Staples' Big Fish Theory shares little in common with last year's Prima Donna and his Summertime '06 debut, at least in a musical sense. A production roster that boasts the likes of SOPHIE, Zack Sekoff, Jimmy Edgar, Flume and more results in a 37-minute runtime that shifts from garage ("Crabs in a Bucket") to metallic cacophony ("Yeah Right") in only a few moments' notice. As contentious as Staples' ear for beats is to some listeners, it's refreshing to find him swimming away from a school of rappers comfortable with sonic stasis.
Staples is by no means the first rapper to pull futuristic sounds from the worlds of dance and electronic, but for the many different tones and timbres involved, the sequencing is incredibly smooth. His writing and delivery have also changed in response. Gone are the wordy block reports of "Norf Norf" and "3230," replaced by shorter, more immediate thoughts that flit between life and death, love and hate and reality and fabrication — all of which Staples ties to his own celebrity.
"How I'm supposed to have a good time when death and destruction's all I see?" he wonders on "Party People." On "Yeah Right," Staples questions whether or not the lavish lifestyles of his contemporaries are all they appear to be, from asking "Is your house big? Is your car nice?" to "How the workload? Is your buzz right?" He mourns a love lost on "Alyssa Interlude," singing, "Sometimes people disappear / Think that was my biggest fear / I should have protected you" before a Temptations sample takes hold.
Music remains the escape here, as Staples suggests listeners "lose yourself in the music" and, later, to "drown in the sound" in closing the disc. There are plenty of fish in the sea, but not many sound or think the same way Staples does.
Pick up a copy of Big Fish Theory on CD or picture disc vinyl via Umusic. (ARTium/Def Jam)