Review: Vince Staples, ‘Big Fish Theory’

Vince Staples may have just delivered the most experimental project of the year.

Big Fish Theory is a breath of fresh air for hip hop which is currently being dominated by lyrically dense trap music. Luckily there’s no weight on Vince’s shoulders in the way that Kendrick Lamar had with DAMN., which is as equally as disjointed as Big Fish. This is an album which is able to be different without trying too hard to shove complexity in your face.

Through the mere 36-minutes Vince manages to pack a lot in. The most striking aspect of Big Fish Theory is the upbeat, left-field production. There’s not one normal beat on here. Stylistically Big Fish Theory follows the same lane as Yeezus. It plays around with acid house, techno and electronic beats to concoct a club-styled, futuristic sound. It’s an extremely odd yet unique sound because it’s not as hard-hitting and abrasive as Yeezus was, but nor is it pop-friendly. At times the instrumental is a mere simple loop (“Big Fish”) or a trippy, synth-and-bass heavy brew (“Homage”).

But it takes a certain level of MC’ing to be able to ride such beats successfully. Vince is able to do that, providing two, structured, topical 16-bar verses on every song. In the midst of parodying rap clichés, the vivid recounts of dedication to Ramona gang life, black struggle, shallow women, venting about his lack of recognition and telling the President to suck a dick, Vince manages to create a disjointed illustration of his basic thoughts. While discussing these topics, his cadence is so fluid that there’s no space wasted within the bars. This closure of rhythmic crevices shows an impeccable level of flowing which the level of his lyricism is able to match.

Outside of the verses, Big Fish Theory presents itself as extremely skeletal, particularly on the hooks; repeating the same one or two lines in succession. On “Big Fish” this comes off as an intentional dig at raps stereotypes (“I was up late night ballin’ / Countin’ up hundreds by the thousand”), with none other than Juicy J rapping the lines. These tongue-in-cheek hooks are sprinkled across the album and it is easy to acknowledge that they have no real substance to them. As a result they end up generating crazy replay value.

Vince isn’t a lyrical poet in the sense that Kendrick is, but he knows how to stick to a topic. The most politically-charged message appears on the penultimate track “BagBak”. It’s another moment of lyrical simplicity doing the trick; he’s blunt yet venomous with his criticism of America. Nor does he sound pissed off; he’s merely stating his stance.

Prison system broken, racial war commotion
Until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be votin
Ain’t no gentrifying us, we finna buy the whole town
Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now
Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now

The whirring Disclosure-esque “Love Can Be…” sounds like something you’d hear in a white club, in contrast to the chiming G-funk-styled “745” – the closest song on the album to resemble anything that’s within rap’s comfort zone, with that dirty DJ Mustard-sounding bassline, while lyrically exploring the materialism mindstate of a young man. Only thing it’s missing is a YG feature.

“Yeah Right” is as ridiculous as DAMN.‘s “XXX”, incorporating several beat switches and a masterful verse by Kendrick himself. “Homage” is equally as glitching, particularly on the hook with the muddy bass (“These n*ggas won’t hold me back”, word to Rick Ross). A lyrical strength in songs like these is that Vince never repeats himself. He say’s some shit once, tells someone to suck a dick and keeps it moving.

[Verse 2: Vince Staples]
Outrun my gun, I’m the bigshot now
Prima Donna had them like “wow!”
Hitchcock of my modern day
Where the fuck is my VMA?
Where the fuck is my Grammy?

Big Fish Theory doesn’t follow the status quo of rap – but that’s what the best albums do. No casual listener will be able to take in what Big Fish is doing on an artistic level. Such off-the-wall body of work, which isn’t conforming to the trends of current rap, should be cherished, ’cause we’re not gonna get many of these. As stated by Vince, it’s about time people put some fucking respect on his name.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Big Fish”, “Crabs in a Bucket”, “Homage”, “Party People”, “Love Can Be…”, “BagBak”, “Rain Come Down”, “Yeah Right”