Album review: Vince Staples pushes the boundaries of rap on ‘Big Fish Theory’

Posted on Jun 29 2017 - 8:33am by Cameron Brooks

Despite trademark vocals that set each artist apart, the lack of experimental music in rap is astounding. Possibly some of the best producers pair up with artists that all have different stories to tell, different sounds and vibes to portray, yet end up sounding nearly the same when the finished product hits the shelves.



Photo courtesy: Stereogum

While most artists avoid pushing the creative boundaries of what rap should sound like, 23-year-old Vince Staples has gone above and beyond expectations with his sophomore album, “Big Fish Theory.”

These days, rap songs are meant to be blasted at a party with lyrics that hardly mean anything. They’re about wearing jewelry that’s worth more than an average house, wearing designer clothes and driving foreign cars. But this album is different.

It’s safe to say that most people will either love this album or absolutely hate it. The sound is so unique and different when compared to other rap albums, even Vince’s past work.

Staples tweeted out a couple of months ago that the album’s genre was “Afro-futurism.”

My mind couldn’t grasp what ‘Afro-futurism’ sounded like. While Staples went on to say this was a joke, after listening through the whole album, I’m still attempting to grasp what this sounds like.

Leaning towards the electronic genre’s house and techno, this album pairs the outspoken lyricism of Staples with head-bobbing, funky beats by skilled electronic producers SOPHIE, Jimmy Edgar and Flume.

Due to the album’s futuristic electronic sound, comparable to Kanye’s “Graduation,” Staples draws similarities to artists like Gambino, Kendrick and Kanye by pushing to create a specific vibe with each project they release.

Although the album is relatively short, just over 36 minutes long, Staples tackles topics close to his heart.  

Staples constantly uses religious imagery and themes in “Big Fish Theory” to tackle the struggles in Black America like, “Nails in the black man’s hands and feet / Put him on a cross so we put him on a chain,” and “Nail me to the cross like that boy JC.”

Love is another constant theme in the album, often referred to in a negative manner as if he’s dealing with heartbreak. In an interview with Vulture, Staples explains how Amy Winehouse has influenced his past work and also gives insight why he sampled her interview talking about love on “Alyssa Interlude.”

“I saw the Amy Winehouse documentary and I was like, this is sad. This happens a lot. Thought of all the other times it happened, and I was like, I wanna make a little movie thing about it. I’m gonna make a soundtrack. That was Prima Donna,” Staples said.

On “Alyssa Interlude,” lines such as, “Raindrops on my windowsill / Longing for your nature’s feel / Loved that song when we were kids / Now it makes me want you here,” dig deep into the heart of Staples and create a unique first person experience for many listeners that can relate to his feelings.

Although not all will appreciate the direction Staples took with this album, “Big Fish Theory” is up there with albums such as Kendrick Lamar’s, “DAMN.” and Smino’s “blkswn,” that all blew me away on my first listen.

Each song is different, from the slower and depressed beats on “Alyssa Interlude” to the bass-heavy banger “Yeah Right,” featuring Kendrick Lamar.

Staples pushed beyond the over-saturated market of rap music in his newest project to create a futuristic sound that grabbed my attention from the first song through the whole album.