Vince Staples Is Rhyming to a New Beat—But Is That a Good Thing?

Vince Staples is the latest disciple of resisting any club that would have him. His sophomore LP, Big Fish Theory, combines one of hip-hop’s wickedest pens with the most dense, dance-happy BPMs this side of a Burial record. It’s a brave gamble for Staples, one previously pulled off by Danny Brown on his own sophomore LP, XXX.

Like Danny Brown, Staples loathes convention. Unlike Danny Brown, who telegraphed his fandom of left-field producers and dance music, Staples has previously worked heavily with hip-hop hitmakers like DJ Dahi, Clams Casino, No I.D., Mac Miller, and Tyler, The Creator. Brown made a fluid transition from hip-hop blog worship to massive festival crowds, yearning for beats that would appease the nonconvential rap fan. However, Staples’ Big Fish Theory—the proper follow-up to his breakthrough 2015 double-disc Summertime ’06—feels less like a natural progression than an abrupt break from 2016’s excellent Prima Donna EP.

Big Fish Theory‘s production team (Sophie, Sekoff, GTA, Justin Vernon, Jimmy Edgar) would make Azealia Banks jealous, but it feels odd for a guy who doesn’t drink, smoke, or party. Alas, his dead-eyed street poetry sounds more at home on previous goth neck breakers like “Señorita,” “Norf Norf,” and “Blue Suede” than amid the frantic EDM energy of “Party People” and “Homage.”

“Ascension,” Staples’ collaboration on the latest Gorillaz album, should’ve tipped fans off as to what to expect with Big Fish Theory. While the record deflty pays service to his trunk-rattling west coast roots on “Big Fish” and “Yeah Right,” the album is more Damon Albarn than DJ Quik. Albarn actually contributes vocals and keys to “Love Can Be…”, and his total disregard for genre must’ve rubbed off on Staples during their Gorillaz sessions. To get a full sense of the album’s sonic scope, cue up our playlist of its key tracks and their eclectic influences. But as Big Fish Theory proves, sometimes, the best bet is the safest bet, especially when one of top writers under 25 has already made his greatest strengths apparent.