Vince Staples is fairly famous. With the way he comes off and handles himself in public, it’s both understandable and a conundrum as to why he isn’t more popular. He is ultra-realistic, both in his music and the statements he makes in his interviews or even his tweets. Hence, the intrigue around his music. But these days, being about the music especially with an ice cold realism doesn’t exactly get you stadium size fans. Either way, Vince knows and believes in the importance of his thoughts and how he reflects it in his music, sacrificing those for extra fame isn’t quite an option.
Right off the bat, Vince has consistently referred to rapping as a job. As with any job there are benefits and consequences, his just happens to have high rewards but equally high risks. The major consequence Vince is concerned with is the effect of fame and keeping his sanity. Summertime ’06, his highly acclaimed debut album pushed Vince into the limelight. Since entering that light, one thing he’s repeatedly noted is the fact that keeping his sanity is his most important job.
There are various stereotypes for rappers to fit in and with those predefined roles come restrictions. Refusing to enter any box(es) has been of utmost importance to Vince. Following an autobiographical debut album with a short project – Primma Donna, which details the jaded life and suicide of an artist in reverse order is pretty jarring. Vince’s latest release – Big Fish Theory, is a further exploration of the idea of fame and its effects.
The first thing that jumps out on Big Fish Theory is the unconventional nature of its sonic aesthetics. It is heavy dance music ranging from EDM to Techno, crossed with hip-hop to form a party rap record of sorts. While Summertime ’06 owes its sonic structure to 90s hip-hop minimalism and heavy beat breaks, it has nothing on the strongarm drum throbs of Big Fish Theory. The uniqueness of his debut even feels fairly conservative in comparison to the atypical nature of this new record. Primma Donna does feel like a connecting point of sorts between both albums with the unorthodox chopped samples and morose clangs. It’s a testament to Vince’s vision for difference and a chance to define things by himself without worrying about what’s popping or what people want.
While the tempo of the beats move at the speed of a horserace and even ooze fun, Vince drops his exploratory thoughts in his trademark blank staring manner. The beats flash around with the verve of strobe lights while Vince is there in the center still exploring darkness and sometimes reveling in the light. “How am I supposed to have a good time when death and destruction is all I see” is an example of the janusian nature of the album’s dusky lyrical parts and its high octane beat tempo. The song is titled ‘Party People‘ and it employs fast paced steel percussions as its driver. That’s just a line on the song’s hook, the verses are peppered with lines about fame and inherent insecurity.
There is a fascination with self-ruin and suicidal thoughts on Big Fish Theory. An excerpt from an Amy Winehouse interview where she admits to being “a destructive person” opens ‘Alyssa Interlude’. Even the quirky inquisition about materialism and dysfunctional love on ‘Love Can Be…’ throws out the line “Just crashed a sports car, so much for fast life”.
Big Fish Theory doesn’t only focus on the ills of fame, it also celebrates fame through the lens of success as a black man in a white world. It is in struts like this that Vince shows his awareness of things around him. ‘Crabs In A Bucket‘ starts off lamenting “problems I ain’t let go yet” then delves into celebratory mood briefly – “I used to look at the sky, now I’m the shit” – before lamenting the plight of the black man. Elsewhere on the strongly pro-black ‘Bagbak‘, he yells “tell the the government to suck a d**k ‘cos we on now” in a glaring overcoming tone.
Vince shares a lot of his headspace in just 36 minutes on Big Fish Theory. There’s enough space for 8 featured guests to roll in and add their nuanced contribution, differing in prominence. They all serve the Vince’s vision for the album. Ranging from psychedelic siren-like croons from Kilo Kish to Asap Rocky’s lazy fanboy vocals.
Big Fish Theory is a testament to the potency of exploratory rap matched with unorthodox but exhilarating execution.
Writer’s Rating: 4.5/5
Words by Dennis, aka Big Dennis Theory, aka @ayo_dennis.