Above: Hailing from the “Artesian” streets of North Long Beach, rapper Vince Staples performs at a Belgian festival in 2016. Photo copyright: Kmeron.
Vince Staples has been delivering heat for a while and it has been quite a treat to see his artistry grow since 2010. Back in his early years rapping, Staples typically rapped with a monotone demeanor that worked completely fine for him as most beats he rapped over were hard-hitting and simple. Captivating listeners with an effortless but strong lyrical presence, his work from then was depressing in theme as he struggled dealing with family, the harsh realities of growing up in North Long Beach, and, at times, a brash disregard for Christianity heard throughout his first mixtape, “Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1”.
Flash-forward to the summer of 2017 and Staples has released his most ambitious album to date. “Big Fish Theory” continues Staples’ traction as a conversationalist and keen observer of what the rap game brings to play. But it is an album that doesn’t sound like your typical hip-hop record and that is what makes “Big Fish Theory” stand out in the present day. If the sound and vibe of the album were to be summed up, it sounds much like what some Crips would listen to at an electronic dance music festival.
Staples was recently snubbed from major award nominations, while critics at the Los Angeles Times and Variety dubbed his latest album as among the best of all 2017. Perhaps hard for some to swallow, “Big Fish Theory” is an album where Staples explores new territory and challenges his ear for music by bringing along his friend and electronic producer, Zack Seckoff to help tweak the sound of the album. Others assembled on the album include electronic club producers such as SOPHIE, GTA, and Flume who all respectively compliment Staples’ verses with the sounds of house and garage music. Staples’ distinct voice and flow resonate well with the synthesizers, heavy bass and energetic tempos throughout the 36-minute long album. The album’s production resembles the feeling you’d get at the beach, resonating with Long Beach vibes in a way that’ll have you c-walking at the club.
Starting off the album with “Crabs In A Bucket”, Staples addresses the commonplace mentality of putting others down in order to make oneself feel superior. He raises a question right away: “Crabs in a bucket, wanna’ see you at the bottom, don’t you love it?” Staples alludes to his upcoming in the hip-hop world as others might have criticized him for his growth and experimentation as an artist and the sad reality that many impoverished minorities will remain in the bucket and continue living in those poor conditions society has grown to live with.
The features on the album include Juicy J and Ty Dolla Sign on songs such as “Big Fish” and “Rain Come Down.” Kendrick Lamar is also featured on “Yeah Right” and you are right if you think that he stole the spotlight because he ran with it and didn’t look back. On “Yeah Right”, Staples literally questions the rap industry if they’re truly about that life when it comes to the image they present, with whether its being financially stable or relevant in the industry and everything in between. Lamar, on the other hand, switches up flows on his verse proving that he is as versatile as can be while maintaining the lyrical integrity he’s grown to spearhead in the mainstream hip-hop world.
One takeaway from observing Vince Staples’ growth as an artist is the ability to experiment with music much like his contemporary, Kanye West, whose approach with his 2013 album, “Yeezus”, was met with mixed criticism and its impact is yet to be clear.
“Big Fish Theory” is a big risk for Staples to take yet it very closely aligns with the attitude the rapper has, pushing his nihilistic narrative with a raw, dystopian sound. Its message further propels Staples as a success story for defying the cliché rap lifestyle perpetuated by media.
It is an impossible dream for many to become a rapper via the gangbanging and drug dealing lifestyles many have grown to idolize. This is in contrast to who Vince Staples is — an African-American who was raised in the hood, participated in those activities yet managed to escape out of that environment. In addition, Staples’ wittiness and unflinching opinions allow him to have a solid groundwork for his platform to give back to the community, as he has done in Long Beach.
“Big Fish Theory” is an evolution for Staples, an album forging a solid statement of the turbulent times in our society as well as staying true to himself and his beliefs. One can only imagine what is next for Staples, but for the time being, “Big Fish Theory” will definitely stand out amongst the plethora of music releases for years to come.