Vince Staples’ album Big Fish Theory is 2017’s definitive rap release. It’s a record that propels the North Long Beach boy into bold new sonic territory, thanks in no small part to collaborations with the likes of Flume, SOPHIE and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. It becomes immediately apparent after a single listen why Staples has dubbed the project ‘future rap,’ a claim brought to vivid reality thanks to this concise collection of club-rap bangers inspired by house and Detroit techno.
As ever, Staples’ observational lyrical offerings are in their own unique lane, remaining on point for the duration of the ride as he reflects on his past and ruminates on the current climate of both politics and celebrity culture. Basically it’s an album that goes hard, elevating Staples into the position of one of our most integral voices in rap in the process.
While the rave reviews were stacking up on album release day, we called Staples to check in as he was in LA having a “hiccup at the valet.”
So Vince, the album’s out, how are you feeling?
I’m good man, I can’t complain, I’m chill. Have you heard my album? I guess that’s why we’re speaking.
Yeah man of course. I was looking at the reviews today and they’re off the chain! Do you care about your reviews?
Yeah, you make music to be heard. Whenever people like it or understand it, it only increases it and makes you know that you’re doing something right.
Affirmation is a dope thing. I was thinking about your ‘Prima Donna’ EP and how you’ve said that project was about playing a part. How much of this new album is you playing a part and how much is pure Vince Staples?
I would say this record is pretty personal, it’s more current than reaching into the past, dealing with thoughts. I didn’t want to do anything too conceptual on this project, I wanted to shuffle through my thoughts and apply that to how I wanted to make and write the songs. It’s kind of just life. It’s based on free thinking instead of a specific path that you want to follow on each song and that’s why the verse might be a little short or scattered and structured a bit wonky. It’s more so thinking freely as I recorded it and created the songs.
Is that how you write your lyrics, as in do you keep notes or it’s all stream of consciousness?
It all depends on how you feel in the current space. If you feel like, ‘I have a story I want to tell and get across’ and you think ‘I want to sit down and really think about it’ then you can do it like that.
What’s the best theory you’ve heard about the meaning behind the ‘Big Fish Theory’ album title?
I don’t delve too much into them, it’s not something anybody’s going to get. It’s something from my personal life, like a family type thing. I don’t think it necessarily matters. My answer for what it means is just as important as the listeners, we’re all a part of this process.
How did the SOPHIE link up happen on your record?
We were on tour together with Flume. We were kind of working, passing suggestions and that’s how the track came about. He’s an extremely talented guy, loves creating music, loves to help people achieve their vision.
Do you think fame is a sickness?
Fame is a choice. You can be someone who has notoriety and not fall into the several flaws of being famous. Humanity is taken out of the equation sometimes when you’re dealing with people who are specifically famous. I think you can position yourself to where it won’t be a problem.
Do you think you’ve positioned yourself to a place where fame is not a problem?
I’m not famous. I’m not Drake or JAY-Z or Kanye West, I’m not famous.
Do you think in the future that there will be published books of famous people’s tweets, like the book of Trump tweets or the book of Kanye tweets?
I doubt there will be books like that in the future.
Really, it’s such a Warhol idea though. I would buy a book like that.
I don’t know, when was the last book you heard about that’s a smash hit, not really a thing right now. Maybe happens for an archive or something like that, but paperback books and stuff like that, I think it’s kind of over with for that. And it’s shit we say for free, you know what I’m saying?
Do you have a favorite lyric on the record?
I don’t think about music in that capacity, I wouldn’t necessarily have a favourite lyric. They all have space and a place within their presence on the album but I haven’t really thought about it in that nature.
People put a lot of weight on your lyrics, I thought maybe you’d have lines or verses you might be particularly proud of.
Well, I’m proud of everything. But one thing I can promise you is that I’m nothing like people think I am. I don’t have a problem with that at all.
A lot of people seem to make a real point of saying you’re witty or smart, do you think it’s almost kind of unnecessary or even offensive, like why wouldn’t you be?
Exactly. Because I’m black and I’m from an urban environment. So because of my background, coming from an urban environment, they don’t respect me.
Has making some money freed your creativity?
It gives you access to other things.
Do you think it makes your work better or just easier to create?
It can make it both. It depends on your preference. There are some things that can’t be bought. It can lift certain weights and stresses and allow you to be free. It definitely plays a part, at least for me personally, but I’ve got to a point now where I know that relevance of it, access to money has freed me from money if that makes sense.
In the past you’ve said that music was never really something you wanted to do, it seems like there’s so much intent with your work that you’ve completely flipped your attitude on that.
Yeah I mean I’m doing it now. It wasn’t a negative then, it was just that I never thought about doing music, when I was a kid it never crossed my mind to be a musician.
What would 23-year-old Vince Staples say to teenage Vince Staples back in North Long Beach?
Stay out of trouble. I feel like everything happens for a reason so I wouldn’t necessarily change anything. Stay out of trouble, stay in school.
What does your mom think of the record?
I don’t know if she’s heard it. I don’t talk about music with her, we talk about each other’s lives.
What’s your take on the Tupac movie ‘All Eyez on Me?’
It could have been better. You can’t win ‘em all.
For more of our interview features, take a look at our chat with rapper J Hus right here.
- Text:Russell Dean Stone
- Photography:James Mataitis