Written by: The Bro
Staples Navigates the Sinking Waters of Fame and Expectations
Vince Staples is the most interesting man in rap. Since signing to Def Jam in 2012, Staples has used his newfound platform to drop gems and obscure pop culture references in countless interviews. Each peak of the artist reveals a man as intellectually curious as he is opinionated. A man more impressed by Ray J than gangsta rap, Staples has never shied away from bucking conventions. On his sophomore album, Big Fish Theory, he once again veers away from what is expected, and once again hits the mark.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Big Fish Theory is the production. Gone are the brooding bass and yearning, distorted guitars of Summertime 06. In their place Vince has reached deep into the origins of west coast music, merging house and Detroit techno alongside UK garage. If you paired 90s Snoop with Burial you might get an album that sounds a lot like this. Love Can Be pulsates with a 2-step beat as Kilo Kush, Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn, and Ray J search for love. It’s perhaps the most puzzling collaboration list of the year, yet it works.
Big Fish is the closest the album comes to radio waters. The house vibe and claps sound almost like a DJ Mustard track, while Staples reminiscences about close calls and uplifting the kids. Meanwhile garage percussion resembles the sound of falling raindrops on the haunting Alyssa’s Interlude. The mixture of sounds never feels cluttered or forced.
Multiple tracks weave together a narrative of lost love and a sneering disdain for the trappings that bind one to expectations. The status quo is cast as a wave throughout the album, drowning all who simp for it. On Samo, Staples laments “same old thing, watch me do the same old thing” while equating the rituals of music promotion and gangbanging. It’s not hard to get the impression he might slap the next radio host who asks him who’s featured on the album, or when is the next single is dropping. Speaking of features, Kendrick Lamar joins Staples on Yeah Right to mock the rap star image. “Is your house big, is your car nice?” Staples asks, shortly before launching into the chorus (“boy, yeah right yeah right”).
Overall, the album stands out as a triumph on nearly every level. As with Summertime 06, Staples has put together a thought provoking piece of work that challenges as much as it rewards. At only 36 minutes, the album runs quite briskly, never losing focus. While the length is surprising given how much Staples enjoys talking, what shouldn’t be surprising is that he didn’t need much time to cement himself as arguably the best young rapper today.