After dropping an EP entitled “Prima Donna” last summer, the Long Beach rapper Vince Staples quickly got to work on his new full-length album. In the months leading up to the release of “Big Fish Theory,” Staples dropped three singles and embarked on a tour of the United States.
“Big Fish Theory” marks the rappers fourth project in as many years. In that timespan Staples has forged his sound and pushed himself to new levels of popularity with narrative heavy music and high energy live performances. However, “Big Fish Theory” features a much different sound than the Vince Staples many have come to know.
The conventional hip-hop beats from his past projects, “Summertime 06” and “Prima Donna,” have been replaced by a new wave of electronic production. While this sound may catch many listeners off guard, Staples is not a complete stranger to these experimental beats. Since the release of his first album, Staples has worked with and appeared on songs produced by big names like Flume, Clams Casino and GTA.
Dabbling in this style of music must have been a success in Staples’ mind as he made it the main focus of his latest record. Returning collaborators like Flume and GTA are joined by other producers like Sophie and Jimmy Edgar to create a wide range of beats within the electronic and techno genres.
The second biggest topic of discussion surrounding the album is the title. Many are familiar with the concept of a big fish in a small pond, but Staples has added a slightly different meaning to the cliché phrase.
In an interview with Complex Magazine, Staples said that the big fish concept relates to the way hip-hop artists view themselves as well as the way the public perceives them. “It’s about being larger than life in a smaller world,” said Staples. “You still find these great personalities and these great success stories within the small pond.”
The first track, “Crabs in a bucket,” is a continuation of this thought process. If you throw a bunch of crabs in a bucket, they want to escape but they never make it out because they’re too busy clawing and pulling each other down. Staples uses this as a metaphor to describe the relationships between those in urban communities as well as the relationship between himself and his hip-hop contemporaries. Staples may have become a bigger fish than those he once called neighbors but he still lives in the same pond and struggles with similar problems as the smaller fish.
Themes of love and fractured relationships come through on the tracks “Love Can Be” and “745.” Staples has not shied away from these subjects in the past. However, on “Big Fish Theory” he is able to give us a more aged and mature perspective while avoiding redundancy.
The seventh track, “Yeah right,” immediately catches listeners by surprise with a blown out and distorted beat. Staples spits a verse mocking those with fake personas and on the hook he delivers the condescending response, “yeah right,” to those flaunting wealth that they do not even have. And before you have time to breathe, Kendrick Lamar jumps on the beat and delivers a hard hitting verse while switching up his flow a few times.
As the album progresses, there a few tracks where Staples is able to mask his downright depressing lyrics behind high tempo beats that you would not be surprised to hear in a club. The best example is probably on the song “Party People.” Staples pleads the audience to get up and move with an almost uncharacteristic hook but immediately follows it up with a monotone delivery of lines like, “Please don't look at me in my face / everybody might see my pain / off the rail, might off myself.”
Other standout tracks include “Big Fish,” “SAMO” and “Bagbak,” but the entire album is worth your attention. With a runtime of 36 minutes, Staples has put together a strong and concise project that certainly does not overstay its welcome. The lively beats may be commanding the most attention but do not let anyone tell you Staples is lyrically weak on this new album. The 23-year-old has continued to uphold his reputation for sharp and witty lyricism while successfully experimenting on “Big Fish Theory.”