Summertime ’06 was Vince Staples’ bleak, first-person take on his cold and caustic West Coast home base. Overseen by No I.D., the project was among the best that year. Fast forward two years to Staples’ recent pre-release media rounds and you’d catch him stepping out as a vocal member of the Hip Hop community, unafraid to discuss race, politics and everything between. Armed with wit and the occasional profound declaration, this side of Vince felt slightly out of place when viewed next to his often introverted catalog. Big Fish Theory shoots to kill that noise with and incredible range and flair aimed directly at the world at large.
Big Fish Theory is Vince’s stream of consciousness record where he recognizes the ills of celebrity and the ironic culture associated with it. His brain seems three steps ahead of his tongue, while the pulse of the record is three steps ahead of that. It’s not EDM, and it’s not grime, yet it perfectly encapsulates the frenetic energy of Hip Hop in 2017; which is a natural extension of our post-Obama toxic political and social landscape.
Peep the nervousness of the opener, “Crabs In A Bucket,” a track that defies the categorical norms of traditional West Coast Hip Hop. It’s frantic by design and sets the table for a record packed with songs that would settle nicely in the club or the street. “Big Fish” follows suit and manages to channel the party and bullshit vibe that Kanye narrowly missed throughout The Life Of Pablo. Staples stays winning on these hybrids because he’s able to deliver exceptionally fluent bars over fractured, pulsing beats, which feel immediately uncomfortable for anyone with a “traditional ear” for Hip Hop.
It would be impossible to dismiss this record as Staples’ attempt at a pop crossover. Amid the heavy bass and seemingly light moments, there’s a force clearly weighing the MC down. He faces expectations and perceptions head on during “Homage,” where he raps, “If you knew better you’d do better, but then you would know why the world on my penis, please do not treat me like I’m not a genius, I’m runnin’ on empty, the new River Phoenix.”
The album’s most adventurous few moments are found in its conclusion. “Rain Come Down,” is a casually stunning glimpse at the next wave of left coast rap. The song is as close to a trademark as we’ve heard from Staples. Here, his detail-oriented street observations are paired with a sleazy Ty Dolla $ign hook, and precise production provided by Zach Sekoff. The track’s woozy, club-heavy low-end conflicts with some of Staples’ most poignant boasts.
Big Fish Theory is look at the future. With a sound like this, that future could be now or still five years away. At face value, this is a left-of-the-dial project tackling false idols and the perpetual hubris of rap giants. When magnified, there’s room to unpack it and digest it as a definitive moment of Staples’ creative expression and veiled social commentary that you can still shake your ass to. Let it rain.