Over the last few weeks, as the release of Big Boi’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors drew nearer, I found myself having more and more conversations about Big Boi’s legacy, and by extension OutKast and Andre 3000. Almost without fail those conversations would eventually involve a comparison of Big and 3K to Jordan and Pippen, a comparison that’s infuriating both as a hip-hop and basketball fan. Yes, Jordan and Pippen are one of the best duos (if not the best) to ever touch a basketball, just like Big and Andre are one of the best duos (if not the best) to ever touch a mic, but that’s where the similarities end. The idea of eccentric and semi-retired 3 Stacks as the methodical and homicidally competitive Jordan is laughable, as is the idea of Big Boi as a facilitator who needed someone else to win championships.
Instead, I’d say that Big Boi and Andre 3K are (or perhaps more accurately were) the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar of rap. Both are first ballot hall of famers who didn’t need the other to win a title but together formed a nearly unbeatable dynasty. Like Big Boi, Magic was one of the most versatile players the game had ever seen, someone capable of both dishing out assists and scoring at will, pounding the paint and running the fast break. Like Andre 3000, Kareem was a once-in-a-generation talent, an offensive virtuoso who wasn’t afraid to go against the grain, even if it meant being labeled an eccentric.
That might seem like an extraordinary large detour for a review ostensibly about Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (VLADR), but it was a necessary detour. There’s just no way we could truly understand VLADR, and what it means for Big Boi’s legacy, if we thought of him as Pippen. We’re not talking about someone who was merely good at what he does, we’re looking at someone so good he’s changing what it means to play the game. And if that seems like hyperbole, you clearly haven’t listened to VLADR.
I’ve listened to a lot of rap albums in my day, but none of them have sounded like this. It would have been easy for Big Boi to coast, filling his album with dope but predictable cuts, but instead, he seems to have purposefully set out to break down genre barriers. "Objectum Sexuality" opens like an art film and by the time it’s over has someone managed to incorporate both some serious funk and a haunting hook from Phantogram, while "Raspberries" brings on his longtime compatriots Mouche and Scar for a slow jam that finds Big singing in a style that’s closer far closer to the funk, or even jazz, spectrum than R&B or hip-hop. But by far the most fearless tracks are "Tremendous Damage" and "Descending," which both reveal a more personal and directly autobiographical Big than we’ve ever heard; and as if the lyrical content wasn’t enough, "Descending" is essentially an outright acoustic, indie rock ballad. It’s a dizzying array of sounds that would leave most artists sounding lost, but perhaps the best testament to Big Boi’s power as an emcee—I suppose I should now say emcee/singer—is that he’s more than strong enough to still give an intensely eclectic album like this a real sense of cohesion.
VLADR may be remarkable for its genre-bending, but that doesn’t mean Big Boi has forgotten how to make some sh*t that will rattle trunks, starting with the Banger of the Year candidate "In the A." "In the A" goes harder than a Viagra salesman in a strip club, and proves that Big’s certainly at least equal to T.I. in terms of microphone destruction (as if there was any doubt), and is clearly now better than Luda. UGK reunion offering "Gossip" is the album’s other most purely “hip-hop” cut, as hard as "Lines" and "Thom Pettie" also are they also bring in some “non-hip-hop” elements, but if Andre Patton has earned anything after more than a decade in the game, it’s the right to do whatever the funk he feels like without having his rap credentials questioned.
OutKast will forever be a part of Big Boi, just as Big Boi will forever be a part of OutKast, but Outkast is not all of Big Boi. For two solo albums now Andre Patton has not merely proved that he’s a capable solo artist, he’s helping to redefine what a hip-hop album can sound like. Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Bird, whoever you want to compare him to, just be sure you compare him to the all-time greats.