Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in 3000: Four More Verses in the Life of Benjamin André

[We've reached the end of 2012, and sadly a new OutKast album seems less likely to happen now than it did this time last year. Still, it would be wrong not to consider the year in André 3000, even if his output was limited to roughly one verse per fiscal quarter. NB that our ratings are based on the quality of 3000's verse(s) alone, not on the quality of the song or the contributions of other collaborators.] 

Gorillaz, "DoYaThing" (Converse single)
AM: What begins as a routine Gorillaz song takes a turn when André arrives with his cartoony chorus and verse. That’s before he really goes off. By then, Murphy and Albarn have been transformed into André’s backing band, pumping out a retro-futuristic mix that sounds like the J.B.’s playing dissonant krautrock. André loses it, fuelling the frenzy by screaming “I’m the shit” in a dozen different permutations. Favorite one: “I’m the shit! Bear with me!” When the comedown arrives your head is still spinning. 4/5

NS: A collaboration between Andre 3000 and Damon Albarn already sounds cool on paper, but that still couldn't prepare anyone for the relentless dominance 3000 exerts over all 13 minutes of this high-BPM electropunk number (and you better believe the 13-minute head trip is the only way to listen). 3000's verses here arrive in three parts--the first, blisteringly fast free association, the second, punkish yelping, the third, scaled-back self-criticism. The effect is exhaustive, to say the least. 5/5

Frank Ocean, “Pink Matter” (Channel Orange)
AM: Even before Dré comes in, “Pink Matter” distinguishes itself as the prettiest song on
Channel Orange (the shout-growls in the background work, somehow). But when the bass drops at 2:24, and especially when 3000 starts rhyming at 2:40, “Pink Matter” flies off to zones unknown. André plays a little guitar on the song, and sings, bringing things deep into Love Below territory. But it’s 3000’s verse that’s jaw-dropping--so fluid, so full of regret, rapped with such poise and wit, almost whispered, with sympathy and style, self-reflection and realness, gray matter and grace. Sixteen of the best bars I’ve heard, not just in 2012, not just from André, but ever. 5/5

NS: Channel Orange veers into 'Kastian territory (peep the bassline especially) at 2:24 of "Pink Matter," which is already a highlight in a record full of them. André's verse style here is reminiscent of the work he did with Drake last year, but "Pink Matter" has a less specific POV. Here, his work recalls Frank Sinatra on albums like In the Wee Small Hours, putting up a lonely, disengaged front to belie his disappointment with love and human interaction in general. Also, props to 3 Stacks for continuing to showcase his guitar lessons. Still, I'm confused by his withholding Big Boi from the record. Why the embargo on new OutKast collaborations, André? 4.5/5

Rick Ross, "Sixteen” (God Forgives, I Don't)
AM: The lush buildup sounds like it was lifted from Kaputt, and when 3000 wails the hook Ross and the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League clinch their luxury rap pedigree. Whose brand is more coveted than the fashionable recluse from Kast? The whole conceit of the song is that sixteen bars constrain a rapper, so Ross gives Andre way, way more than that. 3000 delves into an extended reminiscence about being a kid, in a start-stop flow, leisurely making his way to the present. “Flipper didn’t hold his nose, so why should I hold my tongue?” he asks. After the megaverse, a double-tracked Dré gets freaky and Ross ad-libs, the latter giving little indication that he has any idea what André’s saying. When 3000’s extended guitar solo begins, you get the sense that the Bawse has lost control of his own song. 4/5

NS: Sometimes, sixteen bars is not enough to fully expound on complicated topics, such as one's life. This is the thesis of "Sixteen," and what's interesting about this song is how Rick Ross and André 3000 prove this in completely different ways. Rozay approaches his extended verse span as an opportunity to create a series of flashy, visual quick cuts, stylized filmmaking in the manner of the 70s masters he often references. Dré, on the other hand, is more concerned with wordplay, and the complexities and tangles of associations his varying rhythm choices generate in the listener's imagination. His verse is at turns personal, political, and purely syllabic, as he spins tales of childhood heartbreak and adult disappointment. And his guitar solo deserves more love than it got--I liken his scratchy, primitive style to David Bowie on Diamond Dogs. 5/5

T.I., “Sorry” (Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head)
AM: T.I. sounds like he raps with his teeth clenched the entire time. But never mind what the blogs say, you know? Tip brings along an angry beat that Jazzie Pha tosses some reflective piano on. André 3000 sounds amazing, spitting in double time, easing up, and warbling. He gets seriously contemplative, apologizing to his Mom and Big Boi, thinking back on his life, wondering if it’s been worth it and why he acted so strangely. Compelling, wise stuff--André probing his psyche like Big does on “Descending.” André also complains about internet music critics. “Boring, really?” Seriously, who could find this boring? 5/5

NS: Poor T.I. was destined for second place before he even started, as even he acknowledged in interviews about "Sorry". Backed by an odd, piano-based beat, André 3000 begins his verse with a bounce in his lyrical step, unleashing words at such a fast clip that it seems unbelievable how much he pauses. Content-wise, "Sorry" finds 3000 feeling even more forlorn and pessimistic than usual. Admitting, "I used to be a way better rapper and writer when I used to want to rap," Dré apologizes to his mother and his "rap partner" in turn, admitting his retreat into hermitry was born of music writers like ourselves paying such close attention to his verses. Is he fair to us? If anything, he pulls his punches. "Boring, really?" he asks. The incredulous reaction is mutual, André. 5/5 

[See here for last year's Rockaliser 3000 Beatdown, and here for our opinions on the latest Big Boi.]

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