Big Boi’s rap sheet makes it abundantly clear that he likes to have his fingers in a lot of different pies. Best known as the earthier half of OutKast, one of the most successful, and increasingly separated, hip-hop duos of all time. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours marks Big Boi’s second solo album and reveals a tremendous sonic shift in Big Boi’s ear. Perhaps sensing the change in musical stylings prevalent with Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or the increasing melding of hip hop and indie rock by acts like Girl Talk, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours contains very little classic hip-hop hallmarks. Funk rhythms are kept to a minimum, as are R&B samples and heavy metal guitar riffs. Instead, the whole album tends to wade in the dreamy pop soundscapes of Bon Iver’s ‘Holocene’ with collaborations featuring Phantogram and Sweden’s Little Dragon. It’s a shift that’s caught a lot of reviewers and listeners off guard.
But the results are impressive.
After starting off with an acoustic guitar and spoken word introduction, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours slides into ‘The Thickets’ (featuring Sleepy Brown), a slow, almost symphonic g-funk barrage of bravado before ‘Apple of My Eye’ turns a one-eighty with its catchy, upbeat melodies built around a couple of keyboard riffs and a game show worthy horn section, finding Big Boi rapping about buying Apple stock and trying to understand the nature of his love, asking her to “give me one reason why you’re the apple of my eye”, concluding “I need a big bite baby of your sweet red delicious love.”
‘Shoes for Running’ (featuring B.o.B. and Wavves) has caused the most trouble for critics since there’s very little recognizably dirty south or g-funk about it. Some compared it to a castoff from the hip hop-metal mash-up Judgement Night soundtrack from the mid-1990s. A few summed it up simply as “weird” and “cluttered”. The drum samples most directly recall Beck’s ‘Loser’ while Wavves adds layers of guitar buzz to a cheeky chorus of children singing about the imminence of death and running “through this deadbeat town”, over which Big Boi blitzes lyrics on the impermanence of wealth and fame. It’s brilliant and deceptively catchy.
‘Raspberries’ (featuring Mouche and Scar) is almost a throwback to ‘The Way You Move’ and ‘Mrs. Jackson’-era OutKast as Big Boi casts a lecherous eye to random woman walking down the street. However, the moody two-note keyboard melody keeps it modern and bequeaths a surprising tenderness to the song, helping the voices of Big Boi and his pals crack with pain and anguish instead of merely lust and desire.
There are a few moments of comfort for longtime listeners though. ‘In the A’ (featuring T.I. and Ludacris) is a heavy-footed stomp through Atlanta’s nightlife set to martial beats. While in the past, a slow jam like ‘She Hates Me’ (featuring Kid Cudi) would have been traditionally built around an R&B riff, here it sounds vaguely like a Flaming Lips sample. The only real R&B moment is the pop ballad ‘Tremendous Damage’ (featuring Bosko) wherein Big Boi sings about the loss of his father, a Vietnam vet, and his own expectations for his children. It’s an after-school special waiting to happen, but light years away from anything we might have anticipated on this album.
In a nutshell then, that’s what Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours is too. It’s an album with plenty of sex, drugs, and bravado, but rarely in forms that we’d expect to hear them, coupled with a lot of unexpected bourgeois moments about growing up. Depending on your point of view, it’s either among the best things Big Boi has ever done, or the worst.