In the wake of the modern landscape of major artists experimenting with a more electronic, house inspired sound, there’s no better time to revisit the landmark sophomore album Big Fish Theory from Vince Staples.
Featuring a diverse sound and eclectic production, Big Fish Theory still sounds like an album that dropped today despite its release on June 23, 2017, back when gaming sites like NetBet were not even a thing. Vince and producer Zack Sekoff worked hand in hand on developing a unique sonic identity for the project, pulling from UK Garage and Detroit Techno as major influences.
While Sekoff worked on five of the tracks, he shares the stage with other major electronic producers such as GTA, Flume, and the late but forever iconic SOPHIE. The contributions from these major powerhouses combined with Vince’s brilliant delivery and lyricism create a standout experience that grabs the listener and never lets go.
The album features three main singles: “BagBak”, “Big Fish”, and “Rain Come Down”, which introduce us to the impressive sonic landscape of the album.
“BagBak” features a driving synth bass over hard hitting drums and Vince’s unique style of social commentary. He injects a level of humor with lines such as “Until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be votin’”, while juxtaposing powerful satirical elements over the dance inspired production with lyrics such as “Clap your hands if the police ever profiled”, and “Obama ain’t enough for me, we only getting started / The next Bill Gates can be on Section 8 up in the projects”.
“Rain Come Down” features Ty Dolla $ign on the chorus and has a characteristically bouncy bass line as the prominent element. The beat feels a dark and mysterious despite the groove and Vince’s lyrics complement the track with nihilistic overtones within commentary like, “Take a ride on my side where we die in the street / And the cops don’t come for some weeks / No, the cops don’t come for some weeks”.
“Big Fish” features Juicy J and comprises of both Vince’s experiences in life as well as his elevation through the rap game. He raps about “Another story of a young Black man tryna make it up out that jam, Goddamn”, which essentially represents the theme of the album, namely Vince trying to outgrow his surroundings.
He frequently references the environment he grew up in being full of violence and gang activity and the fact that he’s lost friends to that way of life. In his own words he, “Took the smart route, never been marked out, Shoulda been dead broke, shoulda been chalked out”.
Another stand out track from the album is “Yeah Right”, featuring production from Flume and SOPHIE and additional vocals by KUČKA and Kendrick Lamar. Very reminiscent of SOPHIE’s “Faceshopping”, her powerful and hard-hitting production creates a driving industrial feel that presents as raw and energetic. On the track, Vince questions the typical tropes of modern rap with questions such as “Is you well paid? Are your shows packed? If your song played, would they know that?”
In a 2015 interview with HotNewHipHop, Vince elaborates on his view of the topics of rap songs, stating: “Rappers pretend they rich so people think they rich, so they don’t go broke. Literally, that’s the only reason. ‘Cause if you don’t got the car, then you not rich like him. If you not rich like him, then they don’t take you as seriously as they take him”.
One of the best examples of the dark, nihilistic lyrics/bouncing beats contrast that defines the album is on “Party People”. Over a syncopated bass line, Vince raps about both self-introspection as well as social issues. He doesn’t shy away from topics such as anxiety and suicidal thoughts and even references police brutality over a club inspired track, with lyrics like “How I’m supposed to have a good time / When death and destruction’s all I see?”
Big Fish Theoryntruly examines the enigma that is Vince Staples and packages it as an energetic, yet down to earth commentary on his own experiences, frame of mind, and opinions of the state of society. With production that still feels fresh even today, the album stands as a heavyweight in its league and its defiance of conventional genres makes it a must-listen.
Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory album was released on June 23, 2017 via Def Jam Recordings, listen to the album below!
Words by Mark-Anthony Pierre