Half of rap's most exciting duo steps out on his own and puts his left foot forward.
Eminem can rap about recovery and Drake can rap about the pitfalls of newfound fame. Each can eloquently argue, with mind numbing flow and envy inducing wordplay, about how tough things have been for them. They might even be right, but there isn't an MC in history that has had it as tough as Big Boi.
Big Boi, born Antwan Patton, has sold 22 million albums in the U.S., received 16 Grammy nominations and nabbed six Grammys. Yet, in spite of all this success, and in spite of the fact that at his best Big Boi is nothing short of amazing and at his worst he's nothing less than pretty damn good, he is still one of the most underrated MCs hip-hop has ever seen. Why? He's not Andre 3000.
Big Boi isn't half of just any hip-hop unit; he's half of OutKast, perhaps the most creative duo in the genre's history, and his running partner, Andre 3000, a personality the likes of which hip-hop has rarely seen, seems to sweat creative eccentricity. In Andre's shadow he is too often seen as the conventional rapper who simply spits fast and adds a bit of gangsta dirt to Andre's shine. However, OutKast's success was born out of Big Boi's cool confidence, not Andre's cool. Big Boi has always anchored the whole OutKast concept down close enough to the real world to be accepted by those that felt that Andre was simply weird. Andre 3000 made OutKast unique; Big Boi made OutKast real and they both made OutKast legendary.
After years of delays Big Boi is releasing Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, without the benefit of the OutKast banner, and he's doing so in the midst of a number of high profile and high quality hip-hop releases (Eminem, Drake and the Roots all released albums in June) to a public that just wants to hear a new OutKast CD. Andre 3000 doesn't rap a single bar. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty isn't an OutKast album. It makes no effort to sound like one and it sounds better than most people ever imagined it would.
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is a testament of how good Big Boi is. The album runs a bit too long (is there a law stating that all rap albums must have 17 tracks?), but stripped of an unneeded intro, filler like "Tangerine" and "Hustle Blood" and the flat "Shine Blockas" along with its equally flat remix, and the disc weighs in at a trim fighting weight of 12 tracks of shifting tones and musical invention.
"I write knockout songs / You spit out punch lines for money," Big Boi raps over an avalanche of percussion and synths on the disc's first full length track, "Daddy Fat Sax". The song is a marvel of multitasking. In a little over two and a half minutes it makes movement virtually involuntary, serves as a reminder of Big Boi's considerable skills and establishes him as an elder statesman of hip-hop intent on schooling younger MCs who simply aren't holding it down. It's a theme that he weaves into his boasts throughout the record.
"General Patton" (weakened only by the ridiculously sophomoric "David Blaine" skit tacked on the end) is the type of battle rap that OutKast fans are used to him spitting at breakneck speed. "All the shit you rappers lack / We've got plenty here's a snack," he raps with violent purpose over horns, creating his own national anthem, but the delivery is almost slow motion for Big Boi and the track is all the more effective for it. "Night Night" finds him tucking young rappers into bed, wishing them bad dreams punctuated by bright horns, hypnotic synthesizers and an amazing vocal by Joi who also provides a jazz vocal break on the silky smooth "Turns Me On". It has been far too long since Joi has released new music and she is in tremendous form here.
The album's other notable guest turns are from Janelle Monáe, who sings the hook on the new wave pop gem "Be Still" and Vonnegutt who sings the unabashed pop hook of "Follow Us", which finds Big Boi stating "I'm a crocodile walking 'round with alligator skin", a line that sounds natural coming from a man who once claimed to be "cooler than a polar bear's toenail".
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty continues to deliver moments of musical interest from the staccato kettle drum madness of "You Ain't No DJ" to the high pitched rapper on helium vocal delivery of "The Train Part II" to the robotic growl that forms the beat of its best track, "Shutterbug". "Shutterbug" finds Big Boi rapping like he's a living party, at his funniest while he's at his most fun nodding to No Doubt ("No doubt we don't speak"), name dropping the Wu-Tang Clan and breaking up the second verse to sing the hook to Soul II Soul's 1989 hit "Back to Life".
Is the disc as good as an OutKast CD? Of course, it isn't. In fact, the guest rappers only serve as a reminder of how great Big Boi and Andre 3000 are together. However, the record successfully debunks the belief that only half of OutKast is interesting. Throughout its 12 quality tracks, it's interesting enough to engage listeners and engaging enough to keep the listeners interested. It's a step well above most of the hip-hop that has been released in recent years and will be played frequently until a new OutKast album materializes. Until then, Big Boi should keep recording albums if they're all going to be of this caliber (perhaps an album with no guest stars at all save for Joi singing the hooks?). Sure, he's only half of OutKast, but Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty proves that half of OutKast is still twice as good as just about anything else.