Vince Staples tackles transience on ‘Big Fish Theory’

Nazareth Izada/Contributing Writer

Vince Staples follows his highly-acclaimed 2015 release Summertime ‘06 with Big Fish Theory, a dance-influenced, club-banging attack on the transience of fame and rap hierarchy.

Big Fish Theory is a wildcard follow-up at first listen. It’s dance beats and sleek basslines are miles away from the abrasive Summertime ‘06 that took tips from Joy Division in its worldview more than the average rap album.

However, this release is only more accessible at the surface. The same way that Vince Staples is no stranger to doing the unexpected, he is also no stranger to death and decay.

Opener Crabs in a Bucket sets the tone with its skeletal Burial-esque beat as Staples compares crabs toppling each other futilely trying to escape buckets to human beings tearing each other down by way of vice.

Following track Big Fish makes it clear Vince isn’t just another crab in the rap game aimlessly clawing at his surroundings. The song boasts a huge G-funk beat and braggadocious verses where Staples lists off all the problems his fame and fortune has solved for him.

He could almost pass for Big Sean on Big Fish – he’s seemingly miles away from the gloomy, coming-of-age sentiment of Summertime ‘06. It’s on the piano-laden Alyssa Interlude where we’re reminded that this is the straight-faced, yet temperamental Vince Staples.

The interlude opens with a sample from an Amy Winehouse interview where she cites her self-destruction as her inspiration – a reality Staples identifies with. There’s an uneasy acceptance in the way he acknowledges that “sometimes, people disappear.”

Everything is fleeting in Vince Staples’s world. GTA-produced Love Can Be features brief vocals from Damon Albarn that purposely fizzle into the background, as Staples raps about crashing sports cars and missing phone calls from loved ones halfway through the track.

Yeah Right features production from electronic giants Flume and SOPHIE, as well as verses from Kučka and Kendrick Lamar. It’s dizzying in the best way, managing to blend its vibrant cast of characters rather than have them clash.

It’s easily one of Big Fish Theory’s most experimental numbers. It’s also a nice testament to classic Vince Staples nihilism as he and Kendrick shoot harsh jabs at their peers for the shallow facades they put up with money and drugs.

Lead single BagBak is yet another standout. It’s a dark dancefloor techno, groovy as it is ominous, perfectly complementing Staples’s most political lyrics on this release as he tackles colorism and police brutality.

On BagBak he isn’t the deadpan cynic he’s prone to being. He’s unapologetic, assuring the black community that “we need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that oval office.” Staples reminds us that in a society that belittles minorities, power needs to be taken, not asked for.

Vince Staples refuses to be squeezed into a fishbowl. He doesn’t have the organic beats hip-hop traditionalists long for, he doesn’t have the inclination to inspire like Kendrick and he doesn’t have the starpower of a Drake or a Future. The experimentation and self-awareness of Big Fish Theory proves he doesn’t need to.

However, Vince knows people disappear. He’ll be the big fish as long as he can, and if the world can’t understand, then so be it. When the rain comes down, he’ll be expecting it.

Photo retrieved from Flickr.

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