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Vince Staples Bolsters His Reputation With ‘Big Fish Theory’ Album



XL1111

Def Jam Recordings
Def Jam Recordings

Releasing your major label debut as a double-disc album requires equal amounts of confidence and ambition, both of which West Coast rapper Vince Staples possesses in spades. That gravitas may be among the reasons why when he announced that his Summertime ’06 album would be a package deal, not much was made of it, as the Ramona Park, Calif. rep is known for straying from the norm and sticking to his own script, tradition or perception be damned.

One of the more outspoken and charismatic voices of the new crop of vanguards that have been carrying the torch for generation now, Vince Staples has also built a reputation for his insight and thoughtful takes on everything from sociopolitical fare to cultural trends and more trivial topics. However, in some circles, the connection fans have to his personality and intellect can outweigh the connection listeners have to his music. This is a conundrum that has resulted in critical acclaim and Staples becoming a bit of a media darling and fan favorite on social media amid lower sales figures in comparison to his contemporaries.

Vince Staples may not have become a household name with Summertime ’06 or his 2016 EP, Prima Donna, however, one thing is for sure, and that’s his standing as one of the more skilled and intriguing wordsmiths in rap today, a reputation he continues to bolster on his sophomore effort, Big Fish Theory. Producers Justin Vernon and Zack Sekoff craft a riveting soundscape in “Crabs in a Bucket,” the album’s introductory selection on which Vince Staples get into his groove, touching on the dog-eat-dog environment that he was bred in. “Crabs in a bucket/Wanna see you at the bottom, don’t you love it?/When they’re hatin’ so you hit ’em with the encore/Sendin’ shots but you at the top floor,” he spouts. He later adds, “They don’t ever want to see the black man eat/Nails in the black man’s hands and feet/Put him on a cross so we put him on a chain/Lying to me, sayin’ he don’t look like me.”

Giving the attention he pays towards the plight of the young Black male in a systemically-oppressive society, Vince Staples’ heavy commentary on “Crabs in a Bucket” mirrors that of his soundbites outside of the booth, and an admirable dive into the fishbowl that is the rapper’s mind. Aside from addressing the more pressing matters that plague society, Vince is also one of the more personable figures in rap and not opposed to partaking in a good time, as he does on the Juicy J-assisted offering “Big Fish.” Pledging his allegiance to his Long Beach stomping grounds, Staples makes it clear where his loyalty lies, musing, “Ramona, I was round that corner/Still down, I’m a Norf Norf soldier,” over production by Christian Rich, who serves up a slice of futuristic g-funk on Big Fish Theory‘s second single.

Vince’s sophomore set also reunites him with rapper Kilo Kish, who previously made appearances on the rhymer’s past two projects and pops up multiple times throughout Big Fish Theory. One instance is “Love Can Be…,” which also features Gorillaz member Damon Albarn and R&B singer Ray J. Produced by GTA, “Love Can Be…” finds Kish, whose chemistry with Vince is undeniable here, setting the tempo with her opening verse, musing, “You know my name, I’m not your babe/What’s that you’re saying? I don’t speak lame.”

Jimmy Edgar delivers a drowsy, techno-inspired production with “745,” on which Staples takes center stage once again. “All my life pretty women done told me lies,” he chants, before later boasting, “Eyes can’t hide your hate for me/Maybe you was made for the Maybelline/Spent so much tryna park the car/Barely got a tip for the maître d’.” This track makes for one of the more memorable inclusions on Big Fish Theory.

A title like “Party People” may bring to mind more lighthearted fair, but Vince Staples throws a curveball with the Zack Sekoff-produced Big Fish Theory offering. He provides introspection as he admits, “Propaganda, press pan the camera/Please don’t look at me in my face/Everybody might see my pain/Off the rail, might off myself,” before running roughshod over the album’s Ray Brady-produced lead single, “BagBak.” “Prison system broken, racial war commotion/Until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be voting,” Vince laments, getting political and flipping the bird at the powers that be.

Big Fish Theory includes an ample amount of Vince Staples, the soloist, but some of the album’s most enticing draws are in the spirit of collaboration. “Yeah Right,” which includes a dominant guest appearance on the part of Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $ign’s vocals on Big Fish Theory‘s closing number “Rain Come Down” both bolster the replay value of the album.

Nearly two years removed from the release of Summertime ’06 Vince Staples has proved himself to be a force to be reckoned with, with a fan base and profile that continues to grow gradually. A focused collection with no egregious misses or lapses in quality, Big Fish Theory should only assist in Vince’s ascent as he continues to lay the foundation to what looks to be a legacy that will put him among the greatest scribes of his generation.

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