Vince Staples’ ‘Big Fish Theory’ Deftly Combines Afro-Futurism And Gangsta Rap

06.23.17 1 month ago

Def Jam Records

Hip-hop has not heard anything like Big Fish Theory, and that’s exactly why hip-hop needed Vince Staples to make it. Big Fish is Vince’s take on afro-futurism, all electronic blats and blips, with his signature ruminations about gang life, finally making money, and what it means to be Black in America rapped over the top.

Rap music itself is in a funny place right now; it wants to hold onto some semblance of the “classics” that have defined the genre in the ’90s, while glossing over its missteps in the ’00s, and still embracing future sounds. Heads have begun holding every rapper to some impossible standard of keeping it real, paying homage to the greats of the past, while still demanding freshness, originality, and creativity.

Vince Staples doesn’t have any use for any of it. He’s not a “hip-hop head” by his own description. Instead, he is someone who views rap as an avenue to talk about the everyday aspects of his life, and get paid for doing so. To that end, Big Fish spends zero time contemplating the “state of hip-hop” or who the dopest rapper is.

What it does do, however, is bend and on occasion outright break the unstated “rules” of the genre, tossing out boom-bap and trap alike in favor of house-influenced beats that somehow still sound every bit as ominous and menacing as the pre-apocalypse production on Summertime ‘06. While that album made bombed-out percussion into the primary instrument, stripping away melody to create a soundscape as threatening and sinister as a late night walk through Ramona Park, and Prima Donna EP continued to create in that same lane, adding abrasive hard, rock guitars on the likes of “Smile,” Big Fish Theory doesn’t do a sonic 180 so much as it takes a hard left from the expected evolution of that Summertime sound. Then, it kicks its engines to warp factor 9. Big Fish doesn’t sound like what anyone would have thought the follow-up to Summertime or Prima Donna would sound like. If those previous efforts were hood horror movies, the new project is the gang-bang equivalent of Blade Runner or Akira.

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