The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.
Let’s hit play on “Papercuts”; Vince Staples raps about the importance money has on him as he pushes aside an element of internal happiness. Like Vince Staples, I’ve understood him to a degree; he feels slaved over in the industry, finding less care in creating at a certain speed because his craft takes time. He isn’t an everyday rapper willing to drop a few minutes to make a pop record–we have learned from J. Cole that he got told he needed a single to sell on his debut instead of keying in on a balance of authenticity with his style. Even with Vince’s most popular tracks, he kept it 100 to his style, which shows a parallel in his artistry, where he can elevate a pop song if asked to appear on one. He’s done it before with “&Burn” by Billie Eilish. Despite the directions he takes, it’s thematically and lyrically consistent because he is zeroing in on his heart, his home.
When rapping, Vince Staples has a tremendous effect on the album as he taps into a line where he can distinguish the love for Ramona Park and the music inspired by it. There are an array of emotions that push these songs into having definition within the confines of his arc. It all pans out as intended, except for “DJ Quik,” which left little impression on me, despite a great use of a “Dollaz + Sense” by Quik himself. The lyrics in the verses are on point, but his slightly basic and slightly dronish delivery on “DJ Quik” doesn’t make an impression, knowing “Magic” comes next. Though there isn’t a linear direction that Vince takes us through, it’s more like recollecting through pictures. It’s like he opened a picture book from his life in Ramona Park and compares and contrasts it with the present.
Thinking of it as such allows for contrasting flows between tracks to work, for the most part–née “DJ Quik” to “Magic.” These shifts can come out in a somber tone like on “East Point Prayer,” which adds gravity to its themes of gang violence and selling drugs; it’s the opposite with “When Sparks Fly,” where Vince personifies love through his flow. Unlike other tracks, these two have specific parallels that aren’t subtle. They carry more as the pivot point in the middle where the album begins to mold into a cohesive structure. Some parallels can come from the production side, like when it transitions from “DJ Quik” into “Magic” and “Rose Street” into “The Blues.” Or it can come from the lyrical side like “East Point Prayer” to “When Sparks Fly” or “Papercuts” to “Lemonade,” which shows two sides to his feelings behind making money.
However, for “East Point Prayer” and “When Sparks Fly,” the latter speaks about the love between a person and a personified gun, like how a gearhead names their car–it’s like a child. Another parallel comes with the content of “East Point Prayer,” which sees both rappers talk about their resilience in escaping a life set by the foundations around them. Lil Baby delivers an equally powerful verse that reflects the business side, showing that no matter the profession, you can grow and evolve from someone better than “a product of the environment,” as he raps. It’s all buoyed by its production.
The production contains a downbeat consistency with few overlays that make every track worth wild. Though, it’s hard to meet the production of tracks like “Lemonade,” “Magic,” and “Slide” has Vince Staples putting on his musical cap and trying to continue to reflect the eccentric flows and melodies of his first few albums. “Lemonade” and “Magic” are elevated higher by the featured artist, Ty Dolla Sign and DJ Mustard, respectively. The same goes for Lil Baby on “East Point Prayer.” The cloudy-synth base production drifts you into a terrain of open consciousness. There is a balance between the two, though it may not be for everyone, as Vince stays consistent with the introspective lyricism.
From the collection of producers, there is some equilibrium in bringing a sonic consistency that you can distinguish where you have to focus on his verse. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a lot to unpack, and the experience is rewarding. We continue to get a different Vince Staples that isn’t bent on the avant-garde and instead keying in on his roots, specifically in its production. Personally, I felt immersed in Vince’s work as he took us down new avenues expanding sounds over the production’s base drum patterns.