2017 has been a heavy year for albums, especially those of the rap variety. In the first two months of the year alone, we received stellar offerings from Cardi B, Big Sean, Jidenna, Remy Ma and Fat Joe, Oddisee, and literally dozens of smaller peripheral artists who fall into the hip-hop music genre. Needless to say, come award season, there will be plenty of material to sort through for Grammy award voters. However, one album that should absolutely be considered is Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, and that’s why we’re putting this out here now, because if it got lost in the shuffle, not only would it be a loss for Vince but for all of hip-hop as well.
Rap is a funny genre. A premium is placed on hardcore beats and even harder personalities, but if you push too hard in that direction, you run the risk of being considered fake or, even worse, staid in comparison to other, more up-to-date artists. Consider the tough-guy demeanor and content of someone like DMX, who would surely have a difficult time gaining traction in a hip-hop ecosystem that now includes Young Thug or Drake as the nearest thing to an apex predator “the game” has.
Somehow, Vince Staples sidesteps all of the convoluted unwritten rules and regulations that hang like Damocles’ sword over other MCs. He has the pedigree, undoubtedly; he was born and raised in North Long Beach, just a five-minute bus ride from neighboring Compton, gang-banged his way through high school and all over his early material, right on up through his Def Jam debut, Summertime 06, and has an almost nihilistic apathy toward both the trauma of his upbringing and the trappings of fame that are allowing him to escape it.
However, he does not honor his gangsta rap forebears so much as he does acknowledge them in passing, always showing respect, but never backing down or kowtowing to the oftentimes arbitrary benchmarks of rap fandom or stardom. He praises the works of Lil Bow Wow while calling the gilded ‘90s “overrated.” He cracks off-hand jokes about how everybody in rap “has boof lines” on Twitter, but turns around and uses the same platform to break down white privilege and systematic racial inequality — which he’s seen from the inside, making him uniquely qualified to speak on both its macro effects and the devastating consequences for anyone trapped in the system and written off by society.
However, Big Fish also finds time to dig into Vince’s personal life with surprisingly soulful, introspective jams like “745,” where he declares “all my life pretty women done told me lies,” and actually demands the very award I’m advocating for him to win on “Homage,” wondering “Where the f*ck is my VMA? / Where the f*ck is my Grammy?” while simultaneously lamenting that he is likely “too cultured and too ghetto” to do so.