PITCHFORK - BEST NEW TRACK: VINCE STAPLES "BIG FISH"
Vince Staples doesn’t just find angles, he operates at intersections. His new album, Big Fish Theory, is about rap’s complicated place in broader cultural and social conversations. “It encompasses things: Being larger than life in a smaller world,” he told Complex. “How rappers are perceived and perceive themselves.” Rappers stand at the center of modern culture, but they still operate in what Staples refers to as “a smaller, facilitative space.” This creates a unique lens through which to view a society that has both been shaped by hip-hop culture and is at odds with its creators.
The newest offering from his album, “Big Fish,” is a meditation on rap’s transformative properties. Unlike “BagBak,” which considered rap’s impact on the wider world through racial profiling, gentrification, and class warfare, “Big Fish” engages with rap as a mechanism to escape poverty, evaluating the wealth gap between an emerging rapper’s past and present. The idea is best illustrated from inside his Benz, where he has flashbacks of paranoid bus rides, armed and wary of possible headhunters. But, as the song unfurls, Staples reveals he’s merely traded in one form of paranoia for another: trying to keep what he has. “Swimming upstream while I'm tryna keep my bread/From the sharks, make me wanna put the hammer to my head,” he raps slickly. There’s a sense that, regardless of the circumstances, he can never truly be at ease.
The production on “Big Fish” casts aside the clanging, dreary tones of Summertime ’06 for something more buoyant, and Vince moves as nimbly as ever in new waters. There’s an unsteadiness to his raps, which drag syllables and clump words yet constantly shuffle and zigzag. He frequently overlays his new life atop his old one, eventually concluding that chasing fortune was the right call. His message is amplified by the recurring voice of Juicy J, one of rap’s most prolific showboats. “I was up late night ballin’/Countin’ up money by the thousands,” Juicy proclaims. But even as his wealth and standing in rap continue to grow, Vince Staples is mindful of his position in the larger American ecosystem: Even the biggest fish are at the mercy of an apex predator.