Vince Staples: “Big Fish Theory” Album Review

Written By: Andrew Sedo


What is a big fish? Does it pertain to physical size and the constraints of one’s proverbial pond? With Big Fish Theory, the second full-length effort from Long Beach artist Vince Staples, big fishness seems to be more about mentality than stature. The one-time Odd Future affiliate seeks to bend genre beyond belief, and show the world Long Beach hip-hop is alive and well and totally beyond the legendary, yet now pigeonholed, G-Funk era. For an area that has spawned so much pure talent, Staples is a guppy in an epic tank of influence. Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and much of the Death Row sound owes a nod to this rough and tumble California port city. Staples has the skills to swim amongst the sharks but chooses instead to shatter his constraints while feeding off the scraps of the sound that remain fresh.

For evidence of the G-Funk legacy enjoy the beach-side bounce of “Big Fish,” and the down tempo parliamentary bassline of the standout “745.” However, Staples does not rely solely on music to move the listeners to head-bobbing bliss. Throughout he includes anecdotes about the struggle surrounding the neighborhood that made him. On “Big Fish,” he upholds the metaphor saying “ Swimming upstream while I’m tryna’ keep my bread / From the sharks, make me want to put the hammer to my head,” it’s here we find Staples real skill is telling his tale with a whimsical “gotcha” realism. On “745” he tells us about his dreams “All my life / I want waves at my front door / No green grass / no porch / I just want seashore,” relaying a California dream that rings true from South Central to Malibu.

While these tracks are made in the classic image of Long Beach, Staples proves track after track he is not an obsolete throwback. For evidence, a close examination of the credits will show Bon Iver’s contemporary genius, Justin Vernon, had some hand in the spaciously glitchy electronic opener “Crabs in a Bucket.” Furthermore, “Party People” is an out and out feel good rave dance boomer that further blurs the lines between once distinct genres.

“Yeah Right” is an exposition on lyrical skill featuring California’s currently undisputed kingpin Kendrick Lamar over bombastic and industrial clatter production. Staples also has an ear for R&B as “Love Can Be…” and the ultimate “Rain Come Down” make use of Ray J and Ty Dolla $ign respectively to show, again, Staples is a modern day renaissance man. If the goal of Big Fish Theory is to cement a new legacy for Staples’ “Pond”, one would be hard pressed to call it anything but a success.

A further examination may show, that this record completely shatters traditionally held notions about the style, substance, and originality of hip hop music. In this way, Vince Staples acoustically explains how to do more of the same with an inspirational direction that can still move people (in both senses of the phrase). Lyrics throughout show his desire to challenge the mainstream perceptions of hip-hop, and city-life in the USA. In essence, Big Fish Theory is more of a movement than a statement, a forward thinking, retro-inspired exercise in the power of luck, motivation, open mindedness and the earnesty of authentic artistic expression for it’s own sake. Staples is out to obliterate the concept of conforming to your pond, whilst simultaneously showing how one cannot help but be shaped by his or her surroundings.