From Long Beach to open waters, Vince Staples delivers on "Big Fish Theory"



The most memorable sound from Vince Staple’s debut, “Summertime ’06,” was its unsettling sample of Bay Area noise. That record left listeners with the lingering visual of Staples standing on a pier, leaning over the edge. “Big Fish Theory” is the sound after Staples jumps in.

His new production — anchored in pounding club rap and throbbing industrial hip-hop — is as relentless and ferocious as the sharks that appear in the “Big Fish” music video.

Since 2015’s critically acclaimed double album “Summertime ’06,” Staples has been busy. 2016’s EP “Prima Donna” satisfied fans hungry for Staple’s curt, direct raps.

He also recently guested on Gorillaz’s recent album “Humanz” with standout single “Ascension,” a frantic, charging song that lead the album. Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn returns the favor with a feature on “Love Can Be...”

On “Big Fish Theory,” released Friday June 23, Staples occupies every corner. Quiet moments like “Alyssa Interlude,” and the funk groove on “745” are scattered throughout the album. But the rest of the album pulsates incessantly.

There’s “BagBak,” with its industrial, grinding bass reminiscent of “Summertime ‘06” single “Lift Me Up” and, oddly, the opening credits of T.V. show “Stranger Things” (we couldn’t get enough of it either, Vince). The bass on “Party People” feels similarly charged.

Combined with Staple’s insistent raps, the production creates a feeling of urgency and anxiety. Staples has graduated to deeper waters, but he’s tortured by the insidious bottom-feeders that have followed him there. “How I’m supposed to have a good time when death and destruction’s all I see?” he raps on “Party People.”

There’s the constant vigilance he exercises at the 22 bus stop (“shot eyes on scan”) and the murders he sees on television (“I see black cats on the daytime news with handcuffed wrists and their skin turned blue”). Staple’s eyes never get a break. And neither does his mind.

Ghosts past and present haunt him. Despite the money and success described in the chorus of “Big Fish,” Staples dwells on his origins and the horrors he’s experienced: “Ramona, I was round that corner, still down, I’m a Norf Norf soldier.”

As with rap’s other top dogs (Kendrick Lamar, Future, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, etc.), listeners are left to wonder if the “no sleep, late nights, no eating” that plagues him is due to the non-stop partying or a chronic sadness.

Staples veers into politics on “BagBak.” ““Obama ain’t enough for me, we’re just getting started.” “Until they love my black skin,” Staples raps. “Bitch I’m going all in.” The closing chorus doesn’t mince words either: “Tell the one percent to suck a dick because we on now.”

But Staples grounds his politics in his personal life.

“I’m the blood on the leaves, I’m the nose in the Sphinx,” he raps on the album’s closing “Rain Come Down.” “I’m the back of the bus, take a seat.”

The overlapping Venn diagram of Staple’s politics and his life is a circle. By existing, Staples is innately political. By catching it all again and again across 16 bars, he’s become the biggest fish in the sea.

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