Ray J is the Most Avant-Garde Thing About Vince Staples’s Big Fish Theory

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“There is a theory that fish only grow to the size of their tank. So the “Big Fish Theory” pertains to someone who is capable of much bigger things, but is trapped inside the fish tank someone else put them in and therefore will only grow in accordance with their limits” — Genius.

This definition falls in line with the concept of the Big Fish Theory, which also happens to be the title of “Norf” side Long Beach (“Norf side Long Beach!) rapper Vince Staples’ newest album. But does it match his exact concept? Staples isn’t telling, according to an excerpt from Vulture.

So the “Big Fish” in the title of the album. I’ve got a couple ideas what that might mean …
You’re not going to get it right. No one will ever know unless I tell them. Or they’ve known me for like … 23? 23 years.

Your mom knows the title.

Yeah, she knows, my sisters. One day we’ll pull the rabbit out the hat, but I don’t like that stuff. It just doesn’t do any justice to over-explain everything.”

Staples is smart, talented, and one of the rap game’s most criminally underrated talents. His commentary on anything and everything — NBA Slam Dunk contests, the “All Eyez on Me” biopic, Rae Sremmurd, deaths at the hands of police in the United States— is compelling, well-thought out, and, if nothing else, hilarious. In the context of music, his debut album Summertime ’06 and the Prima Donna EP have been met with critical acclaim, tackling topics such as the police, gang violence and their lifestyle in his native state of California.

In Big Fish Theory, the rapper dabbles through the topics of love, celebrity, and the struggles of the African-American experience with heavy bass and the aid of electronic and “avant-garde” production from notable names, including Damon Albarn of Gorillaz, Flume, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, electronic duo GTA, and up-and-comer Zack Sekoff, whose imprints are all over the project more than most.

PLEASE EXPERIENCE BIG FISH THEORY IN THE APPROPRIATE SETTING BECAUSE I DO INDEED SERVE THE BASS.

— @vincestaples

tweet has since been deleted from twitter

Following a slow build-up, the album’s opener, “Crabs In a Bucket,” featuring Kilo Kish, hooks the listener in with its tempo before Staples hits with “Crabs in the bucket / wanna see you at the bottom / don’t you love it?” The crab in the bucket mentality is the idea that fellow competitors — whether they be rappers, athletes, or crabs in a bucket — are trying to reach the top but cannot help but pull each other down until their eventual demise. The album’s next cut, “Big Fish,” features its most catchy hook (and arguably one of the catchiest of the summer) from Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J.

After “Alyssa Interlude,” you’re forced to do a double take on “Love Can Be…” The album’s fourth track isn’t tantalizing solely because of its backing beat, nor because of Staples’ flow and Albarn’s vocals, but because of Ray J.

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Yes, you read that right.

Ray J.

For the love of Ray J, he is the most surprising addition to this album. Especially since Staples once thought a co-sign from the catalyst behind the Kardashian’s 21st century domination was sufficient.

In June of 2015, Vince Staples was interviewed by Hot 97 alongside Tyler, The Creator. It was then that Staples spilled tea about Ray J’s hand in some of the things we love in Black culture, from Kanye West to Love & Hip-Hop.

Fine, Ray J will probably never sniff anyone’s top five. Ray J being the first Piru is…questionable at best, but Staples gets points for connecting the dots between Kanye West, Moesha, and VH1. If nothing else, one may even consider agreeing with him.

Ray J might not ever be lauded or championed when we look back on the advancements hip-hop and black culture have made in the 21st century. Or, thanks to Staples, we’ll come around and recognize his accomplishments, similarly to what we’ve done with Soulja Boy, the first rapper to become famous off the Internet. In any case, Staples eloquently argues for Ray J’s recognition with convincing arguments and his inclusion on Big Fish Theory furthers Staples’ admiration.

In the context of Big Fish Theory, an album that can be classified as “avant-garde,” its most risqué and radical moment is Ray J singing “love can be” over and over, while his “so disheartening” layers over.

The album doesn’t stop providing standout moments after that. The industrial sounds of “Yeah Right” could’ve easily been the perfect backdrop for a Staples’ solo banger. But, a certain Compton rapper’s verse elevates the track.

“Homage,” “BagBak,” and the album’s closer, “Rain Come Down” featuring Ty Dolla $ign are the final trio of must-listens off the album.

The electronic sound of Big Fish Theory may take you by surprise upon first listen, but Staples won’t be the first — or last — to delve into that sound. You’ll enjoy Big Fish Theory for its streetwise candor and solid production. Still, nobody was ready for Ray J to be included on a Vince Staples track.

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