Vince Staples is a rapper of the highest caliber, well on his way to a Pulitzer à la Kendrick Lamar. That being said, it’s disappointing that his new self–titled album is so artfully reserved that it lacks the passion that his previous projects had. 

Take 2017’s superb Big Fish Theory, which featured production from the late avant–garde hyperpop producer SOPHIE, for example—a potent shot of politically charged EDM–rap that went as hard as the points Staples passionately made in the lyrics of each track. Or his debut album from 2015, Summertime ‘06, comprised of not just one but two discs and nearly an hour of music with a plethora of guest features. 

In Staples' most recent work, none of that is present. Instead, Staples and Staples alone takes center stage on Vince Staples, which is apt for a self–titled album, entirely produced by Kenny Beats and clocking in at 22 minutes. However, this self–centering creates a palpable lack of energy compared to his past studio efforts. Nothing distracts from the artist at the center, save the one feature and two (literally) phoned–in interludes, but nothing pulls you into the album either. 

While the record may seem boring at first glance, listening does become more rewarding with repeated plays. Immediate highlights, outside of the project's two singles “ARE YOU WITH THAT?” and “LAW OF AVERAGES,” are “TAKE ME HOME” and “MHM.” The latter song is a handy summation of Staples’ modus operandi for this era. With seemingly little to prove and a stellar discography behind him, Staples merely mumbles the chorus, “mhm mhm,” a glib utterance of self–satisfaction. Unlike the rest of the album, which sneaks up on you when you’re not looking, “MHM” immediately grabs you with its melody. Meanwhile, “TAKE ME HOME” stands out not only for it having the one feature on the ten–track album, Fousheé, but for also being a downright catchy tune.

But even with these two tracks pulling quite a bit of artistic weight, the fact of the matter is—Vince Staples pales in comparison to the artist's previous efforts; even though the project's goals are different. Big Fish Theory still sounds fresh four years after its initial release, serving effortless bops with prescient messages. Nothing on Vince Staples reaches the bioluminescent highs of songs like “745” or “Crabs in a Bucket.” 

Kenny Beats’ middling production, while interesting on “THE LAW OF AVERAGES,” quickly becomes muddled, whereas SOPHIE’s sharp metallic hi–hats and tinny swirls of voices amplified Staples’ visceral raps on “Yeah Right” and “SAMO.” “Party People,” “Homage,” “BagBak,” and “Big Fish” outpace cuts like “SUNDOWN TOWN” and “THE SHINING” in both energy and execution. 

Vince Staples isn’t disappointing as an album because of its lack of focus—rather, for its lack of drive and motivation. Coming off of years of innovative and avant–garde hits, expectations were high for Staples' latest project. So why didn’t he show up?