Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory | Album Review
Up-and-coming, critically-acclaimed rapper Vince Staples returns with a compelling sophomore effort, ‘Big Fish Theory.’
In 2015, California rapper Vince Staples quietly released his double-disc full-length debut album, Summertime ’06. Summertime ’06 followed a 2014 EP, Hell Can Wait. While the album debuted modestly at no. 39 on the Billboard 200 and charted briefly, critics were overwhelming onboard. After releasing another EP, Prima Donna, Staples drops his sophomore album, Big Fish Theory. The results are quite satisfying.
“Crabs in a Bucket”
“Crabs in a Bucket” sets the tone for Big Fish Theory. The production work is adventurous, featuring some interesting sound effects and an energetic, danceable beat. Not your typical hip-hop opener, Staples establishes himself as one of a kind. Music and alternativeness aside, Staples issues a notable message:
“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 clarifies and specifies his message more on the second verse, addressing racial issues:
“Battle with the white man day by day / Feds takin’ pictures doin’ play by play / They don’t ever want to see the black man eat / Nails in the black man’s hands and feet.”
On solid follow-up “Big Fish,” Staples talks about his come-up.
“Another story of a young black man / Tryna make it up out that jam, goddamn / Bag back, let me make my bands, got plans / If you hatin’ don’t shake my hand.”
Interestingly, he references forthcoming songs on the album, including the penultimate record. Nice easy-going production work backs him; nothing too flashy. Juicy J assists, delivering the swagger-packed hook: “I was up late night ballin’ / Countin’ up hundreds by the thousand.”
“Love Can Be…”
“Alyssa Interlude” includes portions of an Amy Winehouse interview. During the interview, the late soul singer discusses her ex-boyfriend. Staples quasi-sings at the conclusion of the intro by Winehouse:
“Raindrops on my windowsill / Longing for your nature’s feel / Love that song when we were kids / Now it makes me want you here / Sometimes, people disappear / Think that was my biggest fear / I should have protected you / Sometimes, I wish it would rain.”
The last line leads into the sample of the famous soul classic by The Temptations, “I Wish It Would Rain.”
“Love Can Be…” featuring Ray J, Kilo Kish and Damon Albarn ranks among the most ambitious records from Big Fish Theory. The electronic-infused production sounds more fitting for a dance joint as opposed to hip-hop. Albarn sings the intro, comprising mostly of the recurrent titular lyric. Kilo Kish sings the first verse:
“Love can be a lot, so maybe not / You can give me all the cash you got…”
Vince supports the vibe of Kish’s verse, painting ‘love’ superficially on the following verse. Ray J sings the soulful bridge, initially sounding off pitch. This is intentional, giving it a cool effect. Staples raps more traditionally on the third verse. All in all, “Love Can Be…” is adventurous and slightly left of center.
“745” focuses on love once more, and references the BMW 745i in the process. Staples delivers a catchy hook:
“I’m in that 745 / Hope I can come scoop you up ‘round 7:45 / Slide ‘round with my drop top up or down, you down to ride?”
On the first verse, “All my life” is the key line, as Staples reflects on his dreams. The last half of the verse finds him reiterating, “All my life pretty women done told me lies.” On the second verse, he focuses on how arduous love is:
“This thing called love real hard for me / This thing called love is a God to me.”
In the title of interlude “Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium,” Staples likens Ramona Park in Long Beach, California to Yankee Stadium in New York City. Unfortunately, Ramona Park seems to be a sketchy place, particularly based upon past characterizations by the rapper.
“Yeah Right” featuring KUČKA and Kendrick Lamar is a certified banger, thanks to superb production work by SOPHIE and Flume. The hook is repetitive, but catchy. On the first verse, Staples approaches his rhymes in a series of questions supposedly asked of the rich rapper. On second verse, he focuses on the characteristic of pretty women. KUČKA offers a change of pace, singing the bridge, prior to an electrifying verse by Kendrick Lamar.
“Homage” keeps the hits coming on Big Fish Theory. The production takes its time setting up, before Staples goes H.A.M. against the sick backdrop. Look no further than the hook in which he asserts, “These n*ggas won’t hold me back…/These hoes won’t hold me back.” Filled with memorable lyrics, some of the punchiest hail from the second verse:
“Outrun my gun, I’m the bigshot now / Prima Donna had them like ‘wow!’ / Hitchcock of my modern day / Where the f*ck is my VMA? / Where the f*ck is my Grammy?”
“SAMO” continues to hit hard with malicious, banging production work. The acronym stands for same old thing. Throughout the song, Staples highlights the routines of the game. “Party People,” another highlight, like most of Big Fish Theory, features distinctive production work. The beat is danceable, but the record has an incredibly dark quality. From the jump, Staples is frank: “I been f*cked since my early days / I been stuck in my world ways.” Later, he goes on to say:
“Couple problems my cash can’t help / Human issues, too strong for tissues / False bravado all masked by wealth.”
On “BagBak,” Staples is amplified to the max – you betta ‘back, back.’ That’s the effect of the entire song. He tackles numerous, heavy topics, including faith, material things, fake friends, injustices for blacks, and disdain for the government and President Trump. He showcases immense black pride, evident from the jump:
“This is for my future baby mama / Hope your skin is black as midnight / I’ll take you out that Honda / I can put you in a Benz.”
“Rain Come Down” featuring Ty Dolla $ign concludes Big Fish Theory. Staples makes references to showing toughness against adversity. Once more, he makes numerous black references, including police relations, Rosa Parks, and Muhammad Ali. He also mentions his rough and tumble neighborhood:
“I’m the man, ten toes in the street / I’m the blood on the leaves, I’m the nose on the Sphinx / Where I’m from we don’t go to police / Where I’m from we don’t run, we just roll with the heat.”
Ty Dolla $ign ends up being an excellent collaborator for Staples. His raspy, sometimes harmonized vocals are a good fit here.
All in all, Big Fish Theory, the sophomore album by Vince Staples, is a good one. There is a lot to absorb, and, a lot to love and appreciate about this album. This is an album that plays better after a couple of listens as opposed to one, particularly if you are unfamiliar with his debut. Is this the best rap album of 2017? Arguably, Kendrick Lamar still has that locked up, but Big Fish Theory is certainly worthwhile.
Gems: “Crabs in a Bucket,” “Love Can Be,” “Yeah Right,” “Homage,” “Party People” & “BagBak”