Big Boi Big BoiSir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty
In its day, the double album “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” Outkast’s last album to date, demonstrated that the group’s survival was guaranteed beyond its own limits, and beyond the rumoured personal and artistic differences there seemed to be between the two members of the group. The record served to ratify and strengthen Big Boi and André 3000’s own personalities and to lay out clearly where each of their stylistic and expressive paths were heading, beyond the creative margins imposed by the band. What we all knew materialised in a vibrant, surprising fresco: if André represented the arty, chaotic, unpredictable side of the duo, Big Boi gave voice to a more gangsta, more pimp, more dirty south side of their discourse. And whether or not it’s down to my undeniable, chronic addiction to hip hop, I have to say that I was always on Big Boi’s side, and that his long-awaited, difficult solo debut, which is finally now on sale after three years of trials and tribulations with the industry, has arrived just in time to show those of us who placed our bets on him that we were right to lend our moral support in the ever-complex decision to choose one of the two parts of a heavy-hitting duo.
“Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty” is the album that the southern scene has been awaiting, hip hop too—we’re not going to pigeonhole or make any geographical reductions. Here things are serious, really big. But it’s true that in the midst of an existential, as well as commercial, crisis of the dirty south, that sees Lil Jon lost in a formula that is stuck and past its prime, Ludacris gone over to a conciliating, global sound, T.I. submitting to crossover tyranny, Clipse on the cloud nine of hypebeasts, and Gucci Mane a promising newcomer who’s yet to explode as expected, this coming-out album by the Atlanta MC invokes the spirit of the golden age of the area, putting what is probably the most imaginative, creative, and complete hip hop album of the season right in our faces. You can’t get over it. I’m not exaggerating: seen in perspective, “Speakerboxxx” now looks like a testing ground, a compilation of discards, a place to polish this album, that thoroughly surpasses that other one, and is much more powerful on every artistic front measureable.
The vitality, drive, originality, punch, and freshness that we have been missing for the last four or five years in Southern rap are concentrated here; there is no hesitation, no moment of impasse, no filling. The material is excellent, with many aspects to explore and comment on. To start with, the LP’s concept and general idea show an admirable balance and internal logic. It doesn’t claim to be a revolutionary statement, not even within the context of Outkast, as the formula is recognisable, remaining respectful of and faithful to the parameters of the group, especially those of their first album. This record doesn’t just settle for the recreation or conservative continuation of old achievements though, rather it insists on a shining, brand-new sound, with a laborious, conscientious process, to finish and enhance the point of departure. Not to mention that to put into practice, it doesn’t need to resort to the pop shortcut or think about crossing over—nobody should expect a simple updated, commercialised version with a little inevitable R&B dressing and fast-food production of the kind they might have had in mind. No way, José. Scott Storch, who is traversing his artistic (and in view of his declaration of bankruptcy, we hope also his financial) resurrection, Salaam Remi, Boi-1da, creator of Drake’s “Over”, and of course Organized Noize give lustre, shine, and power to some productions in a class of their own.
At the crossroads of an extraordinary exercise in sampling and the wise use of instruments, we find one of the album’s main attractions. With this combination of modus operandi, sounds, styles, and aesthetics, “Sir Lucious…” makes its way firmly with rhythmic strength and melodic drive, blowing away the listener. Oval beats, electro references, and the dominant bouncy tempo go well with the warmth of the keyboards and the guitar, and the polyvalence of the loops and the samples, as in the old days, but with constant references to the present. The combination forms a body that is irrefutable, catchy, and streetwise all at the same time, a summery aroma with profound, hard-hitting aspirations that stick and trap you like Coca-Cola. All of this is seasoned with a collection of illustrious guests that seem to be in their place at all times: Gucci Mane, B.o.B, Raekwon, Too Short, Sleepy Brown and T.I., amongst many renowned figures on the black music scene.
So, moving on with the aims met and satisfied by an eclectic and wide-ranging palette of moods. The album can be sensual and hot, on “Turns Me On”, a clearly cock-teasing moment, and then move into more dramatic territory, with “General Patton” and its opera samples; from there the action moves to fashionable southern clubs, with “Shutterbug”being that single that the declining Timbaland has been dreaming of for so long now. Do we want melancholy and memory lane? Ok, try “Shine Blockas”, which takes advantage of the sample of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “I Miss You” that Kanye West already used for the unforgettable “This Can’t Be Life” he gave to Jay-Z some years ago. The effect is the same as it was then: goose pimples, the absolute sublimation of sampling as a magical mechanism of retro emotion, and one of the highlights of the album. Outkast spirit? No problem: “Lookin’ For Ya”, with the collaboration of André 3000, which sounds like a new album by the group could be in (I don’t know) a year or two. An homage to his roots and signs of identity? That’s here too. “Tangerine” could be the soundtrack for one of the tense, hot moments of “True Blood”, and if that isn’t Delta blues for the 21st Century then let Paul the Octopus… I mean God, come down and say so. For mainstream radios and those in search of hot R&B there’s also cake (what were you thinking?): “Hustle Blood” with Jamie Foxx and “Be Still” with Janelle Monáe are two spotless examples that show the way that black soul and pop can be integrated into a rap context without showing its hand right off the bat.
Musically we’re talking about a wonder, a prodigy of inventiveness, good taste and expressive criteria. Things are constantly happening in all of the songs, whether through the appearance of vocal support, instruments that come and go, sounds that add together and help, exciting melodies in contrast to the period and the scene, changes in orientation, well-rounded beats or details you don’t catch the first time you hear them. But the equation wouldn’t be complete if the lyrical and vocal contribution of the rapper weren’t up to standard. In his own moment of creative plenitude, Big Boi not only completes the musical selection with texts, rhymes, and excellent plays on words, a lucid cocktail that is at times transcendental, at times naughty, at times cocky, with personal references, nights at the club, brilliant parabolas, or localised hypertext. It’s not only that. He also plays with his flow, his voice, and his skills to make each song seem new and different from the one before, each step being special and memorable. Hundreds, thousands of ideas put into each song, which give dignity to the genre and raise the possibilities of hip hop in 2010 to unsuspected heights: accessible, inspired, mature, daring, faithful to its own idiosyncrasy—that’s what the greatest album of the first half of the year sounds like, and that’s how it moves. David Broc