Vince Staples went viral earlier this month when he told Complex that he doesn’t invite friends, romantic interests, or anyone else to his home. With a laugh, he explained to Speedy Morman that only his loved ones (and court) know where he even lives. “Why would [anyone else] know where I live at?” he incredulously asked. 

His revelation could be nothing more than a character quirk, but it was a timely turn of conversation in the aftermath of his latest release, Ramona Park Broke My Heart. The sanctity of home is especially vital for Vince Staples, the Long Beach scribe whose candid lyrics depict the weariness of his hometown. His catalog makes the trenches of sunny Southern California feel dreary. Rhymes like “your first rap can be a murder rap” on Ramona Park opener “The Beach” cast a cloud over his surroundings, making one ponder how our perspectives are shaped by home not feeling like a sanctuary. 

Hip-Hop is obsessed with home. The first thing most people want to know about an act is where they’re from, because, even in 2022, their upbringing is a strong indication of their accent, slang,  their production choices, and their content. The internet has birthed international SoundCloud and Discord communities full of artists who transcend region, but there are still MCs who flout their native cities’ flag without even trying. As a New York-based writer, I can tell Brooklyn drill from Bronx drill. On Ramona Park standout “East Point Prayer,” we hear the difference between Lil Baby’s Atlanta twang and Vince Staples’ hardened SoCal accent.  

Our communities mold us, but as Vince Staples laments, it’s not always for the best. The album intro, “The Beach,” starts out with the serene sounds of a calm day at the beach, but the silence is splintered by Vince rhyming about being an “everybody killer.” In other words, anybody can get it. The song ends with gunshots and screams. The juxtaposition is jarring. Transplants may visit LA to take in the lush atmosphere and expansive beaches, but for too many LA natives it’s “live by the gun, die by the sand,” like Vince rhymed on “Bang That.”

The project’s soundscape carries a similar yin-yang dynamic, with a sunny, smooth soundscape ripe for cruising through LA and taking in the surroundings, juxtaposed with grim lyrics that remind how harrowing the wrong turn can be. The LeKen Taylor-produced “Free The Homies” is a balmy, synth-driven track that begins with a woman bemoaning how grief has angered her community, then takes us into the mindset of a gang member acting on vengeance. “In too deep, I ain’t with the peace/ Wanna end the beef? Tell them niggas, ‘Bring my homies back,’” Vince rhymes. It’s a simple premise that’s been said many times over in rap, tv, and movies, but it seems to cut with the same pathos each time we hear it.