For the first time in his career, Big Boi is starting to miss the hermitic Andre 3000. It didn't happen on Sir Lucious Left Foot and it damn sure didn't happen on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
The driving force behind Speakerboxxx and, to a large extent, Sir Lucious Left Foot was Big Boi's desire to explore his own sound. There's still some of his signature bombast on Vicious Lies, but Big Boi is equally interested in flashing the OutKast insignia. It's hard to know if Sir Lucious Left Foot is trying to fill 3000's Weird Guy vibe or if he's simply trying on new (old?) shoes for the hell of it.
By design or coincidence, Vicious Lies is built around the things OutKast does naturally -- flirting with disparate aesthetics and vocal tics and electrofunk forays and allathat, Andre's left-field personality serving as the perfect counter to Big Boi's unflappable street cool, and without that element, General Patton's attempt at oddball rap makes him seem like a man feeling around his tool box in the dark. Sometimes he finds that magical device, sometimes he doesn't.
Mainly, there's the awkward collision of styles to contend with. Some of the guests brought in to fill space simply don't fit the bill, the two biggest offenders being a boilerplate B.o.B. turn on "Shoes for Running" and a treacly Bosko hook on "Tremendous Damage." Just imagine 3000 in place of B.o.B. on the former and you'll start to get the picture. Even A$AP Rocky, whose Southern rap aesthetic makes him a natural fit on paper, sounds out of place on "Lines."
But, as you might expect, there are plenty of special moments here. "She Hates Me" shouldn't sound as powerful as it does. The rumbling bass throb of "Thom Petite" will give you hackles. The gritty steel drum shiver of "In the A" exists for three reasons:
a) as a solid exercise in regional pride
b) as proof that T.I. and Ludacris always step up in the company of greatness
c) as a reminder that Big Boi hasn't lost touch with the quintessential Big Boi Sound
The deus ex machina of Vicious Lies, however, is Big Boi himself. Whenever a track threatens a nosedive, he swoops in to save it before the curtain closes (See: "Lines" and "Shoes for Running"). His rhymes are still as nimble as ever. His shrapnel-edge delivery still cuts like a bolo. You can almost hear the drums gasping for air, trying to keep up with his staccato flow on "The Thickets." "Divine flows, the radio got y’all like zombies/Come alive hoes, like a litter full of puppies/Or a baby with a onesie on, your old lady clumsy, homes/That means she's falling for Daddy Fat Sax," he brags. And that's after telling us that he's "been a handsome-ass ni--a since my mama wiped my bottom." On "She Hates Me," he mourns a love lost to vice and long hours: "The shoe still fits, but I’m wearing out the sole / Sometimes I really feel as if I’m burning out my soul." No matter the subject, Big Boi is genetically incapable of anything less than a stellar couplet.
Ultimately, Vicious Lies is a mixed bag. One moment it might delight and thump and remind you that Big Boi is a model of consistency, then it might disappoint. Far from a masterpiece, far from awful, it's still one of the most entertaining rap albums you'll hear all year.Top Tracks
- "In the A"
- "Thom Pettie"
- "She Hates Me"