Tyler The Creator and Vince Staples are both rappers hailing from the Los Angeles area, but at least on the surface, there's little to unite them sonically or thematically. While Staples made two of the most inventive hip-hop albums of the decade, 2015's Summertime '06 and last year's Big Fish Theory. Tyler is probably best known for his shenanigans, such as eating a cockroach in the music video for "Yonkers," in which he also threatens to stab Bruno Mars in his esophagus, and the gay-baiting that mars his most recent album, Flower Boy.
Tyler got his start in the hip hop collective Odd Future in the late aughts and released his debut solo album, the bleak, intrusively personal Goblin, in 2011. The album's realism allowed listeners to imagine they were in Tyler's head, a world where virulent depictions of sexual violence and lavishly crude racist, misogynistic, and homophobic language could be dismissed as unwelcome thoughts in a stark stream of consciousness. Perhaps because they lacked a knock-out single like "Yonkers" or because they failed to expand his musical vision, his next two albums, Wolf and Cherry Bomb, didn't generate much interest. With the release of 2017's Flower Boy, in which Tyler appears to come out as a gay or bisexual man, he found himself again the focus of critical attention. Because of his past homophobic language and trollish tendencies, many listeners were skeptical of his admission, pointing to Frank Ocean's roaring success on his debut album Channel Orange as the influence for Tyler's coming-out album. Few could argue, though, that Tyler had ever sounded better, especially on "I Ain't Got Time," which evokes Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On."
Staples earned modest commercial success with Summertime '06, but it signaled his depth as an artist, and Big Fish Theory makes an even more convincing case. Produced with a diverse blend of electronic influences, Fish is the most successful marriage of hip hop and electronica since Kanye West's staggering Yeezus. But while Yeezus aimed to wrench jaws and shatter musical conventions, Fish aims for the dance floors first, without sacrificing inventiveness or sharpness. Fish also benefits from the use of female vocalists like Kilo Kish, to whom Staples often plays second fiddle, and a breadth of producers approaching that of a Lemonade. Highlights "Crabs In A Bucket," "Party People," and "SAMO" see Justin Vernon, Kendrick Lamar and SOPHIE (among others) collaborating with Vince. In 2018, the rapper contributed to the Lamar-produced Black Panther soundtrack with "Opps" with Yugen Blakrok, the catchiest track on an album that's bound to make as many waves as the film it accompanies. —Caleb Oakley