ALBUM REVIEW: Vince Staples ‘Big Fish Theory’

‘Big Fish Theory’, Vince Staples’ sophomore album, has been out for a good few days now. It arrived with high expectations and masses of anticipation as Vince cemented himself as one of the most refreshingly exciting rappers of the last decade with previous releases ‘Summertime ’06’ and last year’s ‘Prima Donna’ really exemplifying the sheer quantity of talent the Californian possesses.  Ferocious and sad, this is a party record you can dance to.

Today’s rap game is, for the most part, dominated by Kendrick Lamar – alongside the likes of Migos and Future. However, with this new album, it is damn near impossible to place Vince amongst any of these categories. This new record brings forth an innovative blend of club rave instrumentals and slick, snappy rap deliverances jam packed with intelligence and self-awareness.

(credit: Briana Heard)

‘Big Fish Theory’ sees Staples at his most experimental yet, following closely in the footsteps of fellow Joy Division fan and Gorillaz collaborator, Danny Brown.  The frantic experimentation here is what makes this album, quite possibly, Vince’s best yet.  The follow up to his 2015 debut, breaks barrier after barrier, whilst consistently blurring genre’s and setting new trends that sound like nothing else in hip-hop today.  BFT sees Vince bring in a band of avant-garde producers such as: Flume, SOPHIE and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. The powerful roster of the record, that also features A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Damon Albarn, Juicy J and Ty Dolla $ign doesn’t outshine the efforts of Staples – it only boosts him to take that next step or two, or three…

The Long Beach rapper opens the record boldly with ‘Crabs In The Bucket’, peppered with slashing synths and glitchy drums, that would fit nicely on an early Dizzee Rascal record. The opener is followed by arguably the most accessible track on the record, the Juicy J featuring ‘Big Fish’.  This track sees Vince looking back on his life prior to success, whilst conjunctively touching upon the struggles of fame.

Sitting comfortably underneath all of this is party music, with huge influences from UK garage and grime. This British underbelly is furthered with a sample of the late and great Amy Winehouse speaking about her art and expression on ‘Alyssa Interlude’. The track is carried by a frantic, almost psychotically hypnotic beat that would fit nicely into a horror movie that transitions seamlessly as Vince comes in pining over how people come and go. “I should have  protected you / sometimes I wish it would rain“. It is this underlying melancholy of Staples that lay the foundations of the entire record, as Staples works to cover his pain and misery with partying, drowning out the sorrow with a frenzy of noise.

Damon Albarn kicks off ‘Love Can Be…’  in a  similar light to the latest Gorillaz record,  which progresses into an eclectic dance beat that could easily be a hit in the clubs. It is evident that Staples learnt a lot working with the former Blur frontman, there is no stopping Vince til he gets to the top. Vince has always been criminally underrated, hidden amongst the successes of Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler The Creator and A$AP Rocky, all of which Vince has served as a frequent collaborator for.

‘745’ my current favourite track on the LP, sees Staples reminiscing upon his desires, goals and regrets, especially so with “all my life I want runway stars, Kate Moss ” and “no green grass, no porsche, I just want sea shores”. Here Vince is at his most introspective, a theme which is at the very heart of the record. The track also sees Vince exemplifying how talented a lyricist he can be, something that has always made Vince stand out from the rest.

Interlude ‘Ramona Park Is Yankee Stadium’ closes with Vince’s trademark gunshot, and slides coincidentally into the King Kendrick featuring, ‘Yeah Right’  – which serves as the pinnacle of the record, and sees the good kid in a mad city pair battle bar for bar. The two Californians are accompanied by the distorted instrumentation and powerful bass of Flume. You’d be a fool to not turn this one all the way up. There is no beef here between the two, who compliment each other brilliantly with effortless executions. We are going to see a serious battle for rap album of the year, with both ‘DAMN.’ and ‘Big Fish Theory’ coming as some of the most innovative and inventive rap the world has ever seen.

‘Homage’ portrays Vince at his most confident as he calls for revolution with “Hitchcock of my modern day, where the fuck is  my VMA?! Where the fuck is my Grammy? Super models with no panties?”. Here, Vince appears to be making a stab at the mainstream who aren’t placing him at the highest of platforms which he knows full well he belongs at.  The track is jam-packed with furious raps, twist and turn synths and pounding percussion.

For me, this record is probably the best of 2017 so far and one that has again proved Staples to be one of the greatest rappers alive. This time, Vince (a wise, funny, talking head who loves to voice his opinions) lets the music speak for itself. This allows the fans to enjoy and interpret the music however they may choose to do so, and this is undeniably refreshing. ‘Big Fish Theory’ is Vince’s best, by a strong margin, with not one single bad song in sight.  Vince consistently makes us aware that he knows both his place in the music industry and in society, as he snaps back and forth with pristine sarcasm and intelligence.


Favourite tracks: ‘745’, ‘Party People’, ‘Yeah Right’

FFO: Danny Brown, Tyler The Creator, Kendrick Lamar

Words by Ben Davies

(featured image courtesy of Converse)


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