Long Beach rapper, Vince Staples, has really made a name for himself, and has also carved out his own creative lane in hip-hop. Staples really caught peoples’ eyes with his EP, Hell Can Wait, and since then has gone on to release two critically acclaimed projects in his studio album, Summertime ’06, and his EP that followed, Prima Donna. His dark, interestingly different West-Coast sound, along with his unapologetic lyricism has really made Vince a “staple” in hip-hop. Now, Vince has presented us with a new studio album in Big Fish Theory. On the surface, the album is already vastly different from his last album, hosting only twelve tracks compared to Summertime ’06‘s twenty. A short tracklist can be a double-edged sword. While shorter albums tend to have more focused, quality tracks, there also leaves very little room for error. However, digging into Big Fish Theory was quite the trip. On Big Fish Theory, Vince expands on his unique sound and elaborates on concepts brought up on his last few projects.
There are many talking points to go off for this project. One of the first I would like to address is the title. Big Fish Theory can certainly be interpreted in many ways. One of the more talked about interpretations is the idea that a fish can only grow as big as it’s tank. Therefore, the tank is a metaphor for Long Beach/Ramona Park and the fish is a metaphor for Vince, or on a larger scale, African-Americans who are born into the projects and have very limited room to grow as people due to drugs, violence, etc. Another interpretation that I thought of while listening to this album is the idea that the “big fish” could be representing Vince, and the fact that he believes he is at the top of the food chain in hip-hop and life and general, and no matter what box you put him in, he will rise to the top and be the one running the show (or his own show for that matter). This theory would also align with the “Crabs In A Bucket” metaphor, which is also the first track on the album. “Crabs In A Bucket” refers to the action of crabs climbing over each other in a bucket to escape their demise, leaving other weaker crabs at the bottom. This is most likely how Vince sees himself coming from Ramona Park, or how he sees himself in hip-hop.
But enough about the concepts and theories. Let’s talk about this music. Because it’s some of Vince’s best.
The next talking point I’d like to address is the production…….because it’s pretty insane. Majority of it is handled by LA producer, Zack Sekoff and boy did he handle it well. Sekoff’s mix of electronic, house influence fits perfectly with Vince’s tone, and brings the LA flavor of his music to life. And I mean LIFE. Sekoff’s instrumentals are vibrant and full of energy. Get familiar with this guy and check out his remix of Thundercat‘s, “Them Changes”.
Right? Pretty damn good. Two of my favorites on this album “Homage” and “Party People” were produced by Sekoff. Two other beats on this album I feel I need to point out are the one’s on “Samo” and “Yeah Right” (yes, we’ll talk about the Kendrick verse in a second, hold your horses). “Samo” and “Yeah Right” are produced by Sophie, an electronic producer out of London. I had no idea who this dude was before this album, but from the bottom of my heart I thank him for blessing us with these bangers. These beats are border-line industrial level hard, and will more than likely ruin your subs if you turn the volume up too loud.
I also wanna discuss Vince’s subject matter on this project, which seems to follow suit from his recent project, Prima Donna. Vince talks about the struggles of being a celebrity, a culture he is not used to being apart of. “Party People” in particular highlights this. Vince discusses his own anxiety on this song, something he is much more aware of because of his sobriety and upbringing. This is expressed in the lyric: “How I’m supposed to have a good time when death & destruction’s all I see?” It’s an interesting combination of emotions, considering the track’s high energy and party appeal. However, Vince isn’t afraid to express some braggadocio, like on the track “Yeah Right”. On this track, Vince mocks the common tropes of modern day hip-hop (cars, jewelry, etc). A potent guest verse from Kendrick Lamar also helps get the point across. He viciously ends his verse with:
“I said, nigga, yeah right, I don’t fair fight but I bear fight, lookin for my next roadkill for the headlight, hangin on my last four kills for the highlights, my life, hiii life, high five, bye-bye.”
Big Fish Theory was quite the thrill ride. Featuring some of of the most unique production I’ve heard all year, along with Vince Staples’ unapologetic and honest lyricism, Big Fish Theory makes for one of the most creative West-Coast hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard.