In their Fall Music Preview, Rolling Stone proclaimed that Big Boi’s second solo album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, “will surprise anyone who assumed he just brought the street thump to Outkast.” Nonsense. Anyone who’s just now coming to this realization (RS included) hasn’t paid attention for the past 15 or so years. Yes, Antwan Patton was always the harder edged of hip-hop’s most beloved and now most missed duo. But beginning with 1996’s ATLiens, his stranger inclinations were there for anyone who wanted to look for them. You just had to dig beneath the sex fiend persona and core-dwelling P-Funk. And aren’t both of those musical elements weird enough in themselves?
With Lies, Patton doesn’t merely get weirder; he pushes the weirdness in a different direction, turning down the club bombast and horns of Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty in favor of electronica dreamscapes courtesy of indie acts such as Little Dragon and Phantogram (both of whom appear on two tracks apiece on the record’s non-deluxe edition). He puts it best on the spoken word intro, “Ascending”. “If ya’ll don’t know me by now, ya’ll ain’t gonna’ never know me.” Like any human being, there are many sides to Big Boi: hustler, poet, husband, father, heathen, philosopher. The interstellar, more introspective leanings aren’t exclusively cornered by his former partner Andre 3000, an artist whose weirdest endeavor at the moment is a Gillette commercial.
The chest-beating cuts are still here of course. Backed by congealed drum machines and stacks of woozy Sleepy Brown vocals, “The Thickets” is a standard opener of distilled braggadocio, and “Objectum Sexuality” rattles off some of the MC’s freakiest, if most feather-ruffling, one-liners yet: “Balls in her hand, but that bitch don’t ever say cough / Unless we’re playing doctor, with no stethoscope / Just heels and those knockers”; “I rub my stick on your chick like a violin”; and the list goes on. “In The A” stomps across the Georgia foothills with guttural boasting from A-Town cohorts T.I. and Ludacris, but if these party soundtracks make the first third of the album great fun, they pale in comparison to the more conscience-driven, and thus more complex songs that follow.
As if to atone for the front-loaded hedonism, Big Boi succeeds “In The A” with the sheepish remorse of “She Hates Me”, which sees him lamenting the loss of a lover due to too much weed, touring, and general workaholism: “The shoe still fits, but I’m wearing out the sole / Sometimes I really feel as if I’m burning out my soul.” It may be a bit of a stretch to say so, but the synth line recalls the falling action of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra from the monolith scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps signaling a self-awareness of personal and emotional growth within the narrative. “CPU” plays like an unofficial sequel to “Synthesizer”, an observation that the technological lust predicted in the Outkast classic has come true. Phantogram’s psych pop twinkling enhances the feeling of futuristic sterilization as Big Boi raps about online dating and pornography: “As I scroll through the centerfol, wishing that this thing was three-dimensional / I know it doesn’t seem too conventional, but it’ll do until I get you in the physical”. “Lines” juggles indulgence and spirituality over Phantogram’s foreboding piano plunks, and “Shoes For Running” forces snot-nosed Wavves frontman Nathan Williams to get serious with a genre-defying hook that muses on mortality.
But the album’s most atypical and strongest track is closer “Descending”. An expansion of the intro, and a fleshed out counterpart to meditative yet brief Outkast preludes such as “You May Die” and “Hold On, Be Strong”, it’s devoid of a single rap verse. Instead, Patton turns to the cigar-choked melancholia of his “funk throat”, taught to him by his mentor and frequent collaborator George Clinton. He thanks his grandmother and sinks at the loss of his father with mournful rasp, deepened even further by gentle chin-to-sternum plucking and the cumulus vocals of Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano. It’s more contemplative than anything Big Boi’s ever done, all while still touting a powerhouse hook and spacy groove. The deluxe edition tacks on three head-nodding but empty bonus tracks that undercut the emotional power of the album’s bookends, perpetuating an icky music-industry trend of sullying a record’s intent with expanse. Listeners should do themselves a favor and coil their headphones after the closing line of “Descending”. “If ya’ll don’t know me by now, ya’ll ain’t gonna’ never know me,” Big Boi reiterates. Even for those of us who do, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors still contains plenty of surprises.
Essential Tracks: “In The A”, “Objectum Sexuality”, and “Descending”
Feature artwork by Austin James: