On Drowning in Our Own Sh*t

So far, 2017 has been pretty uneventful as far as music goes. Besides Kendrick’s newest record and another subpar Drake album/playlist, there really hasn’t been much to talk about. Fortunately, things seem to be trending upwards, as two projects that I’ve been looking forward to for a while will be dropping this month. One of those–don’t judge me–is Lorde’s Melodrama (which you should be excited about if you aren’t because Pure Heroine is one of the most impressive pop records of the last ten years, plus it was made by a 16-year old. It was raw and new and honest and felt like what my black boy self wishes he could’ve expressed if only he knew how to). The other is Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, out June 23rd.

Now, I’m a huge Vince Staples fan. The dude has already established himself as belonging in the upper echelon of the new generation of rappers out today. He’s already released two critically acclaimed projects and is one of the brashest, wittiest voices in music today. A few months ago, I saw him live and became an even bigger fan.

Two weeks ago, Staples dropped the second single from his album, “Big Fish,” and I’ve been living with the record ever since. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot to the record. It comes off as a fun song with a killer bassline and Juicy J on the hook for good measure. There’s obviously more to it than this–there’s always more to it with an artist like Staples–though I’d rather wait until I can hear the record in the context of the full album before I come to any conclusions about it.

I do, though, want to talk briefly about the song’s video. In it, Staples raps while sitting on a sinking boat in the middle of some large body of water full of sharks. As the song progresses, the boat becomes more and more submerged, though by looking at Staples, you wouldn’t think anything is awry. He continues to rap calmly, almost as if he’s bored, until the boat completely sinks and he’s left to drown in the water, where his body floats as a pretty big fish swims by. Clearly, this ties in with the whole Big Fish Theory thing, and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably a metaphor for fame or celebrity or success, how it requires you leave your small pond and enter dangerous waters where drowning is inevitable without proper foresight.

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The facial expression of Staples on that boat–straight-faced, unbothered, jaded, maybe annoyed–is that of a man who knew exactly what he was getting himself into and is completely unsurprised by the outcome. Either the alternatives to getting on the sinking ship were worse, or maybe there were no alternatives. Perhaps the sinking ship was all he ever knew, and he’s lived his entire life knowing that, at some point, that boat that had kept him afloat all these years would also one day drown him.

This could be a metaphor for young black kids like Staples who grew up in under-resourced, violent communities like Ramona Park, where, if you can’t rap or shoot a jumper, your outcome is predestined. Or it could be a metaphor for the entire country, the place where even the one who can shoot a jumper and be worth half a billion dollars because of that jump shot still has to come home to racial slurs spray painted on his home. Or, of course, it could be about our idiot president whose intent on taking us all down with him.

I don’t know. I’m probably wrong, but I can’t help but feel that, though Staples was on that boat by himself, that we were all on there with him, maybe not watching the end of the world, but at least our idea of it.

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