make it into something/ I call that luck/ But when you come from where we come from, I call that magic.”