Friday, December 14, 2012

Vicious Lies Beatdown

On Tuesday, OutKast's Big Boi released his second solo album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. (We both loved his first) To mark the occasion, Rockaliser's writers went through the album track-by-track, sorting the vicious lies from the dangerous rumors:

1. Ascending
AM: "If ya'll don't know me by now, ya'll ain't gon never know me," Big Boi intones on the moody intro, whose shimmering acoustic guitar we'll hear again. It's an interesting opening statement for an album of left turns. 3.5/5

NS: Big Boi's latest kicks off with some rich acoustic picking, pretty swirling background vocals, and a few drags of the snare. It's not unpleasant, but it's hardly a "Feel Me (Intro)." This production will return later in the record, to better effect. 2/5

2. The Thickets feat. Sleepy Brown
AM: A solid Organized Noise beat twinkles and pulses, thick with bass and trapped-out drums. Big extolls his own greatness throughout. Not one of his 10 greatest verses or anything, but as he spits about being "truly one of the the baddest motherfuckers to ever do it" he's proving his point as he makes it. Not sure where these thickets are, but I'd chill there. 4/5

NS: A Big Boi album without a single Organized Noize production would be a very sad thing. Luckily, Sleepy Brown is on deck to croon his way through the cracks of this slow, deep bass rumbler. Big's verses showcase the rapper at his jumpiest and most unpredictable. After more than 20 years, ON's production style is still so thick and concrete, you can glide over the eddies of smooth grooves. 4/5

3. Apple Of My Eye 
AM: Longtime collaborator David "Mr. DJ" Sheats is on the boards here, building things around a guitar that sounds like it was transported to Stankonia from a Peter, Bjorn & John song. Jake Troth, an uncredited songwritery guy, provides the hook--a little jarring at first, but it works. Give it a couple listens--Big is lithe on the mic, and Mr. DJ sprinkles his magic throughout, especially in the last minute. 4.5/5

NS: OutKast's third member Mr. DJ takes the production reins here, turning up the speed slightly yet reining back the tension on VLADR's first immediate masterpiece. "Apple" begins with Morricone-esque harmonics between keyboard and wooze guitar, and snaps to attention with a behind-the-beat guitar shuffle not too removed from Big's previous "Tambourine." The horns at the end seal the deal. 5/5

4. Objectum Sexuality feat. Phantogram
AM: One of three Phantogram collaborations on VLADR, which might have you wondering: did Sir Lucious Left Foot lose a bet with Phantogram's manager? Sarah Barthel's voice is a ghostly presence in Big Boi's world, but her hooks are a good fit for the darker, slower productions. The beat, Phantogram's, is pretty cool, like what an Earthtone III production might sound like if you sent it through fiber optic cables on the ocean floor. 4/5

NS: The first of what will be several bleak, slower songs, "Objectum" has a bizarre, stop-start structure and even weirder sound effects, but Big Boi finds a lyrical way through the electro clatter and weird violin samples. I'm not necessarily sold on Phantogram's chorus, but I dig the way it builds after the bridge. 4/5

5. In The A feat. T.I. & Ludacris 
AM: Twisting a line from Sir Lucious Left Foot's "Shutterbugg" into its hook, this slow-motion banger with its martial horn is a sort-of sequel to that album's "Patton." I'm pleasantly surprised by Ludacris' verse, but Tip's presence--he's OK, not at his best--brings to mind this year's "Sorry" (featuring André 3000, dearly missed here) and "Big Beast," both better songs than this. Not that "A" won't sound great blaring from your car speakers. 4/5

NS: The sample is a prominent swipe from "Shutterbugg," but the strutting, triumphalist monster beat is closer etymologically to Sir Lucious' "General Patton." All three Atlanta emcees prove themselves up to the challenge of honoring the tone of this gnarly head nodder, and demonstrate sickening amounts of hubris in the process, but it is Ludacris' swerving, dive-bombing style that is most ideally and hilariously suited to the track's killer rhythms. 5/5

6. She Hates Me feat. KiD CuDi
AM: The spacious, mid-tempo beat doesn't give Daddy Fat Sacks a lot to chew on, though he's got a lot on his mind, and he yawns this one out. One of the limpest beats to ever feature Big Boi. It doesn't help that the subject matter skirts close to "Ms. Jackson" territory, without that joint's electric charge. I could have done without Kid Cudi. 2.5/5

NS: In another proud OutKast tradition, "She Hates Me" is VLADR's first emotionally overwhelming number. Kid Cudi deserves credit for the hook, a romantic lament that turns hostile halfway through. Big Boi's skills here are as impressive here as ever--he's more controlled than usual, but the way he lags slightly behind the beat and enunciates the end of each phrase is fantastic. 5/5

7. CPU feat. Phantogram
AM: I'm not a big fan of that last joint, but the sequencing in the middle of the album is pretty great--the song with the hook "it's you that's on my computer screen/cuz it's you that's on my mind" follows the relationship problems one. That might sound porn-y, but that's not what "CPU" aims for. Not that Big doesn't get lurid on this album--he does, plenty, before and after this--but Phantogram program the chilly "CPU." Love the guitar at the end. 4/5

NS: Phantogram returns, just in time for the album to dip into full tilt "sad dance music." At first this nu-technology anthem doesn't seem best suited for Big Boi's talents, and indeed as far as those things go, I prefer Andre 3000's verse on 1998's "Synthesizer." But when the beat picks up, there's no denying its spacey yet subterranean propulsiveness. 3.5/5

8. Thom Pettie feat. Little Dragon & Killer Mike
AM: A wobbly, almost dubby street cut. Big takes the first verse, switching up his flow several times. Little Dragon have the middle third, and send the song deep into blunt-rolling territory. Batting third, Killer Mike is amazing, his verse as good as anything he spit on this year's R.A.P. Music. Maybe the best verse on the entire album. 4.5/5

NS: The first of two songs that mention the youngest Wilbury, "Thom Pettie"'s highlight is Killer Mike's killer verse, which delves into sexual particulars in a manner that R.A.P. Music never really got to. This is another song with a weird start-stop structure, but Yukimi Nagano's voice and cleanly distorted guitar solos ably fill in some of the blanks. 4/5

9. Mama Told Me feat. Kelly Rowland
AM: The Flush--they of Big's "Royal Flush" and "Be Still" by Janelle Monae (where is she?)--run a funky, vocoder-laden Sir Lucious beat through a translucent purple Gameboy Color. Which is fine, really good actually--the drums sound like Prince programmed them--though I wish it hit a little harder. 4/5

NS: When this video with Little Dragon first came out, I wondered if "Mama Told Me" was destined to be the next "Hey Ya"-level superhit. Guess not, but this song feels like such a single, if that makes any sense. Deviating from previous rap odes to mothers ("Dear Mama," "Hey Mama"), which were basically apologies, Big exults in the pride of fulfilling his mama's long-held expectations, as bubbly synths chirp in, as if in affirmation. 5/5

10. Lines feat. A$AP Rocky & Phantogram
AM: A cool Organized Noise beat--it sounds like they took the album's street single, and sliced up the keys and vocal lines into tiny little strips. Never thought I'd see A$AP Rocky on a Big Boi album, but he does himself proud. Big appears for less than a minute on his own 3:30 cut. He sounds pretty good, doesn't give himself nearly enough time to get going. 4/5

NS: Harlem rapper (and personal favorite) A$AP Rocky slots effortlessly into the VLADR aesthetic, throwing in a few vocal southernisms while retaining his distinctly New York identity via blisteringly quirky versage. Phantogram's chorus (them again!) is a slight momentum killer--this is yet another stop-start arrangement--but Rocky and Big complement each other so naturally, the rest is acceptable noise. 4.5/5

11. Shoes For Running feat. B.o.B. & Wavves
AM: Confusing collaborations with rock musicians are a part of hip-hop's very fabric. Big has more than a few on this album, which the material mostly justifies. But this is where I draw the line. B.o.B. prattles on about nothing, Wavves whines out a mall-punk hook, and then and a chorus of children imitate Wavves (really). It's a shame, because Big's first verse is great. 2/5

NS: I have no idea what Wavves' chorus is about--running away from death?--and B.o.B.'s verse doesn't do much besides pass time. But the kids chorus turns out to be a genius effect, and the song's chugging guitar and whistled vocals combine to overcome the sum of parts elsewhere. Ultimately, the evolving groove and Big's verse are what makes this track work. 3.5/5

12. Raspberries feat. Mouche & Scar
AM: Easily the weirdest thing here, the drone-soul of "Raspberries" is built around a two-chord keyboard oscillation that wouldn't sound out of place on a Sterolab album. Mouche, Scar and Big weave their voices together, and we're treated to Antwan Patton's loverman warble. Pshyched out, and cooler than a polar bear's toenail. 4.5/5

NS: VLADR's pace slows considerably on this track, and stays at a similar level for the rest of the record. On "Raspberries," Big Boi sings more than he raps, in a call-and-response arrangement with either Mouche or Scar (I have no idea which). The song is again about sexual conquest, but the tone is dire and downbeat, as if Big is losing interest in repeating such stories. 3/5

13. Tremendous Damage feat. Bosko
AM: The penultimate track's a reflective ballad, a bit like SLLF:TSOCD's "The Train, Pt. 2." I like the verses, but this could use the Southern flourishes of "Train." Bosko's chorus borders on dull, and the beat doesn't get exciting until the last minute. Like so many of these songs, what it needs is more Big Boi, and a little more funk. 3/5

NS: The piano melody is amateur stuff, and it never really develops, and yet somehow the song affects. Part of it is the ruminative nature of Big's words, especially in the section where he discusses his deceased father, the first "Dusty Chico" who served in Vietnam. Even when the song is gentle, there's a hard-edged tinge to Big's subject matter--it's a song about growing up and gaining perspective, and it takes a lot of musical chances to make some interesting points. 4/5

14. Descending feat. Little Dragon
AM: "Tremendous Damage" morphs into "Descending" smoothly, and all of a sudden we're back to the guitar waves of the intro. Yukimi Nagano's wail and Big Boi's warble float in the song's ether, getting heavy. Here's a weird, regretful, almost new agey cut that keeps both feet planted in OutKast's universe. No small feat. 4.5/5

NS: As promised, the creamy acoustic arpeggios of "Ascending" have returned, adorned with ghostly spiritual soundscapes courtesy of Little Dragon. Big Boi once again returns to the subject of his father, even going so far as to croon desperately "My daddy's gone," in what is likely the album's darkest moment. "Descending" is an austere track, but it builds into something refined and stately, a radical inversion of the casual boast song. It would only work as an ender on an album of this caliber. 4.5/5

Nathan's average score was 4.1, Aaron's was 3.8. Expect another OutKast-related Beatdown in this space in the near future. If you're feeling nostalgic, check out our Beatdown of Big Boi's first solo album.


  1. Any thoughts on the deluxe ed. bonus tracks? They're not album quality, I wouldn't say, but some of the more interesting guest stars have been relegated to them.

  2. I warmed up to "She Said OK" after a while--love the guitar on that song. "Gossip" is pretty good too, a Dirty South summit. "Higher Res" does nothing for me.

    To overthink it: the three bonus tracks represent three different paths VLADR could have taken. Seems like Big went the "Higher Res" route?