By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
It's hard to pick the best bar from André 3000's fantastic 2011 output, but one is most important—"I only say this in cadence, so it don't get negated"—which he drops in the middle of a rollicking verse on Ke$ha's "Sleazy." That's the mission statement for the erstwhile OutKast member who has spent much of his time from 2003's massively successful SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below warbling on his own tracks, while only occasionally gracing songs of the moment and lacing them with lacerating verses that usually address his own insatiable libido and incredible skill while admonishing and advising the youth of America about the truths of this country: I'm rapping, but I'm saying something, but mostly I'm rapping absurdly well.
André hits tracks hard and smacks them to left field. On "Sleazy," he lampoons his host's concept of him ("This crazy lady Ke$ha is guessin' my Mercedes/Would be all new and froo-froo, but it's a 1980's") and the idea of being down ("I call her Keisha/She like it because it's hood to her"), but he begins with the idea of a mother taking baby pictures to make sure the father remembers a child and includes the lament, "two-parent dwellings and spelling has gotten so underrated." On Beyoncé's "Party," he becomes the scowling wallflower, boasting, "I ain't worried 'bout them fuck niggas over there" before sighing, "Kiddo say he looks up to me/This just makes me feel old/Never thought that we could become someone else's hero" and affirming "Grandmom and them, they never forgot, and nothin' else really mean nothin' to me."
"Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)" finds him constructing his own version of the popular rap-is-a-woman metaphor ("I don't use a cordless microphone aboard them/They don't feel real to me, meaning real woman") and imagining a lost lover finding inferior partners ("Now somebody you don't e'en know got you in bed/Betcha buddy don't e'en know you don't like red") despite conceding his own dissatisfaction with prior arrangements ("Hate that all of our memories happened in a Hyatt"). It's a scathing kiss-off to the rap world André flits into and out of like a comet.
Guerrilla critiques like these sound good on paper but better on tracks because André is a fantastic rapper: He rhymes "borrowed," "pharaoh," "Cairo," "stars so," "marbles," "car doors," "call those," "whole carload," and "raw hoes" in the space of three bars on "Interlude," the best verse on Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV, before wondering, "How come the only girls that are thought of/Are the light ones?" That query is echoed on "Play the Guitar" ("Why the world sleepin' on black girls? Hey, I don't know, man"), which he blisters with "According to the Internet, 3000 got a big ol' dic.../...tionary fulla words; he must know how to use 'em/It also says I play the violin, and that ain't true, but," the best Wikipedia correction ever, before encouraging kids to pick up instruments and eat their vegetables. And on "The Real Her," he rides a Noah "40" Shebib beat perfectly before wondering why strippers "that can laugh" sit off in a corner and making the best Boise State reference ever.
This stealthy pedagogy isn't new or unique to André, but he's the best at it today, in part because he has made scarcity part of his appeal. Listeners know that Three Stacks on a track is a seal of approval, and that's why he gets tabbed for songs like Young Jeezy's monogamy fantasy "I Do"—André imagines a daughter who will "love books and cook" and "tote a .22/The laser version"—despite a price tag that could induce sticker shock: No one does cadence that won't get negated better.