By Gage Miskimen
There are plenty of fish in the sea that is hip-hop, but none have quite the fins of Vince Staples.
Staples released his sophomore album, Big Fish Theory, last weekend, and the project has the potential to move him into the mainstream.
Big Fish Theory takes a look at rappers and hip-hop in general from “outside the fishbowl”; Staples has always been an observer and critic of all aspects of society. The project analyzes how rappers act and how hip-hop’s looming influence on today’s culture while continuing the theme from his 2016 EP, Prima Donna. That opened with a star rapper (presumably Staples) killing himself, and the rest of the project talked about how the fame and fans pushed him to that point.
Suffering from fame seems to be a constant theme in Staples’ music nowadays. On track three of Big Fish Theory, “Alyssa’s Interlude”, Amy Winehouse’s voice can be heard, taken from a snippet of an interview: “I’m quite a self-destructing person, so I guess I keep giving myself material,” she says. Staples has been vocal about Winehouse’s death and unhappy with how the public has treated her.
Big Fish Theory’s sound is innovative in terms of hip-hop. Electronic house beats are mixed with Staples’ introspective and confident verses in a way that’s never been done successfully before.
The album is sprinkled with guests who add something extra. Artists credited throughout the album include Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Kendrick Lamar, Ray-J, ASAP Rocky, Ty Dolla Sign, Kilo Kish, and Juicy J.
Though the album is great as a whole, there are particular tracks that stand out. The Vernon-produced “Crabs in a Bucket” is the opening track, and it kicks off in high gear, only giving the listener a few seconds to get comfortable before the bass hits. “Crabs in a Bucket” refers to the “if I can’t have it, you can’t either” train of thought. Crabs in a bucket will fight and climb over each other to reach the top, but their behavior inevitably does more harm than good to themselves and those around them, and Staples is comparing the crabs to rappers and society in general.
“745” is another highlight of Big Fish Theory. The lyrics have Staples, driving around the city in a BMW 745, venting about his relationships with women. Staples’ typical nihilism shines on this track. “This thing called love real hard for me/This thing called love is a God to me/and we all just God’s property/So feel free to fulfill the prophecy.”
He has always felt like an outsider to hip-hop until recently. He has a Sprite endorsement deal, and radio shows in bigger cities such as “The Breakfast Club” on 105.1 are eager to interview him because of his dry humor and straightforward opinions. In Pitchfork’s “Over/Under” series on YouTube, Staples rated random things the hosts said from KFC to Tom Cruise, who he thought was underrated “because the mission was impossible, and he pulled it off three times.”
All this exposure, on top of his talent as a rapper, has brought him to the forefront of hip-hop. Staples’ lyricism, flow, and consistency in putting out high-caliber projects from mixtapes to full-length albums land him in the running for “greatest rapper alive” among Kendrick Lamar and … that’s about it. But honestly, listen to Staples, and see what he’s accomplishing in his music, and one might consider him the heir to the throne.
Gage Miskimen is the creative director of The Daily Iowan this summer. He will examine and critique new music released every week. Have any recommendations of your own? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.