Long Beach, California native Vince Staples dropped his third project in as many years with Big Fish Theory, on June 23, 2017. Featuring a smattering of uncredited appearances from Juicy J, A$AP Rocky, Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) and more, Vince Staples follows through with his embrace of the alternative spectrum of hip-hop, evidenced by his preference for gritty and visceral production.
Symbolic of much of the project, the first cut “Crabs In a Bucket” has very clear dub-step and electronic music influences, notable from the periodic female vocal samples interspersed with synth-heavy production evocative of a midnight rave. Although much of the tape falls in line with the sonic landscape of the intro track, “Big Fish” is a unique take on the signature west-coast bounce/g-funk revivalist sound that has cropped up on recent projects from artists like YG, RJ Ommio and Problem. The beat is incredibly layered, fashioning together a steady bass with waves of background vocals/synths and effervescent pops of bubbles/water drips that grace the instrumental on the hook. “Alyssa Interlude” also finds its own lane, featuring frenetic but soft-spoken vocals and keys in an approach reminiscent of Tyler, the Creator on “Colossus,” though Vince trades in the vulgarities for mournful reflections, ending his verse with, “I should have protected you, sometimes I wish it would rain.”
“Love Can Be” returns to the feverish diaspora of sounds to complement a distorted Vince delivery. For all of the album’s references to love and life Vince continues his avoidance of all things corny in favor of a high speed rush through his thoughts. Including a bridge by Ray J, and the requisite vocals from longtime collaborator Kilo Kish as well as an intro by Damon Albarn of Gorillaz fame, Vince manages cadences that embody his “average joe” approach to fame all while never losing the audience’s attention. He rarely dips into a yell, shout or otherwise overtly emotional tone, yet he is so intertwined with the music that each track is simultaneously varied and seamless. At his most fed up, Vince falls into questioning “Where the fuck is my VMA? Where the fuck is my Grammy, super models wearing no panties? Supercar not driving no Camry?,” as on “Homage,” which plays among the most raucous tracks of the bunch. Despite his everyman persona, Vince remains well-aware of his position as something of a non-commercial underdog, one who implements a great sense of artistic direction in his work without the greater recognition of a Prima Donna.
Later in the track list an uncredited verse from Kendrick Lamar on “Yeah Right” is befitting of the project considering the similarities to recent calamitous productions like “XXX” and “DNA,” as well as K. Dot’s self-aware bars on his influence on “the zeitgeist.” Additionally, whether a testament to Vince’s coordination or Ty Dolla $ign’s vocal capabilities, the latter’s ability to melodically flow across a discordant production is suggestive of the titular rain dispersing the pounding sun’s heat.
Considering the distinct approach to each track, that none of them last longer than four minutes gives credit to Vince’s musical majesty; Vince is a something of a sea turtle, seasonally hatching from the sands of his South Los Angeles contemporaries to deliver a uniquely stark and contorted project that further widens the hip-hop shorefront.