“It's funny – I was going crazy not too long ago,” Vince Staples intones early on Big Fish Theory. That this is via its lead single, ‘Big Fish’, is surely no accident. It serves as a drawing line of sorts; for any wondering, this is the primary difference to his prior work. This album is certainly more comfortable with itself than the expansive, depressive epic that was Summertime '06. Naturally, not much else has changed.

Vince may be “so far from his past misfortunes,” but the same obsessions still plague him. Namely, women, betrayal, and trust issues. For all the talk of Vince being the poster child for realness in present hip hop – which, in terms of honesty and lack of pretense, he surely is – he revolves around many of the same concepts as the chart-toppers, at times resembling something of a streetwise Drake. Staples doesn't disagree, recently talking about how, reduced to its bases, his music is “all about girls.” Fitting then, that regular cohort Kilo Kish is present here more than ever, and that even Amy Winehouse make an appearance of sorts, serving as the emotional introduction to ‘Alyssa's Interlude’.

The artist's interests may remain the same, but just about everything else has changed. While moments of Summertime ‘06 oozed sadness and desperation, Big Fish Theory is jaded, defensive bitterness mixed with confidence and posturing. Staples himself has referred to the record as “afro-futurism,” but in truth there isn't so much of that to be found here as simply a beats-focused, summer club record.

Which isn't to call this choice in itself simple. To pivot so radically from art rap favourite into radio-friendly ego romps such as ‘Rain Come Down’ was as bold a choice as any. However, Vince's personality can be a bit lost in the shuffle at times, with much of the album playing as if he wrote it while uncomfortable and annoyed stuck in a club party. It makes for a unique, subtly seething party record, but isn't as flawlessly successful of a career reimagining than the most obvious comparison, Kendrick Lamar's shift from the socially conscious To Pimp a Butterfly to this year's rancorous DAMN..

Lamar himself appears here, freed from conceptual restrictions, displaying his absurd versatility on ‘Yeah Right’ over an aggressively futuristic beat that's an album highlight. Staples himself is at his most assured on the album's more low key moments, perfectly gliding over deceptively gentle opener, ‘Crabs in a Bucket’ and letting out sorrows over the aforementioned ‘Alyssa's Interlude’.

All that being said, this feels like a very necessary step in the longevity of Vince Staples. Had he dared to retread Summertme '06, successfully or no, he would have been pigeonholed, moreover, his restless musical pursuit would grow bored. While this album is being heralded as a triumph by many, to this writer it feels more akin to an in-between; furtive steps in a new direction that will almost doubtlessly be mined even more successfully next go round – assuming our hero doesn't veer in yet another direction. What's sure is, we'll never be bored.