Fifteen years ago, something curious, amazing and somewhat bewildering happened in Hip Hop. An Atlanta, GA-based duo of emcees that had been known for their meticulously crafted stories of down south everymanness, black consciousness and struggles of young adulthood took a razor-sharp left turn in their music and overall creativity. Outkast had already become the poster boys for a revival in Southern Hip Hop with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATLiens. But Aquemini, their third studio album and the first to receive the coveted 5 Mics from The Source magazine, was an entirely different deck of cards from jump street. With the album Andre 3000 and Big Boi both relied heavily on the foundation of experimentation they had unleashed on ATLiens, and rejected it all together, for an album that basically broke every single rule Hip Hop had established in the years prior. Incorporating musical influences ranging from Parliament Funkadelic, Sly Stone and Prince to the Native Tongues and Wu Tang, ‘Kast created a body of work that was unmistakably and unapologetically Southern in its roots, unabashedly wild, free-wheeling and free-spirited in its musicality, and undeniably unflinching in its honesty and candor. From the 7-minute epic cautionary tale “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” to the apocalyptic “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 2)”, each song told its own distinctive story to the listener, the likes and levels of which many of us hadn’t heard since the original storyteller, Slick Rick (who appeared on “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)”. But even with all of the creative juices flowing, the colossal success of the first single “Rosa Parks”, all of the songs that went directly against the grain of mainstream Hip Hop at the time, and all of the impeccable lyricism from both 3000 and Big Boi, the one song that sewed up the entire package perfectly was the album closer, “Chonkyfire”. The track was a stroke of calculated risk and pure genius, from the grinding Eddie Hazel inspired electric guitar to the scintillating piano chords to the brash, quick-witted delivery from both emcees throughout both verses. What’s even more important than all of that is this: “Chonkyfire” is the exact point where Aquemini leaves off and where Outkast’s next album released two years later, Stankonia, picks up. The proof? Just listen to the opening song on the latter, “Gasoline Dreams”. It’s basically a darker, bleaker, angrier, more threatening metal rock /rap version of “Chonkyfire”. Always funny how music goes in cycles.
Hip Hop is an art form that has to grow, evolve and change over time. Which is an ironic concept, since lots of times; Hip Hop and its artists haven’t always been so willing to change musically and sonically. But one group throughout Hip Hop’s history that has been the complete opposite of that sentiment is undoubtedly Outkast.
The shift in musical styles between their 1994 debut Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik and what many consider their last proper release with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is more of a quantum leap. And in recent years, as Andre 3000 has withdrawn a bit from the public eye and the music industry, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton has had to shoulder the creative and sonic burden, but has done so willingly, releasing the critically acclaimed Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty in 2010. And now Daddy Fatt Saxx follows his solo debut up with a sonically sophisticated, color-splashed mural for the ears with Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.
Once again, listeners will be able to tell that Big Boi feels it his responsibility to take up the mantle and continue Outkast’s legacy of music experimentation and genre manipulation. On Vicious Lies… there definitely exist the standard, southern-styled ATL anthems, like the triumphant “The Thickets” with a resurgent Sleepy Brown, the booming, wall-rattling, chest-thumping bass and stomp of “In The A” with T.I. and Ludacris, and the syrupy-sweet bass and Red Light District feel of the panty-dropper “She Said OK” featuring Theophilus London.
But the real story of Mr. Patton’s sophomore solo offering is the sharp and stark musical U-Turn that it takes, with the majority of the project featuring notable and quality contributions from collaborators Little Dragon and Phantogram. Big Boi seems to take a calculated risk by incorporating elements of new millennium indie rock and 80’s-inspired electro-pop. Most notable are the songs “Objectum Sexuality” and “Shoes for Running”, where he and fellow ATL rapper B.o.B. trade verses over the state of society while Phantogram happily sings a dire and alarmingly bleak chorus. “Higher Res” is also a curious but intriguing contribution featuring Jai Paul and Little Dragon, very much in the vein of an early Prince record with it’s staccato-styled timing and off-beat/on-beat 808 drum pattern.
But Big Boi makes sure not to stray too far by incorporating a slew of winning emcee guest spots, like he and Killer Mike’s cutting lyricism and paired with Little Dragon lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s light, airy and aching vocals on “Thom Pettie” and, U.G.K and Big K.R.I.T. on “Gossip” and A$AP Rocky on “Lines”, one of the albums’ most outstanding tracks.
The biggest misstep here is probably Big trying to step in the booth and vocalize, which makes “Raspberries” a chore to listen to. He definitely wants to stick to emceeing in that regard. But overall, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is an album that falls in the same ballsy, adventurous and daring musical category of past Hip Hop albums like the aforementioned Speakerboxxx, Common’s Electric Circus, and even Aquemini by blatantly challenging listeners to open their minds, and will introduce new ones to both the Outkast catalog. It won’t connect with everyone, Big Boi successfully and skillfully takes a ton of musical risks, which fewer and fewer mainstream emcees seem to be willing to do these days.