Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 in 3000: André Benjamin's Year In Guest Verses

2011 was André 3000's most active year since 2006--not that he ever disappeared completely. In this extra-stank Critical Beatdown, your hosts take you through 2011 in 3000

"Dedication To My Ex (Miss That)," Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne and André 3000

NS: I love the exuberant buoyancy of this jam in full, and Andre's verse is just the virtuosic icing on the cake. There are some rappers--Kurupt and Styles P come to mind--who are uniquely capable of going hard on an extended metaphor for bar after bar, and Dre demonstrates that same type of focused dynamism here, wedding Lloyd's basic thesis (hint--he says it in the chorus) to some amusingly lucid car metaphors. Favorite line: "What, why so quiet?/Hate that all our memories happen in a Hyatt?" I think that's what the kids today call an "epic burn." 5/5

AM: Lloyd's retro-soul joint features negligible ad-libs from Weezy, along with a lead vocal that you will likely regard has either humorously pained or horrifyingly sexist. The tune is colorful edging on chintzy. André's verse stands out, of course. But his rap, ostensibly about the same lady Lloyd's worked up over, is minor André--this ex isn't as vivid as Sasha Thumper or Ms. Jackson. 4/5

"I Do," Young Jeezy feat Jay-Z and André 3000
NS: How many rappers out there can follow Jay-Z with reliably superior wordplay? Whereas Jay's verbiage rarely ventures outside the confines of normative hip-hop posturing, Dre breaks into an almost expressionistic sing-rap, more a tangle of feelings and associations than straightahead storytelling, in the best imagistic tradition. Surreal stuff, and I am fascinated by how he keeps talking into the outro about his hypothetically "nerdy" future daughter. 4/5

AM: This one first made the rounds pre-2011 as an uncompleted André track. The subject matter--and soul-soaked beat--inspires comparisons to a certain earth-shatteringly good Dre guest verse, but so be it: 3000 is at that level here. Insane technical control, with the vocal and lyrical flights of fancy that make him so compelling. That he clearly did this all in one take--listen for his breathing--makes "I Do" even more amazing. 5/5

"The Real Her," Drake feat. Lil Wayne and André 3000
NS: Take Care put me to sleep, and the mottled non-beat of "The Real Her" is fairly indicative of that album's lugubrious tendencies. Even Lil Wayne fails to rise above the material, which makes the transition to the Andre verse at 4:14 all the more unexpected. The drab tonelessness of Drake's autotuned meanderings gives way to a 3000's day-glo nightmare of insomniac thrillseekers and backstabbing strippers, tinged with a David Lynch sense of creeping, formless dread. Odd modifiers like "quote-on-quote bad bitches" stick to the mind, emblematic of the throwaway rhetorical flourishes that make a 3000 verse so distinctive. For a closer lyrical analysis, I highly recommend this article. 5/5

AM: Rapping in stop-start bursts that mimic the beat's pitch bending, Dre runs laps around the competition. Wayne is lazy but engaging, but that's 2011 Model Weezy F for you. And Drake makes us suffer through not one but two of his verses. Though it ends on an uncharacteristically venomous note, 3000 is the reason I've made it through this overlong track so many times. 4.5/5

"Interlude," Lil Wayne feat. Tech N9ne and André 3000
NS: 3 Stacks and Tech N9Ne make a not-surprisingly good tag team. This highlight of Tha Carter IV doesn't even feature Lil Wayne, but with such regal musings from messrs. 3000 and N9ne, who even needs "the greatest rapper alive"? Beautiful bits of elevated wordplay worm their way through 3 Stacks' short verse--"Today I feel electric gray, I hope tomorrow neon black," he begins, like a fashion terrorist from the future, going on to condense everything from the stars in Cairo "like marbles" to another classic 3000 trope--philosophic musings in "wild party" settings. No one else in rap writes with such sensitivity to the depth and evocative flexibility of language than Andre 3000, and this is another verse that proves it. 5/5

AM: A Carter IV track that features no contribution from Lil Wayne, and a fierce verse from Tech N9ne. 3000 rarely raps on beats as abrasive as this one, but his brief contribution is ace--hard, but weird too. 4/5

"Party," Beyoncé feat. André 3000
NS: Though he doesn't always care to show it, Andre 3000 can be a blisteringly fast rapper, making him well-suited to the high-BPM party stylings of Beyonce's 4 (I assume--haven't actually heard the album in full). Note on this verse how Dre manages to pull the trick of sounding subdued and frenzied at the same time--I imagine it takes years for a rapper to develop such a careful modulation of pitch and tone. In this case the content is secondary to the rhythms, although "in the food court, eatin' our gyro" sticks out for some reason. 4/5

AM: This song pulses like an MJ/Quincy Jones track, albeit at a BPM that's far too slow. At least for Beyoncé, who sounds like she's holding back. André, on the other hand, spends half his verse in an effortless doubletime. In his minute, he tries on flows like he does garish outfits, each one fitting him impeccably. 5/5

"Sleazy Remix 2.0 (Get Sleazier)," Ke$ha feat. Wiz Khalifa, André 3000, T.I. and Lil Wayne
NS: The Andre verse here is identical to Ke$ha's last "Sleazy (Remix)" released in January (for those masochists at home keeping track of Dre/Ke$ha collabs). It doesn't have the rhapsodic emotional buildup of his other 2011 verses, particularly once Dre starts repping "this crazy lady named Kesha," but the first part of the verse is a vivid, if brief exploration of one of 3000's most senescent themes--childhood fascination with adult marital discontent. Fascinating stuff, but Ke$ha is still the worst. 2.5/5

AM: Dre's verse appears on a couple remixes of Ke$ha's song. His verse is alright--he imagines rolling around in his Benz with Ke$ha, after mining more heartfelt territory--but less inspired than most of this list. On the December remix, Lil Wayne crosses paths with André for the fourth time, upstaging him for the first. 3.5/5

"Play The Guitar," B.O.B. feat. André 3000
NS: The beat (produced by 3000 himself) lacks impact, and B.o.B. gets everything off to a slow start, but 3 Stacks' tribute to his own six-string travails is touching and relatable for anyone who has ever been a novice guitarist. Dre may have come to the six-string as an adult, but he clearly understands the instrument's elemental force with lines like "if you're mad at dad or mum/you can grab an instrum." 3.5/5

AM: Well, it’s no “Gasoline Dreams.” B.O.B., who is apparently still a working musician, helms this cartoonish joint. He cedes much of the track to Dré, who spits a goofy verse about playing guitar on top of a Church’s Chicken, and respecting your parents (not the fist time he’s sounded that note in 2011). Not a career highlight by any means, but even when 3000 isn’t great, he’s never on autopilot. 3.5/5

Expect some more OutKast-related writing on this blog in the near future. Until then, savor this evidence, from 1994, of Dre's prodigious freestyling skills.

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