4 Lesser-Known Halves of Music Duos Who Deserve Your Respect
Second fiddle is a hard instrument to play, especially when you know you deserve better. That the go-to term we use to describe the less important half of a duo is a music reference is evidence that this is a situation that comes up on an especially regular basis in that industry.
We talk about some of the famous second halves from music history who deserve more respect on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
We kick off the talk about underrated other halves by talking about one of my favorites ...
Big Boi (Outkast)
I have a theory about Outkast and what prompted Andre 3000 to morph from the just-like-everyone-else Atlanta rapper he was on the group's first album ...
Outkast invented Instagram filters.
... into the God/religion/alien/conspiracy theory-obsessed weirdo he turned into on their sophomore album.
Sweet corset, bro.
It's a matter of talent. On their first album, the disparity between the pair in terms of ability was noticeable to the point of being uncomfortable. It was clear that, of the two, the guy who called himself "Dre" at the time was the star of the show. Not that Big Boi was bad; he was just a lot less good than his partner and had a way sillier name (still true).
A whole lot of things changed within the Outkast universe between their first and second albums, though. For one thing, it was obvious that Big Boi had done a shit-ton of rap pushups or sold his soul to the devil or something, because his talent as a rapper increased dramatically, so much so that definitively identifying one as better than the other was almost impossible.
Meanwhile, as stated earlier, "Dre" went from wearing Atlanta Braves jerseys and rapping about drugs to wearing turbans and explaining how the New World Order would destroy us all once the year 2000 rolled around.
With that in mind, here's a question: Is it possible that one of those changes led to the other? The group had been together for at least four years by that point, and there's a good chance Andre Benjamin had been considered the "star" of the group the entire time based on nothing more than obviously being the superior talent. That's not the kind of status an entertainer relinquishes without a fight. For whatever reason, the weapon Andre 3000 decided to bring to that fight was football shoulder pads and a pair of furry pants.
"Please love me more."
Personally, I think it sort of backfired. As the years went on, Big Boi continually improved, while his "better" half grew more desperate to set himself apart. By the time Outkast released the landmark Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, just as the title of the double album implies, they were basically two people making their own separate music under the same group name. Oh, and Andre 3000 stopped rapping, basically.
That's not an exaggeration. For a good few years there, he just didn't rap. He still made music, but it was always this kind of stuff (at best):
Don't get me wrong: I like that song a lot, but if you think Andre 3000 still belonged in the discussion of the best rappers of his time when he was pulling stunts like that, you're insane. He's spent like the last decade hating his job to the point that he tried to reinvent himself as some kind of mashup of D'Angelo and a teenager with a yellow belt in guitar lessons. Meanwhile, for all his efforts to set himself apart as his own brand, he's never even managed a solo album. Again, yes, that one half of that one Outkast album was technically a solo album, but if he was so confident about his guitar strumming and blues warbling, he would've put that shit out under his own name.
His partner certainly has no qualms about going it alone, and the results are usually marvelous.
Quick sidebar: If you don't like that song, fuck you. Anyway, am I saying that Andre 3000 is the lesser half of Outkast? Yeah, kind of. I think he's been the lesser half for a long time, and I think it's because he cared more about being the star of the group and less about music. Fortunately, John Legend convinced Andre 3000 to start rapping again ...
... presumably by doing nothing more than putting on a fresh suit and asking nicely. Add a recent and relatively successful reunion at Coachella to the story and it seems like things are finally getting back to normal in the Outkast household. Let's just hope no one gets an acoustic guitar for Christmas.
Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac)
Right off the bat, yes, I know Fleetwood Mac isn't a duo, but I appreciate your complimentary mathletics and the accompanying comment all the same. Besides, depending on whether they have J.K. Rowling or whoever the fuck that is on keyboards, the other people are just the rhythm section, which means they only matter if they suck. They don't, though, so the only people anyone talks about are Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Also, before they joined Fleetwood Mac, they recorded an album as a duo.
Just a heads up, that video is sort of NSFW on account of the fact that it's a still image in which you can sort of see one of Stevie Nicks' nipples and totally see both of Lindsey Buckingham's. So, someone is getting an erection -- don't say I didn't warn you.
Anyway, Stevie Nicks gets way more attention, but Lindsey Buckingham is far and away the most important piece of the Fleetwood Mac puzzle, just ahead of drugs and seething contempt for each other.
Everyone in this picture wants to kill everyone in this picture.
Proof of Lindsey Buckingham's importance to your parents' favorite band can be found on the 1990 album Behind the Mask. What can't be found on that album is Lindsey Buckingham. He left after 1987's Tango in the Night and was replaced by Billy Burnette. And Rick Vito.
And a total lack of shame.
That's right: It took two people to replace what Lindsey Buckingham brought to the band. One was expected to pick up his songwriting duties, the other was to fill his lead guitar spot. Neither was even remotely capable of doing either. The resulting album is so terrible, the band isn't even on the cover.
They just want it to look like they might be from a distance.
It's also worth noting that most Fleetwood Mac albums these days, like the aforementioned Tango in the Night or 2003's Say You Will, start out as Lindsey Buckingham solo projects. You know who else makes solo albums? Stevie Nicks makes solo albums, and not a one has turned into a "Fleetwood Mac" album.
If none of that does anything for you, just remember that Lindsey Buckingham is also the man responsible for one of the finest movie theme songs of all time, and he did it all by his lonesome.
That alone makes him more important than the rest of Fleetwood Mac, if nothing else.
Flavor Flav (Public Enemy)
Again, is Public Enemy really a duo? Not if you consider a DJ and several security guards to be legitimate members of a musical act. In other words, yes -- for all intents and purposes, Public Enemy is a duo consisting of rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav. The former is widely regarded as one of the most important lyricists of his day; the latter fucked Brigitte Nielsen on VH1 in the name of nothing more than giving your girlfriend something to watch on television.
Your woman expects this from you now.
So it's understandable that he'd be viewed as the less essential half of his longstanding partnership with Chuck D (real name Carlton Ridenhour, in case you hadn't already guessed). There's more to Flavor Flav than gigantic clocks and questionable relationship choices, though. For one thing, he's got that Viking helmet that he's pretty well-known for these days. Don't even try to take that away from him.
It wouldn't look this good on you anyway.
Wait, there's more! Cracked has already discussed at length that Flavor Flav is a secret genius who can play pretty much any musical instrument by ear ...
... and if segues were a thing you needed in a list article, that point would make as good of a segue as any for what I want to talk about here, which is the music of Flavor Flav.
Once again, in the annals of Public Enemy history, it's the Chuck D-fronted songs that get most of the attention. For Flavor Flav, the general public's knowledge of his musical output is mostly limited to "911 Is a Joke" from the 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that, in general, Flavor Flav is limited to a song or two per album, which I imagine is just one on a list of many things he has in common with the Beatles' George Harrison.
Another characteristic the two share as a result of the limitations put on their ability to release music is an unusually strong batting average as it relates to good songs vs. terrible songs. Over the course of Public Enemy's gigantic catalog of released material, there have been enough "Flavor Flav" songs to maybe fill an album or two. That said, if you did compile those songs onto an album, it would be a pretty strong one. As far back as their first album, Flavor Flav's contributions have provided a welcome respite from the almost always otherwise serious tone of Public Enemy's work. Like this song from the House Party soundtrack ...
... which eventually ended up on the same album as "911 Is a Joke" and, as a result, has been mostly forgotten. He turned in similarly strong songs for their next album, Apocalypse '91 ...
... the album after that one ...
... and pretty much every Public Enemy album before or since. Sure, he's a borderline maniac who's probably a massive embarrassment to be around in front of friends and family, but that should be all the more evidence of his usefulness and importance to the Public Enemy legend. If he wasn't worth putting up with, they wouldn't still be putting up with him after all these years.
Meg White (The White Stripes)
Sometimes, when I'm putting together a column, I like to make little side bets with my friend (not a typo) and co-workers about which entry is going to inspire the most outrage among the commenters. This week, I've put my money on Meg White.
I'm joking, of course. No one cares what you think. Still, I can envision a lot of people furrowing their stupid brows over Meg White's inclusion here. After all, let's just say it: She's a terrible fucking drummer. Like, really bad. Famously bad. Legendarily bad. Calling her underrated probably seems like a stretch. In terms of talent, Meg White was Jack White's equal only in that they're the Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen of avoiding the sun.
Still, despite having a drummer who can barely play the drums, the fact remains that the White Stripes made some really great music. How did that happen? Easy -- they didn't make great music in spite of their terrible drummer; they made great music because of their terrible drummer. Listen to any White Stripes song and, please, by all means, tell me what those drums should sound like. If you're a drummer, you probably have an actual answer, which is fine provided you're fine with no one wanting to hear it. The only correct answer, of course, is that those drums sound exactly as they should, because that is a White Stripes song. If you want a White Stripes song with competent drumming, you're going to have to listen to a different band:
The White Stripes was not a unit built upon a foundation of capability. Their songs succeeded because they work on the same level as things like nursery rhymes and shiny objects. They tap into something very basic and primal that lives inside all of us, which, of course, is the need to rock with as little muss or fuss as possible.
None of this would have been possible without Meg White and her near total inability to play the drums. Couldn't a competent drummer have stepped in to play those simple patterns? No, because they'd be too ashamed to attach their name to that shit. Meg White, clearly, has no aspirations toward becoming a great musician, which made her perfectly suited to play the preschool level drum parts that make a White Stripes song so immediately distinguishable ...
... from the rest of Jack White's catalog.
Besides, how would Jack White have even known that his squeals and squeaks become so tasty when set to the sound of a noticeable lack of talent if he never decided to just up and let whoever happened to be in the room at the time have a shot at playing drums? I'm not sure how the first one worked, but these days, every chicken starts as an egg, and, as it pertains to the White Stripes, Meg White is that egg. Without her, the music of the White Stripes literally could not exist ...
... and that would be a goddamn shame.
Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should listen to on SoundCloud and a live stand-up comedy show of the same name that you should come see sometime if you're in the Los Angeles area. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
For more halves that deserve better, check out 16 Secret Pet Peeves of Famous Sidekicks.