Think what you might of Vince Staples’ previous releases, but 2017’s Big Fish Theory is a whole new beast of a beat. Combining electronic house music with hard, metallic hip-hop tempos, Staples really defines a sound that he has been toying with since Summertime ’06 two years back. Described as “Afro Futurism,” by Staples himself, in a since-deleted Tweet that read: “This is Afro Futurism y’all can keep the other shit. We’re trying to get in the MoMA not your Camry,” it detailed a kind of art-rap/high-brow aesthetic that Vince has been trying to acquire on and off the mic.

For someone I used to describe as “rap’s angsty, younger brother,” Vince really sharpens the edge here on Big Fish Theory, which is full of vocal distortion, lyrical repetition, and industrial sounding percussion. At times, it can provoke something of a sensory overload, but it’s all in sacrifice for the definitive Staples sound. As much as material the young rapper had recorded in the past came close to the sound of Big Fish Theory, it’s on tracks like “Crabs in a Bucket,” “Big Fish,” “Yeah Right,” and “BagBak” that it hits the real sweet spot.

Big Fish Theory isn’t just an accomplishment in production, however, but also in purpose. While Staples might not disclose the true meaning of the album’s title, we can infer the message from some tracks on the record and gather a possible definition. Much like crabs crawling over top of each other to get to the top, Vince feels on “Crabs in a Bucket” that people are constantly stepping on each other to get to the top. “Alyssa Interlude” discusses how fame affects people with the help of Amy Winehouse samples, and tracks like “Yeah Right” and “BagBak” muse on issues within the black community.

It’s all taken with a grain of salt however, as Staples is also known as quite the jester. On The Daily Show with Trevor NoahVince admitted, after elaborating on why he gifted Betta fish to people that came to his listening party, that the term “Afro Futurism” was just “saying stuff about black people to white people.” Trevor follows up after a hearty laugh and asks “so it doesn’t mean anything?,” to which Vince responds: “of course not.”

“You have the most random stream of consciousness,” joked Trevor Noah later during the interview, and it’s true. Not every moment on Big Fish Theory is as impressive or captivating lyrically/musically as others on the record. At just thirty-seven minutes, however, the record is very digestible in its time frame, even at its most uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I do applaud Vince on his sound time and time again throughout the project, as he’s able to really blend the more anxious moments with the softer topics on love and depression. As much as Vince wants to put rap in the MoMA, it can’t be denied that tracks like “Big Fish” or “BagBak” are for the Camry. While I might not be in love with every moment on this hectically dense rave-rap record, I do enjoy hearing Vince Staples finally come into his own.

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