Whether speaking up about #blacklivesmatter, all-caps yelling about “UGLY” Schoolboy Q praising his album, or retweeting fans’ posts about their own dead fish and dedicating his album to them, Vince Staples has by far become my favorite musician on Twitter right now. The gangster-rapper both flaunts his history with the Crips and internet trolls like an anonymous middle schooler at the same time, creating a contradictory but hilarious celebrity image that can’t be ignored. However, before, his music only showed his harder side, not quite living up to the huge personality we see on the internet. With his high energy sophomore album Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples finally puts his colorful personality center stage.
Backed by his signature creepy underground beats, Vince Staples evolves from the bare-bones meta rapper we fell in love with on Summertime ‘06 (2015) to an almost grime-like rave rapper on Big Fish Theory. With a grit reminding us of Skepta alongside attention to detail like Kendrick Lamar, it’s an album with a more developed concept than his previous work, giving the listener even more lyrical and thematic content to indulge in. The entire album is simply operating on a bigger scale, with “Ramona Park Legends” from Summertime turning into “Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium,” and Staples even seeming to mock his former self (or the people he’s left behind) with lyrics like “How the thug life? / How the love life? / How the workload? / Is your buzz right?…Boy yeah right yeah right.” In his nonstop twitter promotion of the album, Staples quoted @yrohtarw saying that this album sounds like he’s “trying to start a revolution.” I think @yrohtarw’s right.
Releasing party-ready single “Big Fish Theory” with a matching video back in May, I have to say I expected a fun, albeit maybe sell-out radio rap album (especially since the rebellious rapper has accepted cheesy sponsorships for Converse and Sprite in the last year). However, opening track “Crabs in a Bucket” immediately threw me, introduced with out of time techno-filtered singing, artificial wind, and seagull calls. Rapping “They don’t ever want to see the black man eat / Nails in the black man’s hands and feet” before heading into the banger debut single, Staples rejects the conventions placed on him as a party rapper, fluidly alternating between both political and debaucherous gloating verses. This, combined with tempo and emotional changes as you move through the album, makes it suited even more so for repeated listening than Prima Donna (2016) and Summertime, and I still play tracks like “Norf Norf” and “War Ready” from those whenever I’m trying to entertain a group a year or two later. For avid fans like myself, the album is exciting to say the least.
Highlights include what Staples jokingly described on Twitter as “Afrofuturistic” party hits like “Yeah Right” and “BagBak,” while slower late-night jams like “745” and “Oh Yeah” (with a glorious verse by Kendrick Lamar) also deserve some serious recognition. Between fragmented verses and forward-moving rhythms, the album is full of songs suitable for almost any mood while still capturing some kind of complexity and weirdness you don’t get with other rap artists.
Thus with this album, Vince Staples makes rapid leaps to the top of the rap game, transitioning from an artist we can count on to pump out consistently heavy hitting tracks to one that also uses his leverage to voice some more important, albeit controversial, points about the grit that comes with being a black man raised in a culture of gangs, drugs, and violence. It’s radio-suited rap that also has a purpose — something that one doesn’t necessarily see every day amongst enjoyable, yet often fleeting, popular rappers like Lil Yachty or Desiigner. It’s exciting to see Vince Staples rise to his full potential, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the ranks with some of the hip hop giants he has featured (like Kendrick and A$AP Rocky) in the near future. Meanwhile, you can find me blasting this album all summer and waiting to quote some top-40 chart with Vince Staples’s name on it and tweet “I told you so.”
Written by Veronica Irwin
Photo by Daniel Shea