The first thing Big Boi says on his second solo album on the intro is: “If y’all don’t know me by now, y’all ain’t gon’ never know me…” It seems a peculiarly defensive way to open up an album, especially the follow-up to his stunning kind-of-debut “Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty.” However, once you delve into “Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumours” – sorry, “Rumors” (I’m a Brit), you’ll realise that he’s probably had an awful lot of defending to do in order to get it released in this form, full stop. It’s an incredibly eclectic mix of music, the love letter of a music fan and a heartbroken son, blending together joy, pain, death and sex over a bewildering but endlessly fascinating tapestry of futuristic beats. If “Sir Lucious Left Foot” was the perfect album to bump on a hot summer’s day, riding round shining, then “Vicious Lies…” is the companion piece for the night.
Your first listen – especially if you loved SLLF – will probably be somewhat disappointing (as Patton has admitted in interviews). However, VLADR genuinely improves with each spin: it’s just so dense, whether you’re talking music, themes or that wonderful variety of choruses. Big Boi is a real Jedi Master of this rap shit, and he’s easily one of the few hip hop artists who can write an actual song, from conception to realization, with skill and energy. Whilst this album isn’t chock full of the same batshit crazy (and thus awe-inspiring) moments as his 2010 LP, it’s refined in almost every way. Patton’s palette is simply astonishing, and his ability to orchestrate the whole show is impressive, especially when drawing upon so many different influences. The only letdown that makes it all a bit tougher than it should have been is the bewildering sequencing, which leaves a lot to be desired.
After that intro (which comes back as the final song), “The Thickets” kicks in: it’s another stomping Organized Noise joint featuring the criminally underrated Sleepy Brown, and it has a strong DJ Toomp feel to it; yet dope though it is, it really doesn’t feel like the right choice as the opening song. “Apple of My Eye” is one of those confusing numbers that ends up growing into a classy stuck-in-your-head track, with a subtle brilliance to it. “Objectum Sexuality” features Phantogram – a match that may perplex most, but Big Boi works from the ground up with his guests, and they deliver another genial song (the secondary melody to the chorus is just perfect). “General Patton” was one of the standouts from SLLF, with that insane orchestration, and here Big Boi samples his own opening line from “Shutterbugg,” loops it, makes it the chorus, invites T.I. and Ludacris to party and the trio go HARD. It’s well worth the hype, and it’s had the streets on smash (all three spit fire). Kid Cudi drops his unique brand of melancholy on the aptly-titled “She Hates Me” – a strong song, but another example of the poor sequencing, taking the momentum out.
One of the highlights once again features Phantogram – the incredible “CPU” which is pretty much the perfect song, and surely an interesting contender for a future single. “Thom Pettie” is an off-kilter bundle of crazy, featuring Little Dragon and a man that has certainly had a 2012 to remember: Killer Mike. It takes some getting used to, but it is pretty wicked. Kelly Rowland pops up on the throwback vibe of “Mama Told Me” – it’s the kind of song that should really work, but to be honest, it doesn’t feel like the strongest of singles, just lacking in sleight of hand. “Lines” finds A$AP Rocky, and it is vaguely reminiscent of “You Ain’t No DJ” except with the addition of another top chorus from Phantogram (the chemistry is perfect between them and Big Boi). Whilst the saccharin surf-pop of “Shoes For Running” may well grate on some ears, it’s an immediately catchy sing-song slice of fun with Wavves that should ease accessibility problems (even if B.o.B brings his familiar blandness to the proceedings). It’s the last high energy moment of the regular album.
The hilarious and indelible “Raspberries” finds all manner of soulful crooning over a minimalist beat, and the track is a WTF surefire winner. “Tremendous Damage” is the kind of song that pretty much anyone could identify with, a personal anthem for all of us when times get tough. VLADR ends as it began, with the gorgeous “Descending” featuring Little Dragon (the opener was called “Ascending”). The guitar work would melt the hardest heart, as would Patton’s lament about losing his father. It’s the perfect ending, as that familiar “If you don’t know me by now” refrain returns – this time less defensive, and more of an invitation into his life. What proves confusing, however, is the further three songs that were originally meant to be Deluxe cuts but now appears to be part of the full album, even though they are bonuses. Jai Paul is a talent to watch out for, and the all too brief “Higher Res” is an unconventional funk number that could have worked as an interlude. “Gossip” should have been included, as it is precisely what is missing from the first half of the album – that classic trunk-rattling Big Boi/Organized Noize sound. “She Said OK” potentially works better with the edited chorus, as the sweet soul music seems at odds with that lowbrow “Let me see ya titties…” chorus. It certainly could have been included in the second half of the album proper, though.
This isn’t an immediate album. It’s one that will take a few listens, but your patience will be rewarded. It’s also worth your money – make no mistake. The sequencing issues aren’t terminal, and there is simply so much quality on offer, especially if you view it as a more chilled out and experimental companion piece to “Sir Lucious Left Foot.” The two other factors that make this so essential are as follows: the choruses are fucking amazing and Big Boi raps his ass off. Yep. That simple. It’s not as energetic as his previous effort, being a touch more snobby, artsy and refined. It’s also messy, all over the place, smutty, emotional, random and bizarre. But those words could almost all be applied to Big Boi himself, and “if you don’t know him by now…” Well, you know the rest. “Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors” isn’t for everyone, but allow your host to take you down the road less travelled, and you should end up being glad you took the risk.