Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a firm continuation of its predecessor, matching its likeness in sound and scope that finally closes the casket on Vince’s scarring past.
Staples has explored a plethora of sounds since his entrance. Brash, electronic production centred his early mixtapes and EPs. 2017’s Big Fish Theory was an experimental and pompous effort that remains an anomaly. Then last year’s self-titled album found him stripping it bare; a minimal, morbid look into a languished man. Its companion album is Ramona Park Broke My Heart, originally meant for release in the same year.
On his fifth album, Vince Staples takes his Ramona metaphors to the next level; a stone figure still distraught from the horrors of his hometown.
Vince Staples has centred his content around his Long Beach origins in every album. So what’s different this time? On the surface, it appears as if Vince is infatuated with a past lover. But Ramona Park is far from romantic. There may not be a single song that’s about a romantic interest. This is a love letter to his hometown, its songs serving as a metaphor for the pain his environment’s caused him. It works best on the album’s standout tracks, such as “Rose Street”, where he professes “Ion sing no love songs” to set up his complicated relationship with Ramona Park.
“When Sparks Fly” channels hip hop’s favourite metaphor of personifying a gun as a woman, rapping the two verses from its perspective (“I know that you love me, you don’t gotta show me / Off to the world, please, hide me from the police”). The passion’s heard in both the writing, production and sampled hook, making for one of Vince’s best songs of his career.
Ramona Park is consistently mellow, maintaining the morbid energy from self-titled; though the intimacy on Ramona Park creates a needed disparity. “East Point Prayer” with Lil Baby coddles the listener through Vince’s street trauma, its sorrows felt through every line (“You gotta stay alert, understand me? / If they catch me, they gon’ blast me”). It’s an unexpected but fitting collaboration that puts Lil Baby in the conversations he deserves to be a part of.
But at this point we’re used to hearing short albums from Vince. At 41 minutes and sixteen tracks, Ramona Park Broke My Heart is his longest effort since 2015’s Summertime ’06. When Ramona Park is not using its romantic metaphors, it sheds lights on Vince’s redundant subject matter – especially considering how much it’s already been explored on previous albums. The second half shows a lack of necessity to the tracks, following the strong first half which lays the majority of the album’s highlights (“Player Ways”, “Mama’s Boy”, “Bang That”). If it was shorter, Ramona Park could have been Vince Staples’s finest work to date.
Vince Staples is fed up of the pain. At its peaks, you can feel the thug tears falling on the page in a way that sounds conclusive, ready to move onto the next chapter. His Stockholm syndrome has found its most creative avenues to date, and met its quota.
7.5 / 10
Best tracks: “ROSE STREET”, “WHEN SPARKS FLY”, “LEMONADE”, “EAST POINT PRAYER”