As half of OutKast his awesomeness is unquestionable, but uneven pace and way too many guests make for a bumpy ride
There’s something humble about the spoken-word intro at the start of Big Boi’s second album, where he describes himself as “one half of the minor OutKast” – an opening that doesn’t do justice to his status as hip-hop royalty. As half of one of the world’s most successful duos, he worked with Andre 3000 to create some of the weirdest rap ever, across six albums, between 1994 and 2006. OutKast’s hiatus is ongoing, but Big Boi has used the time to establish himself as a fiiiine solo artist, with the funky magnificence of his 2010 debut ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty’. So why the need to remind the world who he is?
Well, a few tracks on ‘Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors’ suggest the 37-year-old Atlantan has had a hard time of it recently. ‘She Hates Me’ has as straightforward a theme as the title suggests, and features a bit of Auto-Tuned sorrow from the lord of Auto-Tuned sorrow, Kid Cudi. The track’s tone is miserable and repentant, the sound of a man cut down by love. Things get worse for Big Boi on two tracks that seem to cover the death of his father. “Feb 28th, the day my daddy died”, he reveals on ‘Tremendous Damage’ before a heartbreaking five minutes unfold as a chorus sung by Ghanaian singer Bosko pleads, “Just make it fade away”. Then there’s the soft, gentle, Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar of ‘Descending’, where Big Boi wails, “Great Grandmomma gone/My daddy gone/From the bottom of my chest to my stomach goddamit/My daddy is gone”. He sounds like he’s crying. It’s touching stuff.
As a trio of songs they work, but scattered among the 14 other tracks on the album they feel out of place. But somehow everything on ‘Vicious Lies…’ feels out of place, with songs constantly plonked next to songs they shouldn’t be plonked next to. Take the record’s big-ballin’ moments. ‘In The A’ – opened by Big Boi repeating the “I keep it playa while others choose to play it safe” line from his 2010 single ‘Shutterbug’ – is a raucous, bouncing stomp on which Big Boi, TI and Ludacris take it in turns to explain why they are more amazing than you. ‘Gossip’, featuring UGK and Big KRIT, is equally riotous – the sound of three rappers gleefully dicking about in a studio. Both are as thrilling as the album gets, but the momentum they gain is lost when it heads off on a wildly different journey. And usually this journey is initiated by one of the far too many guests on the album.
It’s briefly exciting that A$AP Rocky appears for 10 seconds on the jittery ‘Lines’, but the song’s energy is sucked out by New York electropop duo Phantogram. Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel do the same to ‘CPU’, a song about love and computers, and the initially ace ‘Objectum Sexuality’, which comes on like LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Someone Great’. Nathan Williams aka Wavves turns ‘Shoes For Running’ into a sort of surf-rock thing that manages to make Big Boi sound like the guest. And your enjoyment of Kelly Rowland on the album’s lead single ‘Mama Told Me’ will depend a lot on your ability to endure Kelly Rowland. Big Boi’s most successful team-up is with Swedish indie-poppers Little Dragon on the deep funk of ‘Thom Pettie’ that features the amazing words “Thom Pettie go pomp pomp pomp”, and a spot from long-time OutKast collaborator Killer Mike, who brings the tune home in a suitably unsubtle fashion.
Which leaves the adventurous bleeps of ‘Raspberries’ and ‘Higher Res’ – the latter a collaboration with XL-signed recluse Jai Paul that’s two minutes of sucked-out underwater bubble beats and chopped-up, disjointed vocals, which Big Boi gets fully involved in. Props to the man for his ability to slot his wordplay into the madness going on around him – make no mistake, Big Boi is the best thing about the album – and double props for staying true to his entire career’s quest of never making the same album twice. But ‘Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors’ as a whole? It’s all over the place.