Big Fish Theory is the sophomore album from Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, marking a major sonic shift from Summertime ’06. Here, he has moved past his “post-gangster rap” sound and seems to have been heavily inspired by Yeezus with his experimentation, all the while not going too far off the beaten path. As an emcee, Vince is stellar as usual, giving captivating performances on every track. Conceptually, the album focuses on Vince’s life now as a rap star and the struggles that come along with it.
The production has an obvious electronic influence that surprisingly complements Vince’s flow quite well. This works because the clean and polished instrumentals juxtapose with Vince’s grimy, raw delivery. Yeezus’ influence is most prominent in the distorted, industrial production on “Yeah Right” and “Homage.” Vince even spits some bars that are reminiscent of Kanye himself, perhaps paying homage to one of his idols. The only track that sounds like Vince’s previous album is the Juicy J-assisted “Big Fish.” While still an electronic instrumental, the West Coast G-funk influence is readily apparent—Vince even shouts out to fellow Long Beach rapper Snoop Dogg.
As to be expected, Vince’s emceeing is nothing short of amazing here. He presents a variety of flows, all with consistent delivery and great breath control. A few tracks, namely “Crabs in the Bucket” and “Love Can Be…,” have long introductions that make the listener anticipate Vince’s verse much more which adds an extra punch to them.
In terms of concepts, the album’s title sums it up pretty well: Vince feels he is a big fish who is still swimming in a small tank. He is at that awkward stage in his career where he is bigger than the underground but still smaller than the mainstream. He is also increasingly worried about the intentions of those around him, feeling like many women are only interested in him for his money. But Vince does not spend the whole album worrying as he does he indulge in a lavish lifestyle on “745.”
One of the more interesting tracks is “Alyssa Interlude” which features a sample from an interview with the late Amy Winehouse. Vince has said she was a major inspiration for his last EP, Prima Donna, and her presence seems to have permeated here as well. His performance on this track is chilling and is one of his most depressing flows.
Another interesting track is “Homage,” which is quite similar production-wise to “New Slaves” off of Yeezus. As the title suggests, the track pays homage to many of Vince’s influences, even adopting the chorus from Rick Ross’ “Hold Me Back.”
No features are displayed on the track list, but many artists pop up to deliver verses and sing hooks. Juicy J’s hook on “Big Fish” helps sell its fly, braggadocio feel and Ty Dolla $ign sounds better than ever on “Rain Come Down.” But the undeniably best surprise feature is Kung Fu Kenny in his first collaboration with Vince on “Yeah Right.” Kendrick’s verse is full of head-turning bars, making many allusions to pop culture and even cheekily poking fun at himself.
Overall, this a great project and feels completely organic in Vince’s progression as an artist. Where Summertime ’06 felt a tad lengthy, Big Fish Theory is much more concise, clocking in at only 36 minutes. This gives the album great replay value and actually enhances the listening experience. Personally, this is Vince’s best project and hopefully he continues to impress with future releases.
“Rain Come Down”
(Feature Image: Def Jam Recordings)