Arm Chair Philosophy (Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory review)

Philosophy is a wonderful thing. Rich, compelling, and full of room to experiment, because there isn’t one world view per se.

 

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

released Jun 23, 2017
******* 7/10

Vincent Jamal Staples, better known by his stage name, Vince Staples, is an American rapper and member of the hip hop group Cutthroat Boyz. He has also been associated with Odd Future and gained attention by making appearances on their albums as well from a mixtape he worked on with Mac Miller, Stolen Youth.

Staples debut album, Summertime ’06, was already released two years ago, which is why his sophomore effort, Big Fish Theory, has a lot to say for itself and about this new renaissance of hip hop, EDM and pop. Much like his contemporaries, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Childish Gambino (who is supposedly leaving music behind), Staples is perfectly comfortable with living in the weirdness of our generation. That means producing a record which could be ethereal and amelodic or one that combines sounds of the past to propel us into the future. Big Fish Theory is the later.

And I have to wonder if calling upon his previous skills as a documentarian, celebrating a self-proclaimed posthumous guardianship of Amy Winehouse, who features on Alyssa Interlude, and his hyperawareness of his own mortality/celebrity are the driving factors of Staples’ successes here or merely a perk when listening to the record.

The weirdness shows throughout the whole album, and might be best demonstrated in one of the later songs, Party People. Staples raps about how you can either move to the music if it hits you right OR you can sit there in your depression swimming with thoughts and a heavy heart, after all, the world is dark for some of us. This is not your baby sisters hip hop, nor is it aunties or grandpas. These beats are different then pretty much anything I’ve ever heard, and it works well, most of the time.

Not only that, but Vince Staples is happy to push his collaborators into the backdrop and have them as part of the song rather then front and centre, in fact he even pushes himself into a minor role on one of the songs. Kendrick Lamar fits nicely inside Yeah Right, an attack on the chest-puffing of most rap tracks. And there are definitely blink and you might miss it appearances from Juicy J, ASAP Rocky, Kilo Kish, Ray J, Ty Dolla Sign, and Damon Albarn.

The challenges with this album come in on the structure and organization of the songs, which can be heard best when you listen to tracks like Crabs In A Bucket, Love Can Be…, and Ramona Park Is Yankee Stadium. The questions I have immediately are around the experimentation. Exploration is awesome, but do these really compliment Staples cadence and content? It’s interesting for sure to have the bird calls, sirens, and whistling winds, but where is this going? Crabs In A Bucket sets the stage for a complex album, but it doesn’t feel like his strongest work, for sure.

That said, there are some really surprisingly fun tracks like 745 and Rain Come Down that intrigue despite shortcomings. Tonally these suit Staples well and the melodic choices sync up well with the speed at which he lays down his lyrics, but the best parts come from the verses and his rapping.

It is an experimentation of electronic music and hip hop, the kind of thing which metal-hip hop hybrid groups of the 1990s tried to accomplish but never really pulled off. And maybe that’s because those artists were metal first and hip hop second. Vince Staples confidence is so much more convincing.

Pros: Big Fish, the aforementioned Yeah Right and Party People are absolutely necessary on this album. An exploration of suicidal thoughts, the nature of hip hop, and what needs to happen next, Big Fish Theory is conscious hip hop, even if it isn’t labelled as such.

Cons: Rain Come Down is a little off in its warbling and takes the album into weird territory just as Big Fish Theory ends, much like how Crabs In A Bucket has a shaky start, it’s the middle of this record that does best.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: Influenced by house music and Detroit techno, Big Fish Theory calls up avant-garde electronica, funk, industrial music and a host of other sounds to afford Vince Staples with the creative expression he needs to transcend his environment. That Def Jam supports this sort of experimentation is fantastic, despite how discomfiting it is for most hip hop fans.

When music separates itself from it’s environment for even a second, acknowledges the world around it, and then zooms back in, it’s often a pleasing experience, and luckily for us world weary philosopher Vince Staples shared his Big Fish Theory with us.

theories Summarized

Keeping an open mind and heart is a wonderful philosophy and I hope Staples inspires other musicians to continue this trend. Yes, there will be blips in the road along the way, but how wonderful it is that we can have some good hip hop and EDM combined together for once, rather then remixes and overdubs. And that’s my personal big fish theory.

Tim!

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