Review: Vince Staples Embraces the Electronic Avant-Garde on 'Big Fish Theory'

Our take on the second full-length LP from the Long Beach rapper

Vince Staples' second album is 'Big Fish Theory.' Credit: David Azia/The NY Times/Redux

Vince Staples made his name as a first-person documentarian, penning vivid narratives about the Long Beach gang life that loomed over his childhood summers. For second album Big Fish Theory, he moves from the past to the present, writing an open-hearted avant-garde dance record that takes stock of his current loves, victories, politics and – most noticeably – interest in the cutting edge of electronic music. Think Kanye's EDM-fueled Graduation for a future-minded, Spotify-fried, genre-free generation.

His most notable new groove is that of 2-step, the stuttering, shuffling beats brought to pop prominence in the early 2000s by British artists like Craig David, but eventually mutated by contemporary electronic vanguardists like Disclosure, Burial and SBTRKT. On songs like "Crabs in a Bucket," "Homage" and "Rain Come Down," Los Angeles beatmaker Zach Sekoff gives Staples a jittery, London-inspired base where he flows in that funky, late-Nineties way when rappers were compared to James Brown. On these songs Staples is just as quick to spit Afro-centric politics ("I'm the blood on the leaves, I'm the nose in the Sphinx") as he is uncut rap bluster ("Where the fuck is my Grammy/Supermodels wearin' no panties") and pure pop sentiment ("Just lose yourself in the music"). Sure, it's less focused than the reportage of 2015's Summertime '06, but the varying emotions and outlooks mark a full step forward into becoming a multi-layered, genre-crossing, emotion-spilling pop auteur in the vein of West, Drake or Childish Gambino.

And the beats are some of the most forward-thinking in EDM, hip-hop or otherwise. The two tracks by Sophie, the London producer loosely associated with the cartoonish pixel-splurts of the PC Music label, toot and parp and clamor like CGI updates of Raymond Scott's cartoon jazz, a cacophony of clanking pots-and-pan electronics that could only be "pop" in an alternate dimension – or, if America catches up to Vince Staples.