Vince Staples came to my attention in 2015 with “Senorita“. The beautiful, bloodlessly violent black and white video tugged me in, while the furious chorus and relentless gunburst kept the song on heavy rotation in my playlist.
I listened to “Senorita” without the context of an album, but I awaited Big Fish Theory eagerly, and perked up when I saw Staples featured on the opening track of Gorillaz’s Humanz. After “BagBak” was released as a single, I couldn’t wait to listen to the entirety of Big Fish Theory. I expected noise and fury over low-key beats. I expected the same smooth spit of what I’d already heard.
You know that embarrassment when you realize how wrong you are about something? I do.
See, my initial listen-through of Big Fish Theory left me vaguely unsatisfied: it felt soft and uninteresting. It didn’t feel like something I’d be listening to again. But I tried again, because I kinda have a tendency to dislike albums on my first listen. This time, Big Fish Theory clicked with me – which is when I understood: it’s not for me.
This album is, I assume, definitive of a black man’s experience in America in 2017. I’m a 30-something white mom. I don’t get it, and I won’t, and that’s absolutely okay. Vince Staples and his collaborators have created a piece of art whose meanings and lyrics will speak more deeply to a certain audience. Big Fish Theory is not for everyone. Art doesn’t always have to be accessible for everyone.
Not every song is meant to be comfortable for every listener, which is certainly the case with Big Fish Theory.
This is an experience wrought carefully by someone marginalized in his own country, even as people who would sneer at the colour of his skin or the prejudice he experiences consume and claim his art.
Big Fish Theory is a monumentally important album. You might love it. You might not. I still waver on my feelings, and I don’t feel rushed to label them. I listen to Big Fish Theory on my commute sometimes; I can drum my fingers on my steering wheel along with “Homage” and rap the killer chorus of “BagBak,” but it’s the lyrics of the latter that define this album for me: “better bagbak, better bagbak, you don’t know me.” I don’t know Vince Staples. I don’t know his life. I know what he lets me have through his music, but that doesn’t give me the space to claim I know who he is. And that’s okay.