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Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory (Album Review)

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

In a way, Vince Staples’ approach to artistry is reflected in how he raps: purposefully and emphatically. One of the only criticisms you could make of his debut, ‘Summertime ‘06’, was that some tracks seemed heavily edited, such was the robotic precision with which he delivered them.

Last year’s ‘Prima Donna’ EP shattered that illusion by presenting two contrasting sides of his personality. At points he was lethargic, murmuring about giving up and channelling frustrations at his newfound fame through the thematic perspective of a suicidal protagonist. Elsewhere, he was relentless and ‘war ready’, obliterating every target in his path over a variety of beats.

In that sense, ‘Big Fish Theory’ is a coherent follow up that balances personal demons with wider critiques of the hip-hop industry. His turbo-charged raps and nihilistic attitude will be more than familiar to fans of his previous work. But it just so happens that everything else has changed.

Although Staples protests that “the word ‘party’” and his music “don’t go together”, this is an album dominated by motorised synths, searing club bass and grime-style syncopation. Even more striking is that Staples’ flows are now the catchiest element in the mix, providing the rhythmic heart that the stabs of melody hang alongside.

If anything, it’s his contributions that make you want to dance to this record, with tracks like Big Fish and Yeah Right guided by his smooth cadence. He’s not the first to infuse rap into techno or garage-esque soundscapes – everyone from Kanye West to Drake has had a bash – but whereas they only paid lip service he dives in headfirst.

But, like his debut, it’s his violence-filled upbringing in the city of Long Beach that still resonates the most. At times the west coast air is palpable: he balances ‘80s synths with disembodied G-funk on 745 and calls back to his grimier days on the gripping street narrative SAMO.

Regardless of these touchstones, he instills each track with a sense of focus and direction that serves the wider record. Much like Kendrick Lamar, who delivers a combative verse on Yeah Right, Staples is an artist with cinematic scope and a need to refer back to the big picture.

Perhaps that’s why the multiple guest features on this record are so fleeting. A$AP Rocky, Damon Albarn, Juicy J and others drop in briefly to harmonise or hype up Staples, but it’s telling that the only marked impact is made by long time collaborator Kilo Kish. As on previous records, her whispered vocals subtly compound whatever Staples wishes to convey at any given point.

Astonishingly, this intense and energetic brew is in and out within 36 minutes. Much like ‘Summertime ‘06’, ‘Big Fish Theory’ is an album with tremendous sonic depth, but one that finds Staples’ work driven by his own vocal inflections more than lyrical subject matter. That’s not a bad thing, either.

As Staples ponders on Party People: “How [am I] supposed to have a good time when death and destruction is all I see?” But instead of pulling out a magnifying glass, his natural artistic inclination is increasingly to show rather than tell. In this case, it’s made for a sharp, futuristic album that keeps you on your toes.

Vince Staples Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed August 30 2017 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town

Click here to compare & buy Vince Staples Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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