Yeah, I said it. Maybe I’m exaggerating slightly. It’s not that many arrows. But still: Big Boi is better than Andre, and the reason is simple: Big Boi actually puts out music. Albums, even.
Granted: Andre’s verse on “Sorry” is ridiculous. And his bars on Rick Ross’ “Sixteen” make for one of the best moments on God Forgives, I Don’t (we’ll come back to his guitar “playing” on that song later). But being prolific counts for something. So does overall body of work. Quality only trumps quantity to a certain degree. Otherwise, Kid Hood—who was shot three days after recording for the first time, dropping a classic verse on a classic, A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” remix—would be considered the best MC of all time. More to the point: Andre’s smattering of guest verses over the past few years can’t compare to an entire album. Especially not an album as dope as Big Boi’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Make that two albums—2010′s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is a pretty good album as well, despite the stupid name.
But back to Vicious Lies. It’s not just a great album, it’s one of 2012′s most interesting, and groundbreaking. Big mashed up vintage Dungeon Family funk, trap music, electronic, pop, punk and indie rock and somehow made it work seamlessly, and in a true hip hop context. On paper, “Lines,” featuring ASAP Rocky and upstate NY emo-tronica duo Phantogram, reads like it would be a contrived hipster-bait mess. But in your speakers, it’s fantastic, switching from spooky rap to ethereal ambient electro shit on a dime. “Apple of My Eye” is basically dance-rock with rhyming on it, and it’s another highlight. “Shoes for Running,” featuring the head-scratching lineup of B.o.B and bratty beach-rock indie darlings Wavves, revisits the normally cursed rap-rock danger zone—where years of corny songs, bands and side projects have come to die corny deaths—but with a punk twist. And it’s nonetheless a good song, which, when you consider all the folks who have tried and failed at the same combo for more than two decades now, is an accomplishment. In spite of a few misses (“Tremendous Damage”), the album is ridiculously of-the-moment, with the lines between genres meaning less and less for anyone (except maybe us music critics).
And ironically, it seems like just the kind of thing that Andre would want to do. The closest thing we’ve gotten to a solo album from him is Love Below (really just half of a double album), which jumped from Prince-inspired funk to frenetic jazz to soul to rap and back again. It has some unfortunate moments where Three Stacks goes a little too far out there, but it was a good album overall. “Hey Ya,” “Spread” and “She Lives in My Lap” are still incredible. However, that was almost a decade ago now. Big Boi is doing this same futuristic genre-bending on a more challenging level in 2012, and he’s succeeding.
Besides, as dope as Love Below and Three Stacks’ recent guest verses are, there’s no guarantee a new solo project would match up to Vicious Lies. Listen, he can spit with the best of them, but let’s not pretend 3000 couldn’t sometimes seemingly benefit from the reining in many thought Big Boi provided when Outkast was together. As I said before, Love Below had its amazing moments, but it was also wildly uneven at times—mostly because Andre isn’t a real singer. Sure, on the rapper scale of singing skill, he bests Ja Rule and 50 Cent, but he’s no Cee-Lo. Another Andre album of mostly singing would probably be a disappointment—especially after all the rhyming he’s been doing on his recent guests spots. Maybe he felt reined by his rapping collaborators. Maybe he needed someone to tell him, “Dude, just rap.”
Though no one’s been telling him to put that guitar down. Did you hear his solo at the end of the aforementioned “Sixteen”? It honestly has to be one of the worst ever committed to wax. It’s unclear if he bothered to tune beforehand. Ross hilariously lies his ass off when he adlibs “beautiful” and “amazing” in the background. I like to think that Big Boi would’ve politely told Dre to chill. Or at least he would’ve made up some lie, like he accidentally lost the Pro Tools file one night in between popping ex and Viagara.
Funny enough, one of the reasons Andre hasn’t been releasing much music is that he’s been busy immersing himself in the lead role of the Jimi Hendrix biopic, All Is By My Side. That immersion included working on his guitar skills. “I’m not a great guitar player,” he told MTV. “I can just play [good] enough.” Forgot to mention: He said that back in 2004.
At least it seems like the movie is maybe possibly finally coming out next year. That’s more than we can say for an Outkast album, or an Andre album. “Some days I feel like I’ll do it, some days I don’t,” he said of a new solo LP at a Gillette event last month. “I am just hoping one day I get that inspiration. I can’t just throw out an album to be rapping. And I don’t even know if it will be rap.”
He did at least feel the inspiration to “do some Gillette shit,” as Big Boi put it recently. And his goatee does look totally sporty with that beret in that commercial.
But c’mon, Three Stacks. We say this out of love: You’re not a great spokesman, guitar player, singer or actor. What you are is one of the best MCs ever. In the immortal words of Lyor Cohen in the classic Ego Trip Book of Rap Lists: “If you’re a baker, you make your living off of baking. If you’re a construction worker, you made your living doing construction. If you’re a rapper, RAP, motherfucker.” —Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)