It’s now been 20 years since OutKast signed to LaFace Records. Big Boi’s solo career spans roughly half of that, so it was easy to go into the listening party for Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors at Rubber Tracks Studios on Tuesday with some lofty expectations. From the handful of songs performed, it seems like Big Boi’s new album will pick up where Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty left off. It’s a welcome return to the wild future funk that production team Organized Noize built their catalog on, complementing the accelerated, rhythmic flow that distinguishes Big Boi from a lot of his Atlanta contemporaries. It translated well live—a bassist, drummer, and DJ Cutmaster Swift kept the crowd attentive, first by playing an instrumental medley of OutKast favorites and then providing backing for the new tracks. Big Boi performed three or four songs off the new album and then sat down and ad-libbed along for three or four more; everyone watched and drank lots of free vodka.
Andre 3000’s trademark stylistic idiosyncrasies, which include dressing like a cartoon character and actually becoming a cartoon character, are a far cry from Big Boi’s more reserved weirdness. He carefully negotiates a more traditional high-energy southern sound and the cosmic introspection characteristic of the Dungeon Family. The subdued atmosphere inside of Rubber Tracks reflected this—among the record industry and press crowd was the one guy in a 40oz Van snapback, now required at every New York rap event, and conversely, only one internet famous rap dude in attendance. Andre 3000 may have been too busy shaving to stop by. Frankly, it was a little too normal. Robots, aliens, or lasers would have helped, something to accentuate the eccentricity that makes Big Boi so memorable. It’s sad to think that it made me want to take a time machine into the past so that I’d feel like I was in the future, you know?
The actual music told a similar story—so far, Vicious Lies has a lineup of foreseeable guests including A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, and Kelly Rowland. Cudi’s guest spot on “She Hates Me” sounded more like a negotiation with the record label for radio-friendly hits than anything else. Among the various collaborations, the only one that stood out was the T.I. and Ludacris-assisted “In the A,” probably because Big Boi sampled himself on it. Preferable were the tracks that hinted at Big Boi’s uniqueness: “CPU,” featuring Sarah Barthel of electronic duo Phantogram, was full of computer raps fitting the space-age aesthetic that goes back as far as ATLiens. There’s no doubt that Big Boi can still make the kind of classic records that have defined his career, but it’s the weird shit that will help him remain interesting. Ideally, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors will take him a little further out there, creating that kind of mystifying rap that sounds ahead of its time.