Vince Staples has spent the better part of seven years carving out his own lane in hip hop, initially appearing as a featured artist on the now heralded early Odd Future mixtapes. However, he always distanced himself from the crew, a brave move considering how blatantly obvious their imminent explosion was. His debut album, Summertime 06, took us back to a time when Vince was a young teenager trying to navigate his way through a world full of guns, murder and gangs. He clearly wants to distance himself somewhat from that now. It’s understandable as his innovative concepts could not be achieved if he had dutifully accepted the sole label of gangster rapper.
Big Fish Theory takes the listener on a journey quite unlike anything we’ve heard before. His abstract choice in production has been one of the main attractions of his career and mixed with his boisterous style of delivery, it’s an undeniably potent combination. A hefty portion of the tracks are bass heavy, creating a brooding, dense work that needs headphones or good speakers to be fully absorbed. Quite often it is a battle as to which is more engaging, the lyrics or the beats but ultimately the listener wins because of it.
It’s not a common occurrence that a rapper releases a new project that is pretty much incomparable to anything else, yet Big Fish Theory is something truly unique. Obviously, help from the likes of Damon Albarn to Kendrick Lamar to Justin Vernon helped the creative process along the way, but it’s very clear that there was a vision for this album and it’s been executed perfectly with no filler. The features on the album go unnoticed at times as Vince’s narrative of being torn between love and fame takes centre stage.
He maintains a menacing façade while being very open about a failed relationship. The anger and resentment turns to depression which sets in the further we get into the album. He attempts to use the fruits of his labours to try to combat and deny it. It’s not until the final track that he finds some solace as the ‘”rain come down” and he can allow himself to shed a tear while not being judged by his peers for showing weakness.
Mental health is something of a taboo subject in the gang culture he was born into. This album is important not just for Vince, but for the many who can relate to his scenario. He has explored some suicidal thoughts before but here we get the full scape of what caused them and his solution. Succumb to the emotion you’re feeling, don’t ignore it, although he clearly understands this isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Using the rain to mask his sorrows may not be a permanent solution, or even the right one at all, but sometimes it’s all you have in certain circumstances.
He was always ahead of the curve but this album asserts that Vince Staples is one of a kind. His natural dry wit translates into rhymes that elevate his voice over the abstract production. The minimal artwork for the physical album, just a picture disc in a blank case, puts 100% of the focus on the music, exactly where it should be. This isn’t a hip hop album. There’s no appropriate word to tack on to try and describe it. It transcends genre by allowing mood to dictate what happens next. It’s an enthralling, albeit short ride that delves into the mind of one of the most exciting acts in music right now.