June 15, 2017

Mike Dupar has never listened to that Lonely Island song about the boat.

Throughout hip-hop history the sea has always served as something to aspire to. Whether you are unknowingly moored to a 360-deal and dressed like Scuba Steve, or seaman Shawn Carter globetrotting on behalf of the church of pimpin’, validation via nautical proximity is a must.

Unfortunately, years of wading in the bling tide pool has only lent itself to parody and an insatiable taste for Dramamine. Lucky for us, Vince Staples is more Team Zissou than “Boats and Hoes” on the lead video from his forthcoming album, Big Fish Theory.

In the “Big Fish” video, the aquatic aesthetic is purer than the finest bottled holy water. The bass line plods like an ever-sinking stone, evoking the notion of DJ Mustard orchestrating from within the whale’s belly. Sonic buoyancy dips up and down like a buoy struggling against a choppy tide, and off in the horizon you swear you can see Juicy J, dressed as King Neptune, sitting on a isle of money.

Elsewhere, surrounded by sharks on a slowly sinking schooner, with only memories of his past misfortunes to keep him company, we find Staples existentially comfortable. Whether it’s waiting to be eaten alive or sitting patiently in the Benz with the 22 5 shot, it makes no difference to Staples, as they may just be one in the same. Either way, he’s got enough time to make a joke about fucking your mom.

It’s no coincidence that Staples has positioned himself in stark contrast to our prevailing stereotypes of rappers on boats. Despite his success and a Juicy J siren song that has compelled many great men before him to squander it all for the chance at a Magic City koozie, Staples won’t celebrate or look back on life for the sake of contriving meaning. He should be dead broke or dead, but rather than postulate his role in god’s plan, he’d much rather remain observant and neutral. For Staples, the truth is not to be marooned.

In interviews he likes to dance with those looking to coerce him into passing judgment and often revels in playing devil’s advocate for the sake of sport or philosophical discourse. Yet somehow, Staples always seems to remain impartial. In Staples’ experience, homicide, charity work, lady problems, suicidal thoughts, late nights ballin’, and gangbanging are not mutually exclusive or the calling cards of some deeper meaning, they are merely the facts of life.

As Long Beach’s resident empiricist, Staples has deservedly amassed a lot of praise, but on “Big Fish” he seems smartly anchored to the desire of separating himself from the unrelenting pressure to indulge in the reverie of his own importance. In a recent interview with Complex, Staples suggested that his forthcoming album’s title was an allusion to the sticky relationship hip-hop artists have with their sense of self-importance. He stopped just short of condemning self-infatuation and guppies with delusions of grandeur, but he did say this: “I think everybody’s coping with the same shit. It’s just life. You live a long life, and then you die.”

Suffice it to say, the boat and sharks are irrelevant.

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