By Christian Hince |May 2, 2022
(Credit: Allston Pudding, found on flickr.com)
Nine months after his last project, Vince Staples has returned with a pop-oriented approach with “Ramona Park Broke My Heart.”
While Vince Staples has never strayed from being straightforward, his work has always been conceptual. His 2015 masterpiece “Summertime ‘06” painted a chaotic picture of Vince rising from a Long Beach upbringing encircled by gang violence and drugs. His 2018 Kenny Beats collaboration “FM!” satirized radio entertainment to showcase his signature playfulness.
“Ramona Park Broke My Heart” is consistent with this history, as Vince uses the record’s 41-minute runtime to reflect on his past gang activity, struggles with romance, and appetite for success while never forgetting his Long Beach origins.
At this album’s best, Vince does this while making it catchy. “If I had one wish, I’d free the homies,” he sings on the infectious chorus of the second track, “Aye! (Free The Homies).” He keeps up with the subtle, non-glamorous delivery found throughout his self-titled 2021 record, rapping on the verses about his gang roots with the Crips. Vince’s lax delivery and emphasis on melody is something found throughout “RPBMH,” and the lush, guitar driven production introduces the album’s light tone.
“Magic,” the record’s lead single, is similarly enamoring. Along with sporting maybe the record’s best hook, Vince effortlessly glides over DJ Mustard’s synth-driven production with clever, punchy wordplay. “Momma met my daddy then they had me in the ghetto, handed me a thirty-eight and told me I was special,” he closes the song’s second and final verse with.
The gang violence of Vince’s upbringing is synonymous with this record, and it isn’t covered more poignantly than on “When Sparks Fly,” a love story about a gun. His imagery-laden, double-entendre driven verses are perfectly complemented by soft, romantic production rooted around samples from “No Love” by Lyves. “You forgettin’ that we made these vows?” he raps from the perspective of the gun, comparing marriage with gang obligation.
“Papercuts” also lands with force. Vince’s musings about wealth’s intersections with gang strife and romance over Hether’s airy vocals and guitar chords nicely contrast the hook’s glitchy, addicting synths. “If it ain’t ‘bout bread, I don’t give a f***, no,” he closes the chorus with.
Vince’s laser-focus on wealth is found all across the album. On “DJ Quik,” he interpolates the 90s’ producer/rapper’s hit song, “Dollaz + Sense,” saying “if it don’t make dollars, then it don’t make sense. Same is the case with “On My Mama,” where he professes his love for money by rapping, “I love this s*** like my mama.”
These two tracks however show the album at a moment of less focus. “Slide,” despite its sweet piano-driven production, is another short song which doesn’t have much to say and lacks structure.
“RPBMH” doesn’t falter with its two interludes, however. “Nameless” is a chilling detour about childhood gang violence that perfectly leads into “When Sparks Fly” both musically and thematically. “The Spirit of Monster Kody” follows up the ideas of violence found on “Bang That” while seamlessly setting up the musical side of “Rose Street,” where he swears his gang allegiance while downplaying the importance of romance. “I’m married to the money, don’t be playin’ games, only bringing flowers to the homie’s grave,” Vince raps on the chorus.
“Player Ways” is a similarly romance-concentrated track. “I have no time to wine and dine, I gotta run the streets, every woman I done fucked with been in love with me” he raps over a melancholy chipmunk soul beat. While it seems like Vince is trying to reinforce the album’s idea of how shallow romance often is here, wordplay such as this is a bit contradictory.
In terms of production, “Ramona Park Broke My Heart” doesn’t nearly take the same risks as Vince’s previous projects. The simple, pop-driven formula doesn’t present much variation across the album, something that makes it a little less engaging for a full-record listen.
The project’s most adventurous beat owes credit to Kenny Beats & Reske on “East Point Prayer,” a buzzing, autotune-backdropped homage to Vince’s detour in Atlanta which exerts an interesting tension. Guest contribution is found from ATL superstar Lil Baby, who’s just one of three officially featured artists on the record. “I took big risks, now I’m a big fish, a billion dollars at the top of my to-do list,” he raps.
Sonically though, no track stands apart more than “The Blues,” the album’s closing track. The bleak lo-fi guitar licks and lack of drums perfectly set the scene for Vince’s regretful takes on all of the record’s ideas. He depressingly repeats phrases such as “money made me numb” and “pray for me” to hammer home this subdued outlook.
This closer also makes clear that while Vince is rapping from a first-person perspective, “Ramona Park Broke My Heart” is a retrospective album. He’s rapping about past relationships, romantic and gang-related, and he’s as straightforward as ever in this regard. While “Ramona Park Broke My Heart” isn’t as musically innovative as previous work, it’s a strong, cohesive record on which Vince Staples is as much himself as ever.