Vince Staples Big Fish Theory Blacksmith/Def Jam

09 10

Big Fish Theory doesn’t disappoint fans hungry for more Vince Staples after the rolling wonders that were last year’s Prima Donna EP and his 2015 double album Summertime ‘06. With the bar set high, this album still manages to up the ante for the Long Beach rapper – and it might be the most intriguing, innovative and barrier-busting release Def Jam has given us in what feels like too long.

Staples’ new sound palette is entirely unique but drawn from familiar sources. Grime, drill and even gqom seem to find a way into the demented swirl of Big Fish Theory, placing it beyond genre. Highlights like the dazzling Durbanite sprawl of Big Fish sees Staples lay down his razor-sharp, steely-eyed lyricism (“Compensation conversations what I’m all about/ Took the smart route, never been marked out/ Shoulda been dead broke, shoulda been chalked out”) over a Christian Rich-produced beat which indicates that Staples’ ears are open, not just to Europe, not just to Africa and elsewhere, but also to the unspoken history of black underground music and afro-futurism so criminally unexplored at present. The way a track like Homage melds Model-500-style Detroit techno with trap’s pace and a hint of the afro-electronica of William Onyeabor is utterly thrilling.

Throughout Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples makes sure that his rhymes remain focused on his overarching concept, something he described in a recent interview as a look at the way “rappers are perceived and perceive themselves.” He interrogates rap bravado with ruthless honesty and on the Kendrick-featuring track Yeah Right, diving with unsettlingly real incisiveness into suicide, politics, fame and artistic responsibility. With its danceable production, Big Fish Theory risks being called ‘rave-rap’ – don’t let such lazy soubriquets put you off. Yes it’s heavily influenced by electronic music, but this is a hip-hop record which understands the genre’s central tenets: sound like anything, talk about anything you want. On Big Fish Theory, Staples is exhilaratingly untrammelled and free.

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