What Can We Expect From Vince Staples' Big Fish Theory?
Rap enigma Vince Staples has returned with news that his latest offering, Big Fish Theory, will be dropping June 23rd. This will be Vince’s second full length album but it is worth noting that his most recent release was a distinct departure from his debut project. The Prima Donna EP (complete with a short film) told a fictional story of a rapper committing suicide. The tracklist was structured so that it began with the suicide and transitioned backwards with each song bringing closer to the beginning of the plot. In February, Staples released “BagBak”, which while never being officially confirmed, appears to be the first single from his upcoming project. A few months later he has returned with the visual to compliment the album, fittingly titled “Big Fish”.
When Staples spoke on the title concept of his forthcoming album in an interview with Complex he said, "It encompasses things … being larger than life in a smaller world, so to say. How rappers are perceived and perceive themselves... you still find these great personalities and these great success stories within the small pond that is our music." He seems to be setting the stage for Big Fish Theory to be a stark contrast to his densely autobiographical debut Summertime ‘06. I can already feel the "Good Kid m.A.A.d City"/To Pimp A Butterfly comparisons coming. If “BagBak” is actually representative of what the rest of Big Fish Theory will sound and feel like, then this parallel is certainly true. "BagBak" is a politically charged call to the entire world and encompasses themes much bigger than Vince’s time spent at Ramona Park. Telling the 1% to ‘suck a dick,’ stating that the next Bill Gates could be on Section 8 and suggesting that Obama wasn’t enough for him (“Until the president get ashy, Vincent won't be votin”) are just a few examples sprinkled throughout the record. While I was initially a little perplexed by the song’s spelling, based on the fact that Vince has written words phonetically before (as was the case with “Norf Norf”), it is likely that it simply means “back, back”, as in “back off”. The song itself is much edgier and more aggressive than a song with a title such as “back, back" could possibly be.
Coming off of “BagBak”, I expected “Big Fish” to lend itself to the same sort of creative direction, by taking on larger themes. Specifically, I anticipated that Vince was going to be addressing the “Big Fish Theory” that his album is named after in the larger context of rap. This record however, remains very autobiographical. “Big Fish” details Vince’s using rap as a mechanism to escape poverty and contrasts the level of notoriety he has attained in the past and present. It is also worth noting that only is Vince Staples cheeky enough to use vocals from Juicy J, unquestionably one of rap’s most vulgar personalities, on a record that features not a single curse word. Could this be a response to the Christian mother that he infuriated after she heard the profanity laced lyrics in “Norf Norf” on the radio? “Big Fish” is very short (barely over two and a half minutes) but the tempo and profanity free lyrics ironically make it a quintessential radio record. The imagery in video is also very interesting - we see Vince rapping on a sinking boat in shark infested waters. Is this a metaphor insinuating that no matter how big a “fish” gets, it is still just that, a fish, and is at the mercy of larger predators such as the sharks? The single artwork also raises questions as it features a massive goldfish in an undersized fish tank. This could be symbolic of the fact that Vince is becoming a bigger entity with every release, a rapidly growing fish in a pond that is becoming smaller. Essentially stating that his success, whether he likes it or not, is making him part of an increasingly smaller group of elite people. Even after all of this, the theme of the album is remains unclear. Will Vince use the textbook definition of the Big Fish Theory and apply it to himself, to rap culture as a whole, or society as a whole? As in many cases with Vince’s music, more questions arise from listening to it than are answered.
I fully expect Vince to provide a healthy amount of social commentary while not trying to replicate Joey Bada$$’s All Amerikkkan Bada$$ album, but rather, Big Fish Theory will also examine rap culture as whole. One thing that still remains a mystery is who will be featured on this album. Vince has made a few notable guest appearances (ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP, The Gorillaz Humanz) and featured A$AP Rocky on Prima Donna. However, with a debut record like Summertime ’06, it would have been difficult for Vince to go for too many big name features without the record losing authenticity. Big Fish Theory offers Vince a chance to branch out and potentially go for what would be a much hyped T.D.E feature or someone like a YG (this collaboration has a ton of potential in my mind). He could also go the J. Cole route and abstain from features entirely. Whatever the case may be, we are certainly in for a treat as Vince has proved himself to be one of the most creative and innovative artists of our generation. Vince is the big fish… at least for a moment.