Long Beach’s Vince Staples just dropped his second studio album––his fourth project in
as many years––Big Fish Theory. Staples’ verse on Common’s “Kingdom” is what hipped me to his music back in 2014 but many were introduced to him through his Stolen Youth LP with Larry Fisherman aka Mac Miller. Since that tape Staples has dropped Hell Can Wait, Summertime ’06, Prima Donna, and now Big Fish Theory.
The title “Big Fish Theory” is a reference to the theory that a fish’s physical growth
potential is restricted by the size of its tank. Staples is using this theory as a metaphor to describe the situation of Black Americans and how society restricts their ability to achieve their full potential (genius.com). Whether it be through explicit legislation or the informal segregation that exists in American cities, Black people often find themselves in situations where they are set up to fail. In the press run that usually accompanies an album release, Vince stated to Complex’s “Everyday Struggle” cast that he has an issue with listeners skipping directly to songs because of features rather than listening to the album as a whole; you’ll notice that at least on the Apple Music version I downloaded, there are no feature credits. With no real expectations for this album outside of the standard set by his previous work, I took my first listen.
My last album review for Lupe Fiasco’s Drogas Light (which is not worth your listen), I
gave every track a small individual review. Neither that album nor Big Fish Theory really
warrant that as the tracks don’t stand out much from each other. Sonically most of the album is an electronic/hip-hop fusion with some house elements and heavy instrumental distortion. As the great Will Hansberry put it, “Danny Brown made the album Vince Staples thought he was making.” Though I can’t stand Danny Brown’s voice, Atrocity Exhibition is a very good album and tops 1 in a multitude of categories, particularly the bars. I applaud the sonic exploration Vince attempted (though it wasn’t particularly original), and I think it worked fairly well. My issue with this album lies primarily with Vince’s verses. His bars are weak and have next to nothing to do with the overall fish theory metaphor. The title suggests that the album will be a commentary on the Black experience in America but instead it seems to be more of Staples’ life and fictitious interactions. There certainly are specific instances where Staples does relate to the theme like in “Crabs in a Bucket” where he spits, “Nails in the black man’s hands and feet/Put him on a cross so we put him on a chain,” but for the most part they fall short. Even my favorite track, “Yeah Right,” does little to contribute to the big fish theory metaphor. Vince’s verses discuss the vices of men and women which could be seen as part of what stunts the growth of Black Americans but they’re not at all exclusive to the Black community. Kendrick’s verse, while displaying his ability to ride any beat with ease, is braggadocio and individualized.
Big Fish Theory isn’t a bad album, I had just hoped for more. It seems as though Vince is
going through a weird abstract phase where he’s trying to toy with his sound to become more “unique.” Prima Donna was similar to this release in that Vince didn’t show much growth as a rapper but the sound was clearly different. I would’ve liked to hear more cohesion and better bars throughout the album and less voice distortion and interludes; what do you need an interlude for on a 36 minute album? Vince is doing his thing though and has expressed that he doesn’t care about sales or reviews, just that fans can connect, so hopefully some of you do connect with Big Fish Theory and play it on repeat all summer. I’ll be busy waiting for Viceland to give Vince Staples a show.
First, shout out Trevor for writing the article. Second of all, what are your thoughts on the Cali native’s new album, leave it down in the comments below! Benjy signing out!