Vince Staples is the funniest rapper in the game. No question about that. Not even a debate. Watch his Hot Ones interview, watch him discuss NBA players with Hannibal Buress or even his Snapchat stories. The man is hilarious. No modern musician is as successful as Vince Staples at being a comedian on the side.
While his comedic demeanor is endearing, Staples is a rapper first, and he is definitely one of the best out there right now. Recently, he found more mainstream success in the industry by being featured on Gorillaz’ “Ascension” from their new album “Humanz.”He also dropped one of the best hip-hop projects of the summer. “Big Fish Theory” is an ambitious, highly entertaining album. This album is the follow-up to Staples’s commercial full-length debut “Summertime ’06.”
“’06” is a double-album, which is to say it is a bloated album. But it still had enough high moments sparsed throughout the album to put Staples on the map. A good double-album in the hip-hop genre is a true Outkast within the genre. Outkast set this grand standard, and Staples is continuing in the same vein. So, if anything, Staples’s biggest crime on this last album is his ambition.
Staples’s sin is carried over onto this album as well: “Big Fish Theory” is a short, energetic and wild hip-hop album that tries to blend electronic dance music with traditional hip-hop. I think that this ambition on Staples’s part pays off. “Big Fish Theory” scratched that boundary-pushing itch that Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” just couldn’t’ satisfy for me.
While “DAMN.” is one of the best albums of the year and shaped the hip-hop industry for the future, I believe that “Big Fish Theory” deserves just as much recognition. The biggest success of “Big Fish Theory,” and the one that keeps drawing me back to it, is its tremendous energy.
This overabundance of energy was a huge surprise for me, and I don’t think I’m the only one to feel this surprise. Vince Staples used to excel on tracks that were slower than the average track. There was a reason Earl Sweatshirt was the MC to put Staples on the map and not Tyler, the Creator. Both Earl and Staples were more lyric- and delivery-focused than the songs itself. which is a style of hip-hop that both of these artists have grown past.
But now we have to throw this idea of Staples being a slow-paced rapper out the window. This isn’t to say that Staples traded in his thoughtful lyrics for lesser-quality content. What makes this album so excellent, in my opinion, is how Staples was able to keep the same level of technical fidelity while delivering tracks that are filled to the brim with energy.
The most concise example of this wild precision is on the penultimate track “BagBak.” This track has the clearest heavy electronic influence with its fast, repetitive hook and synthy beat. And Staples just brings his best to this track: His verses float where there’s space in the beat and crash down with power on the rhymes. This is all to say neither of the two parts of this song overshadow the other. The beat complements Staples and Staples complements the beat. I cannot imagine anyone else rapping over this beat.
Another great aspect of Staples’s delivery that I absolutely love on this album is how he emphasises the last three words of his lines. Instead of placing the emphasis of his bars on the rhyme, Staples emphasizes the stresses of syllables at the end of his lines. On it’s own, this doesn’t sound too impressive. But in reality, when Staples is able to accomplish this at a frantic pace, the achievement becomes that much more impressive.
The best place we can see this on the album is on the opener, “Crabs in a Bucket,” where Staples raps: “Prolly ’cause I’m feelin’ like the world gon’ crash / Read a hundred somethin’ on the E-class dash / If I’m feelin’ funny, guaranteed gon’ flash.” Again, reading it is one thing. But actually hearing Staples rap verses like these over the eccentric beats on this album is a real treat.
And this example is just from the opener. “Big Fish Theory” is 36 minutes long and it is 36 minutes of intense, boundary-pushing hip-hop. In terms of beats, in terms of verses and in terms of production, this album does everything exceptionally.
Even the tracks that took me the longest to come around to—which include “Homage,” “Samo” and “Party People”—don’t stray from this level of quality at all. Rather, they just simply have the bad luck of being placed in the three-song bridge between the absolutely stellar “Yeah Right” and equally brilliant “BagBak.” It’s not a fault of the album, it’s just me being nitpicky on an excellent album.
This is one of those albums where I can confidently say the worst thing about it is that it ends. And it ends quickly. 36 minutes may seem very short to any fan of Staples, but conciseness is a lost art among hip-hop today.
Staples could have easily made this a true novel of an album like “Summertime ’06.” But the fact that he keeps the runtime short proves that it isn’t runtime that determines the size of the fish.
I do have two points I want to end on. The first is that this album isn’t just Staples’s undertaking: Kilo Kish is all over this album and absolutely helps craft it into the special project that it is. Kish performed at Vassar last year, which is something I find really special.
Another closing remark I have is that I just want more. I can’t wait to see where Staples goes from this album., as he has established himself as a truly formidable artist in a crowded industry filled with repeated sounds. I’m anxiously awaiting Staples’s next feature, EP or whatever content I can listen to next. With “Big Fish Theory” Staples solidifies his place in a comprehensive list of hip-hop artists that leave me craving more, a list which features the likes of such artists as Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Earl Sweatshirt. Good company to be in for sure.