Andre 3000, one of a handful of rappers who can legitimately claim to being one of the best ever, has delighted and flummoxed us for years. We can only speculate on the reasons why.
Every so often, Andre Three Stacks teases us with a handful of guest appearances on other artists’ songs. On the surface, that’s no big deal: When a rapper is hot, like Rick Ross and 2 Chainz, he can generate dozens of cameo appearances in less than a year. But when Andre blesses a track, it’s still a major event because OutKast has been silent since 2006’s uneven Idlewild soundtrack (and the inarguably bad movie it accompanied). They didn’t necessarily go out on top, but their string of classic albums matched only by Kanye West has left us hungry for fresh material, whether it’s a new Big Boi solo project like 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, or an odd verse from ‘Dre.
It doesn’t hurt that Andre 3000’s guest appearances tend to be terrific in that casual, offhand manner that only he and his inimitable ATL drawl can manage. His verse made Devin the Dude’s “What a Job” one of the best Southern rap songs of the past decade. He gets on such a roll when he woos a girl during the bridge of John Legend’s “Green Light,” that he chuckles at his audaciousness, and makes us laugh, too. And he made rap fans actually listen to a Ke$ha song, “Sleazy 2.0 Get Sleazier” (though we really didn’t want to). There is Jay-Z’s “30 Something (Remix),” Beyonce’s “Party,” and Drake’s “The Real Her”… perhaps the only time another rapper out-shined Andre 3000 is on an “Interlude” from Lil Wayne’s The Carter IV, when Tech N9ne speed-rapped a burner verse. Even legends have their off-days.
In July, two more verses from Andre 3000 appeared. For Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter,” he remembers a woman who “had the kind of body that would probably intimidate/ Any of them that were un-Southern/ Not me cousin/ If models are made for modeling/ Thick girls are made for cuddling.” Rick Ross’ “Sixteen” finds him tortured over the concept of a 16-bar verse, and how he can’t fit what he has to say in such a short frame of time. Andre also plays guitar on both tracks, perhaps as a way of promoting his upcoming Jimi Hendrix biopic. On “Sixteen” in particular, he attempts a stilted, Hendrix-like solo with a few strummed notes and a little reverb. Such goofiness is to be expected from Andre Three Stacks – after all, this is the guy whose only solo album to date is a little-promoted children’s record, 2007’s Class of 3000. It’s what we love about him.
(Rhapsody – August 3, 2012)
Last July, Young Jeezy celebrated the 10th anniversary of his acclaimed debut, Thug Motivation 101: Let’s Get It. During a sold out concert in Atlanta, he performed the album in his entirety alongside high-wattage guests, including fellow kings of the South like T.I., Usher, OutKast, and Bun B. The event was a testament to his enduring influence as “your favorite trapper’s favorite trapper.”
Jeezy emerged during an era when Southern rap took over the public’s perception of authentic rap culture. He was a hero of what was then called “regional rap,” which signified musical idioms and styles that weren’t birthed in a major label boardroom, but in the neighborhoods of Everytown, USA, and far from corporate influence. Amidst a widespread reassessment and debate over which forms of rap were truest to the art form, Jeezy stood out as a a man who seemed to truly labor in the trap, Southern slang for the impoverished working-class communities where street hustlers flourish. He performed many of his early shows at showcases and parties held by the notorious drug cartel BMF a.k.a. Black Mafia Family. He has a voice that’s wheezy and unpretentious, and his lyrics are short and to the point. He peppers his raps with adlibs that are widely copied and parodied: “Yeeeah!” “That’s riiight!” “Ha ha! Yeah!” When Kanye West collaborated with Jeezy on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” he simply used Jeezy’s adlibs as a signature for pure authenticity. They were all that West needed.
For a few years, Jeezy’s Atlanta hometown bred the most influential rap scene in the country, and was a mainstay of nightclubs and the pop charts. Many of those hits featured Jeezy, including his “Soul Survivor” track with Akon, Usher’s “In This Club,” and Rihanna’s “Hard.” Today, however, Southern rap has receded from the pop landscape. Rising stars like Future may hold wide influence and even impact the album charts – his DS2 and Drake collaboration What A Time to Be Alive both debuted at number 1 this year. But the meaning of the word “trap” has been debased. Now, it’s a signifier for bass-heavy EDM, chirpy pop raps like Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” and who knows what else.
As a result, the 38-year-old Jeezy has become an elder statesman. Stylistically, he hasn’t changed much. Every album since Thug Motivation 101 largely sticks to his tales of bricks, bricks, and more bricks. He has occasionally shown political awareness, too, most notably on The Recession, a title inspired by the economic crash of 2008. It featured “My President is Black,” which honored Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
It may be just as well that Jeezy has stubbornly clung to his original “trapper” image while his personal life evolves. (Earlier this summer, he posted a photo of his son graduating from high school.) We may want our favorite artists to change, but we don’t always accept them when they do – witness the continued backlash over Jay Z’s shift from hustler rhymes to luxury rap. So Jeezy has chosen to stay in character, whether it resembles real life or not.