Big Pond, Bigger Fish

Long Beach rapper Vince Staples is on a streak of success. From collabs with Sprite and GQ to features on blockbuster movie soundtracks, the 24-year-old has grown his empire immensely since entering the hip hop scene seven years ago. Before I became a huge admirer of Staples’ music, I first fell in love with his humor, honesty, and authenticity as a public figure. His new album, Big Fish Theory, has wholly transformed me into a Vince Staples fan, and I could not be more grateful.

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The project, released on June 23, is Staples’ second studio album. (Photo Credit: Genius.com)

On this project, Staples links with producers like Flume, SOPHIE, and Jimmy Edgar to deliver hypnotic beats and genius rhymes. In addition to these production powerhouses, Vince drafted a few more names to the album audiences may recognize: Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Rocky, Juicy J, Ty Dolla $ign, Rick Ross, and more.

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In an interview with Power 106, Staples called Kendrick Lamar “the greatest alive”. (Photo Credit: Dazed)

“It’s about being larger than life in a smaller world”

Hopefully, if you have gotten this far, you intend on listening to Big Fish Theory for yourself. This is what I took from the tracks during my initial album listen and lyric read through.

  • Track 1: “Crabs In A Bucket”
    • Staples’ expanded upon the album’s title in a Complex interview with the quote above. This first track started that dialogue, as it compared the metaphor title to both the hip hop scene and cultural/racial struggles in the world.
    • Discusses how ever-present pop culture and constant “hustling” mirrors the ocean
      • Putting others down to elevate oneself has become second nature
    • This phrase “crabs in a bucket” was used on “Señorita” from Summertime ’06.
  • Track 2: “Big Fish”
    • Staples’ again seems to look at the rap game from an outside perspective, and explains how it has affected his life
    • Each line in the song somehow connects and interlocks with another bar or the track’s overall meaning = very impressive
    • The intentional connections keep coming, “I’m a real Artesian, Ramona, I was ’round that corner”
      • Ramona is a street in Staples’ hometown, which was also mentioned on “Señorita”; not only are songs within projects meshing but individual projects themselves.
    • Staples’ identifies himself as the “big fish”, outgrowing his “bowl” (crime, poverty, gang activity)
      • As he, “the fish”, moves into unfamiliar lakes and oceans, he faces new threats, including sharks, “those who leech onto his fame and bite off his style”. (HipHopScholar on Genius.com)
  • Track 3: “Alyssa Interlude”
    • Influence of Amy Winehouse from his previous album, Prima Donna, returns
      • As he went on to explain in multiple interviews, the documentary about her death struck him and shaped Prima Donna‘s theme. The caused staples to explore other artists with similar struggles, a few of whom are featured in his short film with the same title.
  • Track 4: “Love Can Be…”
    • DJ duo GTA went in with this house beat
    • The layering of the track and structure of sections perfectly utilizes the upbeat instrumental
    • Features the famous Ray J, whom Staples has praised for years
  • Track 5: “745”
    • This may be one of my favorite beats on the project, courtesy of Jimmy Edgar
      • The main backbeat itself is simple on its own, but the intricate add ins paired with Staples’ syncopation takes it over the edge
    • Lyrically, it’s almost as if Staples’ is mesmerized by love, but thinks it’s too complicated to deal with
    • The lyrics, “All my life I want waves at my front door, no green grass, no porch, I just want sea shores” subtly connect back to the central theme of the project, and also his hometown of Long Beach, CA
  • Track 6: “Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium”
    • Another connection to Summertime ’06, specifically “Ramona Park Legend Pt. 1/Pt.2″
    • Explores Staples’ history with gangs
      • The group he was (maybe still is?) a part of signifies their dedication by wearing Yankees hats. This is referred to in the line, “You’re my skin, above my brim”
    • Gives the listener a chance to breathe after the hype tracks opening up the album, before diving into the insanity that is to come in the latter half
  • Track 7: “Yeah Right”
    • First things first, Kendrick. That is all I must say. Just…prepare yourself.
      • Their voices and flow compliment each other so well
    • As the song’s title built up at the beginning, my heart rate began to reach dangerous levels.
    • In their first collab, these two are absolutely unstoppable
    • Vince has called K. Dot the “greatest alive” in an interview with Power 106
    • The duo questions other rappers, asking “how real they are”. It touches on the role of drugs in today’s culture, which Staples openly does not take, along with staying away from alcohol
  • Track 8: “Homage”
    • This is another beat for the books. It literally is built from the ground up in the song’s first 40 seconds
    • Based off of Rick Ross’ “Hold Me Back”
      • Another reference to one of Staples’ musical influences

“I’m on a new level, I am too cultured and too ghetto”

  • Track 9: “SAMO”
    • As many know, Staples is against the traditional “rapper vibe”
      • In this track, he says he would rather kill himself than spend money on ridiculous “luxuries” like chains
    • This song again goes back to one of the project’s themes: fitting in with what the rap industry expects from him
  • Track 10: “Party People”
    • While dramatic, this track effectively examines the similarities between partying mindlessly and social destruction
    • The carefree, club sound intentionally contradicts the lyrics
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On the presence of gangs in his life, he describes it as something you never opted into. His grandfather did it. His father did it. His mother did it. His brothers did it. “My mom is everyone you’ve ever seen on every gang documentary,” he said. (Interview with Vogue Magazine)
  • Track 11: “BagBak”
    • Released in February 2017, this was the first taste that fans had of the upcoming project
    • Touches on racial status and police system in the country, gentrification, the president, the 1%, and other pressing issues that rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Vic Mensa, and J Cole have discussed heavily in recent years
  • Track 12: “Rain Come Down”
    • The falling rain=bullets and bills
      • Genius way to end the album and summarize thoughts Staples’ has put forward
    • “Vince incredibly uses only three words to form an overarching triple entendre” (Turtleneck_Sweater on genius.com)

I would like to thank Vince personally for such a cohesive and genuinely interesting piece of work. Artists like him are the future of the game, and the future is bright. To learn more about the man behind the music, try browsing his genius Twitter page or watching the interview below.

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