For the better part of 18 years—either as a group or solo members—Outkast have served as the standard bearers for Hip Hop’s post P-Funk era of Psychedelic, Southern Hip Hop. There’s a consistent evolution in their approach whether Organized Noize, Stankonia disciples, The Flush, or Andre 3000 himself handled the production. For all the talk of spaceships and comets, Big Boi’s Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors marks the most drastic sonic departure from that traditional blueprint. How you receive that departure (or evolution) largely depends on your response to music’s, and more specifically Hip Hop’s, current iPod era of genre blending.
The next chronological step after ’70s inspired Funk, is the uptempo, big reverb drums and keyboard synths of the ’80s. If you’ve been following all the cross pollination between the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West and La Roux (“That’s My Bitch”) or Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga (“Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”), then Hip Hop and EDM or Dubstep pairings aren’t exactly rare. After all, Afrika Bambaataa was sampling German electronic music 30 years ago while making “Planet Rock.” But as the monotonous thud of Pop candy like “Starships” and much of the recent work by David Guetta or will.i.am proves, organically crafting such collaborations that sober, die hard Hip Hop fans over the age of 14 want to listen to is a bit more nuanced. And that’s ultimately where Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors shines.
The critical acclaim and Number Three debut of 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son Of Chico Dusty was a reminder that Big Boi is a more than capable soloist. This time around he opts for riskier territory by enlisting the likes of Little Dragon and Phantogram on a sizeable chunk of Vicious Lies… These often play as true collaborations not just e-mailed verses and hooks. “Mama Told Me” is the only radio offering, with Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano being subbed out for the more Top 40 friendly Kelly Rowland. But the Prince-inspired production ensures that it’s not an overt crossover attempt. Despite the tempo of the album, Big Boi tackles heavy subject matter. Many of the rhymes are dedicated to love and loss, with “She Hates Me” hinting at his own domestic discord in a manner we haven’t heard since Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.” Lyrically, Big Boi showcases a repertoire of flows and cadences built over the course of two decades. He paints within the negative spaces the electro-funk production provides, occasionally experimenting with singing—and he isn’t half bad. This isn’t any Cookie Monster crooning of the Ja Rule circa 2002 variety. And just to make sure he doesn’t take listeners too far out of their comfort zone, he returns back to familiar territory courtesy of the occasional Jodeci sample (“The Thickets”) or tried and true Atlanta braggadocio spitting with a few peers, as evidenced by both “In The A” and “Tom Pettie.”
Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors isn’t a perfect album, and the change in musical direction isn’t for everyone. For Outkast stans, a project without both Andre and Big Boi together will always feel a bit incomplete. But what is technically Big Boi’s third solo outing (if we’re counting Speakerboxxx), is a calculated risk that pays off for open-minded fans. General Patton walks a fine line between putting his troop of featured artists in their place, while still showcasing his own five star pedigree.