Many of the greats, if they haven’t fallen off, or been cut short by untimely death, have at least one album that sticks out like the plus-size contestant on America’s Next Top Model. It’s usually a shift towards a more popular sound or an experimental exercise. If we just stick to rap Common has Electric Circus and UMC, The Roots have Phrenology, Yasiin Bey has The New Danger, and Lupe has Lasers.
Well, Big Boi can now join them with Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors. An album that arrives near the end of an excellent year of rap music and hits like, well, um, a raw food restaurant in an urban area being gentrified. Two years after the excellent Sir Lucious Left Foot, the funk has been replaced by moody but “bright” EDM. Also while the gangsterisms and pimpology still exist in the lyrics, the sonic component of that content has all but evaporated quicker than rumors of a Three Stacks solo.
Let’s start with the good. “In The A” sounds like two dozen militarized elephants stomping through the streets of downtown Atlanta with T.I., Big Boi and Luda as their generals. All three rap as if their platinum plaques and accolades are still in the distant future. It’s easily one of 2012’s best songs. Opening track “The Thickets” is that classic DF sound full of syrupy soul and organic programming made for lifted light night rides through the city. “Raspberries” is a steady inaudible romp about strippers with plopping drums, water textures, and barren synths that Big Boi, Mouche and Scar warmly croon over. “Lines”, featuring A$AP Rocky and Phantogram, is also a moment where swag-rap and indie electro-pop blend together nicely.
Littered throughout the album, though, are just some down right WTF moments. “She Hates Me”, “CPU”, “Mama Told Me”, and “Tremendous Damage” are all exercises in competent pop that come across contrived or awkward. Big Boi almost sounds like a guest on his own songs, rapping about trite topics over-earnestly or half-heartedly. Just glancing at the song’s guest: Kid Cudi, Kelly Rowland and Bosko, shows that these songs aimed for radio plays, but they’re not even the sound of what’s popular for the next 36 seconds. By the time “Shoes For Running” ends, the rapping aspect of the album all but disappears into the ether of our confused head spaces.
Furthermore, while folks may find songs like “Apple of My Eye”, “Thom Pettie”, and “Objectum Sexuality” (Christ just think of the title of the latter, this is Big Boi we talkin’ ‘bout) as catchy, they are far from experimental. It’s nothing more than contemporary indie pop with new wave and electronic flourishes that have Big Boi as an ornament to their sounds; it’s a damn shame, too, ’cause Killer Mike crushes his verse on “Thom Pettie”.
The album ends with the more normative Big Boi stylings of “Gossip” and “She Said OK”, but the’re the bonus cuts almost as a gift to old fans. Plain and simply, I don’t come to Big Boi for this type of shit. I like my Little Dragon sans rapping just fine and my Big Boi gangster pimp raps full or trunk rattling slappers. I understand why some are very happy with this album, but personally it’s a disappointment. Not to mention that the album never sounds and expresses much of its paranoid title. Save a handful of songs, much of this is heading towards the desktop trash bin.