Vince Staples-Big Fish Theory

“Move your body if you came here to party, If not then pardon me / How I'm supposed to have a good time, When death and destruction's all I see?” goes the hook on “Party People,” one of the standouts on Big Fish Theory, the sophomore album from Long Beach native Vince Staples. It embodies the contrast between conscious lyricism and dance-friendly beats that can be found on the album.  Staples is a young rapper who has built a small, but loyal following in recent years after appearing on XXL’s 2015 freshman list. After the release of his fantastic debut album, Summertime ’06, Staples dropped the Prima Donna EP that more than hinted at a new direction Staples would be heading in. That EP featured strong electronic flares in its production, something that has been fully realized on the new Big Fish.

Opener “Crabs In a Bucket” creeps up with an ambient beat and vocal snippets that are reminiscent of the UK Garage scene with known artists like Burial and Zomby. It’s a more laidback, quieter track on the album that can only be really be grouped with the “Alssa Interlude: and closer “Rain Come Down.” The rest of the album demands a lot more immediate attention with harder, more engaging beats. That’s not to downplay “Crabs” though, but just point out the more instant appeal found in the middle section of the album.

“Love Can Be…” has a great example of this instant connection, with an upbeat, bouncy beat coupled with great introductory vocals from previous collaborator Kilo Kish. Clocking in at just under 3 minutes though, the track definitely leaves me wanting more, which can be said for the whole album. With 12 tracks, 2 of which are interludes of sorts, and short runtimes for most of the songs, this album is half as long as Vince’s previous release, Summertime ’06. And while it’s preferable to have an album that leaves you wanting more over a bloated mess, the lack of some more substantial material here is a point that holds the album back from making a greater impact.

Another point that holds the album back is Staples’s delivery in comparison to the production. It feels like the production is at the center of each track, in comparison to Vince’s previous album where he had a commanding presence on each track. Part of the problem comes from the slight vocal effect on tracks like “Samo” and “Love Can Be…” that make Vince’s rapping blend with the production, rather than helping him to standout. Regardless, there are strong lyrics to be found if a listener pays close enough attention.

The strongest area of Big Fish Theory is the production for sure, which features a lot of variety and in general is a different style than what is common from American rappers. Vince’s decision to pay respect to UK’s electronic scene and Grimes does major favors for him, as there aren’t really any prominent rappers in the states working with production like this. One easy comparison would be a throwback to Kanye West’s 2013 effort, Yeezus, but this is a much less abrasive affair. There is still familiar West Coast flair to be found on tracks like “Big Fish” or “745” and it helps that his previous EP showed signs of this sound progression.

Overall, Big Fish Theory is an excellent next step in Vince Staples career, especially when one considers the artistic risks taken in choosing to abandon previous aesthetics that made an artist who they are. For example, producer No I.D. (who did most of Summertime ’06) is nowhere to be found here. He’s replaced by the relatively unknown Zack Sekoff who has credits on 5 of the tracks and others like EDM producers Flume and GTA. Vince took a major chance in pursuing this new path and at least from an artistic angle, he’s hit the mark with this release.

Hollis Druhet

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Tracks: “Big Fish” / “Yeah Right” / “Party People”

Best Production: “Crabs In a Bucket” / “Love Can Be…” / “Yeah Right”