Vince Staples’ “Big” Evolution

I’m fascinated by origin stories, understanding how a superhero comes to be and how they evolve. I’m also obsessed with finding the common thread in an artists’ creative output. In this case the superhero is Vince Staples and the creation is Big Fish Theory.

Credit: Daniel Shea (Fader)

Looking at Big Fish Theory it is decidedly more curated than what you may remember him for. Comparing 2015’s debut Summertime ’06 and its sprawling 20 tracks with Big Fish Theory and the evolution may seem extreme. But consider 2016’s Prima Donna and the pieces fit together much more neatly. With a tighter album structure and lyrics telling a more intentional tale it’s clear that Staples is mastering how to do more with less. Bearing in mind that Staples has all of 24 years on earth under his belt I argue that he has just recently arrived at the point in his career where considerable personal and creative growth can take place in earnest.

Big Fish Theory begins on a measured, even, almost hypnotic keel, with “Crabs in A Bucket.” The opening beat immediately called me back to the opening beat on Bomba Estéro’s “Pájaros.” Given the relatively obscurity of Bomba Estéro in the US it’s unlikely Staples pulled directly from this song, however it highlights the greater diversity of sound on BFT. The smoothness of the opening track is in direct contrast to Prima Donna, which opens with 42 seconds of a mumbled song, ending with a gunshot that jumps into the electric “War Ready.” Prima Donna smacks you in the face while Big Fish Theory slides in with quiet intensity.

Moving through this tightly woven vignette, tracks that pop out represent damn near the whole album. “Big Fish” is a more tangible admission of his growing fame and “Alyssa Interlude” busts out with a Sinnerman-esque beat, serving to call out many key themes of the album- pain, love, abandonment, reckoning with our own roles in cyclical mistakes. “Love Can Be…” maintains BFT’s near hypnotic aesthetic and is carried over into “745”, one of my favorite tracks. With a relaxed, almost lazy trap beat running through the track we find a quietly honest Staples grappling with some of the more recent additions of adulthood.

“Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium” and “Yeah Right” add in connective West Coast tissue with “Yeah Right” showcasing Kendrick Lamar as one of the album’s select features. Carrying the later part of the album is “Party People” with a deceptively upbeat tempo camouflaging lines like “Everybody might see my pain” and “How am I supposed to have a good time with death and destruction is all I see.” Following “Party People” is “BagBak”, another upbeat, infectious track dealing a few political shots with lines like “We need Tamekas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office.” Staples’ intent seems to be “We’re all going to have a good time jamming out here but listen to what I’m saying.” Closing things out is “Rain Comes Down”, which call to mind Chance’s “Pusha Man.” Each track speaks truth without bombast, making the truths laid out all the more chilling.

On Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples flexes his creative muscle in a beautifully subtle way. Pulling in new beats and a few familiar faces, Staples deepens his exploration of the themes established on Summertime ’06 and Prima Donna. The calculated delivery of his overarching message makes me truly excited to see what he is capable of because Big Fish Theory is just a hint of what’s coming.