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Guest Rapper of the Year

By Chet Betz | 21 December 2007

First you have to ask yourself if Weezy is really just "guesting" on the tracks on which he cameos. Now join me here at "No, of course not." Can you even remember who's hosting him on those several hundred tracks? They're all part of one assimilative Lil Wayne canon which is insatiable and will no doubt one day include a Weezy videogame (probably something like Shadow of the Colossus except with Lil Wayne scaling Big Waynes to free Superhead from eternal slumber) or a movie (directed by Harmony Korine with Weezy playing all the characters). Coincidentally, the last time I did feel like Weezy was a guest...uh, well, it was "Hello Brooklyn." But the last time before that was on another inspired-by-movie song, Idlewild's "Hollywood Divorce," where the GRA corrected himself ("like a python, I mean cobra") then explained himself ("I'm so not sober") -- sorta ("I'm high like a Hollywood coffee or soda you can call me a roller hold up" [?]). Andre 3000 took the baton and beat Weezy at his own Jabberwocky game ("A is for Adamsville / B is for Bowen Home / C if I give a fuck if you like me you know I don't") before launching into some pointed lines that likely make sense to everyone except Wayne and his deranged brain: "D is for what I serve / I don't be on no curb / She ain't no junkie neither / I ain't no dope dealer."

"Hollywood Divorce" and "The Mighty O" were life-giving promises to OutKast fans, more specifically to those zealous few of us who still believe that Andre hasn't completely given up on rapping and that he and Big Boi will eventually release another one of our favorite albums ever. But we knew about Idlewild (2006) and were ready for the fact that, dammit, it's a musical soundtrack. I don't think any of us could have predicted what Andre would give us in 2007: guest rap after song-making guest rap that would cement in the minds of hip-hop followers his position as one of our greatest living rappers and, in a very lackluster year for the genre, a reminder of what great rapping actually sounds like. Like, it is such excellent rapping, I'm hopeful that Andre's even convinced himself.

Andre displays a marriage of cadence to concept that rappers either always overshoot or forget about. More than that, his flow paints the picture without making a point of the fact that that's what it's doing. On the remix of Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's" Andre carefully pushes his syllabic emphases towards more and more pronounced binary, creating a sharp back-and-forth rhythm to the lines "So we act like we run track / Then we run straight to the back / But they comin' from the back / So we run back to the front / They say get down on ya knees / We say what the fuck you want?" Andre builds the tension then releases some of it by throwing his emphasis on every third syllable for the next line, which follows immediately before Andre reveals how he's gonna turn the tables on the boys in blue. Peter Jackson says that one of the most difficult things about directing is how to maintain and develop the "momentum" of a scene; when it comes to rapping, Andre 3000 is a master of dynamic momentum and of using that to the service of his rhymes in a way that puts flow and story far beyond catchphrasing. Which is the kind of thing that most rappers aren't even aware they could be doing. Jim Jones, Murphy Lee, Nelly, and the Game sure don't show any inkling of it as they proceed to shit on the remainder of the "Throw Some D's" remix.

And Jim Jones' head would likely explode if he tried to wrap it around what Andre does with the final verse of Devin the Dude's "What A Job." On a song that examines rap music as occupation Andre starts his verse rapping like a robot ("We work nights, we some vampires"). Then he sing-speaks words into the mouths of the giddy downloaders. Dre returns to a regular style when talking about how he's doing it for the fans, or more specifically this one fan, or even more specifically that boy with "his baby mama Kiki" and how they used to make love to Andre's music in college. About the time the boy brings up "fingernail polish" Dre cuts him off, saying he's gotta get back to the studio. The fan and his girl ask if Dre can put them in his raps, and voila, he already has. 3000 gonna bring it full circle, of course, so he explains in not so many words that he will (did) do it because it's part of his job description. It's meta-rap with extreme yet inculpable transitions that use the blankness of words for the ease of a cavalier flow -- on a hyper-literary tip like reading Breakfast of Champions or some shit.

So he's clever and a thrilling technician, but Andre's also one of the most soulful rappers doing it, and I'm not saying this because he's crooning all the time. I'm saying this because he bases a lot of his rapping, his pacing and intonation, and even his breath control off the emotion of what he's saying; he never even glances emo-rap because he keeps his shit smooth and smiling (even if sometimes it's smiling through a tear). On the "You" remix he immediately grasps the tone of the Spandau Ballet sample, lets it affect him and permeate his scheme, then drops gold: "I said, 'What time you get off?' / She said, 'When you get me off' / I kind of laughed but it turned into a cough / Cuz I swallowed down the wrong pipe--" (breath) "--Whatever that means, you know, old people say it so it sounds right." Here Andre's telling stories in a way that places rap in the context of urban oral tradition and then shoves that way forward through the sheer artfulness of his execution. The performance is both elegant and expressive, so the emotion of the moments described inculcates thoroughly under the steady pulse of the rhyming. Much like soul singers let their vocals explore their interpretation of a song's feeling, Andre uses his rapping to make his words glow.

Probably the most famous verse Three Stacks has dropped in 2007 is the opening invocation to "International Players Anthem"; the song itself treats him differently by letting his words sound vulnerable and pure. That's fortunate because now I feel that this, one of UGK's last singles, will stand the test of time. I don't think we're gonna forget "International Players Anthem"; Pimp C will have a place in our hearts and our party playlists for years to come. Maybe every year to come. The song's a bona fide classic, and that's now what it takes to hold up to being notably more than a bearer for a classic Andre 3000 verse. Most of these 2007 songs have Andre delivering their first round, asking him to get things started off right. Strange that only Devin the Dude's track had the foresight to put Andre's verse at the end; I rarely listen past Andre's verse on the remixes, and that's even with Lord Nas having a pretty nice turn on "You." Billed as OutKast featuring Marsha Ambrosius, "Da Art of Storytellin' Part 4" (where'd I miss Part 3?) is a fitting way to cap off this Year in Andre 3000, namely because I bow to his opening verse -- for all the reasons exemplified by his guest verses this year -- and then immediately skip back to the beginning of the track once his two minutes are up. "What A Job" seems to understand what I hope Andre understands: the final act is the most important. It's for this reason that I choose not to believe that Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) or Idlewild will one day be considered the last OutKast album. But even if I'm wrong on that count, 2007 has given me a new and equal hope for which I can also pray: a solo rap record from Mr. Three Stacks. God, please.