Hip-hop is traditionally unkind to aging artists. 2012 is drawing to a close. Fat Joe is talking about Instagramming hoes and LL Cool J is making songs with the word “ratchet” in the title. It’s embarrassing. Not everyone ages as gracefully as Jay-Z. Or Birdman, depending on who you ask. Enter Big Boi and his second solo effort, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. On Sir Lucious, he proved that he isn’t going to be one of these guys who gets older, gets desperate, and ends up doing nothing but looking the part. Not only that, but he dodged a curse that’s traditionally even worse: going from duo to solo. Now that he’s working on establishing his solo legacy, Big Boi shows us that he won’t let the sophomore curse beat him either.
There were high expectations for Big Boi’s first solo LP because he was in one of the most acclaimed hip-hop groups of all time. He managed to expand on the sound we all loved without merely emulating it. The album pounded and marched and swung in all directions. What I’m saying is, expectations are still high for Big Boi—maybe higher than ever. What this album doesn’t sound like is some kind of direct sequel to Sir Lucious. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors was originally titled Daddy Fat Saxx: Funk Soul Crusader, which instantly brings to mind those pounding, marching, swinging (and smooth!) sounds of its predecessor. Sure, the title might have been changed shortly after Big Boi got busted with a bunch of Viagra, but it makes sense out of that context.
Vicious Lies is a much quieter album. Big Boi’s extreme likability isn’t his only asset. He’s probably one of the only guys in the game who could bring together a few random indie acts you may not be familiar with, like Phantogram, a few you might be (Little Dragon, Wavves), and throw them on/next to songs with Kelly Rowland and B.o.B. (both of whom can be cringe-worthy these days) and make it work. The album brags no trendy, big name producers, leaving Big Boi free to do pretty much whatever the hell he wants to do. The result is a well-paced, easily accessible piece of work.
The great hooks are everywhere. “Apple of My Eye,” “CPU,” and “Shoes for Running” are just a few examples. Big Boi’s singing on “Raspberries” is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. The only truly weak song on the album is “In the A.” On an album like this one, with its consistent top-notch production, the beat is lazy and monotonous, and General Patton’s self-quoting hook leaves a lot to be desired. Big Boi and T.I. deliver verses that aren’t anything special, but it’s not until we hear Luda that the song really crashes and burns. He caps it off with a line about not being “out-rapped” that’s so poorly delivered all you can do is laugh at how untrue it is.
Lyrically Big Boi has been better, but that’s not so important here. This is the most atmospheric project he’s ever released, and his flow remains immaculate. His talents as an auteur are clearly well-developed. How great is it to see such a legendary guy ignoring genre trends not once, but twice in a row? Instead of being written off by the system like so many others, Big Boi is building a solo career that could end up being as impressive as his run with Outkast. If that doesn’t inspire other rappers, especially those in similar positions, I don’t know what will.
Written by Patrick Bierut (@mrchernobog)