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Vince Staples’ new album ‘Dark Times’ arrives at midnight. A look back at the rapper’s best songs


Vince Staples’ sixth album, “Dark Times,” arrives on Friday.

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Now that the weeks-long feud between Drake and Kendrick Lamar has (hopefully) flamed out, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans, it’s time for a palette cleanser.

And who better to provide an amuse-bouche than Vince Staples, one of the most consistent and inventive hip-hop artists to emerge in the past decade and a half.

Earlier this week, the Long Beach rapper announced that his sixth album, “Dark Times,” would arrive on streaming platforms on Friday. Staples also shared the album’s track list and the lead single, “Shame on the Devil.”

Rapping over a soulful, down-tempo track with a shimmering guitar line, Staples — who wisely avoided being dragged into the recent mud-slinging — though only 30, sounds poised, like an elder statesman of hip-hop.

“Mission complete, outta the mud / Labeled a ‘leader’ they following cuz,” he raps, reflecting on his journey from his tumultuous days as a teen gang member to his current status as a successful artist and role model.

“Dark Times” will be Staples’ first album since 2022’s “Ramona Park Broke My Heart,” which Complex, Vulture and Wired all named one of the top five albums of that year. In February, Netflix released his dark-comedy limited series “The Vince Staples Show.”

Over the course of his career, Staples has garnered acclaim for his raw, honest lyricism, blending evocative portraits of his wayward youth with biting cultural commentary. He’s also proven to be one of hip-hop’s most innovative figures, experimenting with sounds and aesthetics, moving between West Coast hip-hop and cloud rap, while dipping his toes into hyperpop and electronic music.

In anticipation of “Dark Times,” it’s worth revisiting some of Staples’ best and most innovative beats.

“Blue Suede” (2014)

Few songs can get a hip-hop crowd riled up like “Blue Suede,” the lead single from Staples’ breakout EP, “Hell Can Wait.” Produced by Toronto’s own Marvin Hagler, the track begins with an ear-splitting synth line that billows over a churning din of sub-bass — “it’s half apocalyptic evacuation siren and half Bomb Squad tribute,” as Pitchfork’s Renato Pagnani wrote in 2014.

“Young graves get the bouquets / Hope I outlive them red roses,” Staples raps in the song’s opening chorus, declaring his desire to transcend the death that spirals around him, before the track explodes into a sonic manifestation of a mosh pit.

“Norf Norf” (2015)

Nearly a decade since the release of “Norf Norf” — the platinum-certified single off of Staples’ ambitious debut double album, “Summertime ’06” — the track still sounds as fierce and menacing as anything in his sprawling discography.

Produced by New Jersey beat-maker Clams Casino, the song’s glacial beat is built around a droning feedback loop and stuttering percussion. “I ain’t never run from nothin’ but the police,” Staples declares over sparse hand claps on the chorus. Located somewhere between cloud rap and witch house, “Norf Norf” evokes the queasy but thrilling feeling of watching a gory horror movie. Seems fitting, then, that the song sparked a minor moral panic.

“Samo” (2017)

On his sophomore album, “Big Fish Theory,” Staples took a sharp sonic left turn, experimenting with house, Detroit techno, and other electronic sounds. But the album’s highlight are the two collaborations with the late Sophie, the brilliant and highly influential “avant-pop” producer who played a key role in developing early hyperpop.

Sophie’s musical fingerprints are all over “Samo,” whose skittering, kaleidoscopic production features maniacal snares, rubbery bass and atonal synth stabs beamed straight from outer space. It’s unsettling, freaky and unlike anything you’ve heard on a hip-hop song before or since.

“No Bleedin” (2018)

Staples took yet another turn for his third album, “FM!” a punchy, 22-minute project framed as a radio-station takeover, featuring commentary and skits from real-life Los Angeles radio host Big Boy. Though most fans will point to the bubbly single “Fun!” as the album’s highlight, I’m partial to the high-octane production of “No Bleedin,” which features a killer verse from Oakland rapper Kamaiyah that makes me want to run through a wall.

“Taking Trips” (2021)

The first of his pandemic albums, Staples’ eponymous 2021 LP felt like the rapper’s most toned-down and introspective project — a far cry from the dynamic and often frenzied highs of his earlier work. Like “FM!” “Vince Staples” was primarily produced by Kenny Beats, whose stripped-back sonic landscapes provided plenty of room for Staples’ newly conversational lyrical approach. That style is best exemplified by “Taking Trips,” which brilliantly samples “Days May Come, Days May Go,” a 1971 deep cut by the funk-soul group the Utopian Concept.

“Magic” (2022)

The lead single from “Ramona Park Broke My Heart,” “Magic” might be Staples’ most accessible song. “Money in the mattress, love the way I stack it / I can make it rain blue hundreds, can you catch it?” he raps over an undeniable beat by Mustard, the L.A. producer known for his spacious, groove-oriented production (and whose recent work on Kendrick Lamar’s “Not Like Us” helped put an end to the feud with Drake). Staples absolutely glides over this beat, exuding the confidence and swagger of an MC at the top of his game.

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