After what could be considered Outkast’s leanest creative period since they arrived on the scene in the mid-nineties, Big Boi’s first solo effort, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, is a welcome return to form for one half of one of the most innovative and consistently on point hip-hop acts of the past twenty years. Over the course of Outkast’s first five releases, from 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to the 2003’s now eleven times platinum double-album Speakerboxx/The Love Below, Big Boi and Andre 3000 brought the purple fire. Even more impressive was the fact that their enormous success occurred in part because of their willingness to push the limits of what constituted the sometimes rigid boundaries of hip-hop. A quick survey of Outkast’s biggest hits over the past sixteen years reveals the breadth of their achievement. Even their disappointing and underwhelming Idlewild had it’s fair share of clever hooks, witty rhymes and original musicality that has long been the hallmark of Outkast’s sound. Big Boi and Dre’s ability to stand out from the bottle poppin’ crowd remains unblemished.
That said, Sir Lucious Left Foot, despite sounding like a more traditional Outkast’ish effort (if that even exists) is very good and even straightforward album. Big Boi has scaled back on the avant-garde elements that were apparent on Outkast’s later albums and succeeded in making a very consistent album in what is recognizably his own style. Never quite as weird as Andre, Big Boi’s talent and perspective have always been the organic building blocks of Outkast’s sensibility, something that was most apparent on Speakerboxx/A Love Below, where his half was perhaps unfairly overshadowed in most mainstream publications by Andre’s truly genre bending other half. Part of the duo’s success is due to the way they seamlessly bond their two creative visions into four minute sonic collages. I’ve always felt like one of Outkast’s most infectious qualities was the inimitable sense of humor their songs are always suffused with. Perhaps because Andre’s voice couldn’t appear on the album because of label issues this is unmistakably Big Boi’s baby and, I think, gives off a clarity of purpose that makes the album the increasingly rare work that you want to listen to all the way through.
I would argue that the internet and the iPod commercialization of music has increasingly rewarded the production of infectious singles over good, complete albums. Whether it is a GM commercial, a film trailer, or the indie rock song heard at the end of a Grey’s Anatomy episode, more and more revenue flows into the music industry via advertising as illegal downloading continues to proliferate despite the music industries best efforts. Yet, here we have an album that is refreshingly coherent and clearly made with its totality in mind. That isn’t to say that Big Boi has magically forgotten how to pair a bluesy guitar lick with an unforgettable hook–“Tangerine,” “Daddy Fat Sax,” and “General Patton” are my favorites–but it is clear that this album was made by an artist unencumbered by the banal, material concerns that seem to have hijacked the music industry. He remains above the traditional, stale trappings of hip hop life, so to speak. Big Boi could give a damn whether any of these songs make 106 and Park’s top 10 or into a beer commercial (Mos Def, Jay-Z). Stripped of the affectations and pressures that thwart many a musician’s efforts, Big Boi gives us a refined, personal, hip-pop album that strikes me as somewhat familiar yet unmistakably brilliant. An album by Big Boi is almost cursed to be underwhelming after the sustained brilliance of Outkast’s discography. Sir Lucious Left Foot, however, is a revelation.