Will this be remembered as the year everyone finally gave up on the idea of an Outkast reunion? Between Kendrick, K.R.I.T. and all halfway rap fusionists, their legacy remains the pink elephant in the room (to match Andre’s suspenders.) But the slow drip of articles touting “OUTKAST IN THE STUDIO” have gone ghost. Andre is pretty entrenched as the pretty face for Movember. The dream of being the greatest rapper of all-time has been replaced by being the greatest mustache since Stalin. He’s still top 10 and that’s good enough. To paraphrase Mugatu: he invented ATLiens. What have we ever done? Nothing.
In the first decade of their career, Outkast released as many songs as Wale did before releasing his first album. They were not built for these times. They could release an EP tomorrow, it might sell a million copies and Babyface and LA Reid would still probably be able to buy a few more ivory back scratchers with Left Eye’s face engraved on it (circa “Hat 2 Da Back.”) But there would be pressure to tour, do inane interviews with inane members of the media, and he’d have to read blogs critiquing his bars as boring. Or he can eat organic whole grain breads and ethically hatched eggs at the Newsroom Cafe in West Hollywood, while cashing million dollar checks for roles in stoner comedies. So basically, his verse on T.I.’s “Sorry” translates to “Can I Live?”
Few have ever been more artful at complaint than Andre. In fact, most of his best guest verses over the last few years have been just that (see also: “What a Job,” “Walk It Out”). This is both bitching and mea culpa, with rapping that remains leagues ahead of his peers — even if he’s insecure that he lacks the new flows and energy of youth. What makes “Sorry” special isn’t that it’s a laundry list of complaints. Andre’s getting at deeper issues, the spark of creativity that comes from hunger. The apartment that’s more exciting than the house on the hill. How it’s that much more difficult to be compelling when your problems are solved and the keys to the Porsche are in your pocket.
If you’ve ever wondered why your favorite rappers fall off, Andre’s explaining why. Sometimes you’ve said all that you’ve had to say. Phillip Roth said the same thing in this recent New York Times interview and no one’s knocking on his doorstep being like, “Yo, I know you got another Portnoy’s Complaint in you, dunny.”
Writing is humiliation. Writing is frustration. So if Andre wants to enjoy the prime of his life without struggling in the dungeon, that’s his prerogative. We’re lucky to get this. The apology is there to Big Boi. But what did he expect. Andre as soul searcher was always what made him so interesting. On his second album, he went sober and strapped on a turban. His third album made when I was in high school is still the template for the best rap album of 2012. By sticking to guest appearances, he can vent what’s pressing on his mind. There is no pressure to “change the game” or re-invent an entirely new sonic aesthetic. He can speak freely and he remains everything but boring.
Big Boi continues toiling, the janissary to their memory, spitting player raps over tuba and saxomophone funk, occasionally pausing to break organic lavash with indie-pop groups and ASAP Simons. I touched upon this briefly in my addled Outside Lands article, but there’s little else left for him to do. Daddy Fat Sacks has too much class to slander his partner and Andre doesn’t owe us a damn thing. The Internet has created a bizarre imbalance of supply and demand. We expect high quality product at a non-stop pace and the only rappers capable of supplying that sort of demand are those who work from the assembly line model — Wayne, Curren$y, Gucci. And that only lasts for two years, tops.
Sir Lucious seems to have absorbed the creative restlessness of his partner. While his last album soaked up country funk and Roger Troutman, the early leaks from Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors seem to suggest that he’s intent on fusing the Pitchfork Singles List from 2010 to post-Lex Luger trap music. The beat for “In the A” could have been an outtake from the TNGHT album. As for the rapping, he flips lines from “Shutterbug,” never a sign of creative vitality, especially when it seems a little safe. In a way, you could call this paint-by-numbers Big Boi, but the equations were always complex in the first place. All you need to know is that it knocks.
The brilliance of Outkast was the equilibrium achieved between Big Boi’s lean hard-headedness and Andre’s astral indulgences. But in the aftermath of their break-up, it’s clear that they’ve absorbed the other’s qualities — working with someone for over a decade will do that to you. Neither of these cuts will ever approach the heights of any of the first four Outkast albums, but they don’t need to. I assume you already have them in your iTunes. These are impressive additions to already estimable catalogues of two of the greatest rappers of all-time. Outkast is never coming back. I’m sorry too. But if you want them back together again, you can always just edit these MP3s together. It’s not so difficult.