Uneasy times call for uneasy music. Enter Vince Staples, whose thrilling second album, Big Fish Theory, is as disorienting as 2017’s headlines. Recent genre-blurring collaborations with James Blake and Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn suggested the 23-year-old Long Beach, Calif. rapper was nearing an artistic breakthrough. Even so, the full-length follow-up to his 2015 debut, Summertime ’06, surpasses expectations, with incisive lyrics and beats that spurn current trends for a set that sounds unlike anything else in hip-hop right now.
For Fish, Staples enlisted arty producers like SOPHIE, Flume, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and upstart Zack Sekoff — the secret sauce on five tracks — to concoct a heady backdrop that’s by turns concussive and contemplative. His vocal guests also shine: Kilo Kish adds Rihanna-like flourish to several tracks, while Kendrick Lamar delivers a dizzying guest verse to the lurching industrial skronk of “Yeah Right.”
The stellar roster doesn’t overshadow Staples — it only bolsters him. He continues to look inward in unique (and often funny) ways, like on “Homage,” when he raps, “Hitchcock of my modern day/Where the f— is my VMA?” He’s best, though, when he taps into the nation’s anxious mood: On the propulsive “BagBak,” he seethes, “Prison system broken, racial war commotion/Until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be voting.”
Staples and Lamar traverse a wild beat concocted by SOPHIE and Flume with relative ease.
Fish‘s barreling lead single is also the most succinct summation of its lyrical thesis.