Outkast was one of the preeminent hip hop groups when the genre was defining itself almost a generation ago. Their albums ATLiens and Stankonia transcended their genre, gaining respect from most corners (to the point where one could almost consider ATLiens some sort of psychedelic album, and a stellar one at that). But for some time now the two halves of Outkast; Big Boi and Andre 3000, have been releasing solo material. And since then its been Andre3000, with his thinking-out-of-the-box rhythms, rhyme styles, and clothing that has garnished the lion’s share of attention. But under a new moniker Big Boi gives us his new album, Sir Lucious Left Foot The Son Of Chico Dusty, and lets us know he isn’t an afterthought; and in a year with very, very little intriguing hip-hop – a pretty enjoyable and well made LP.
It’s not as if hip hop has completely fallen off a respectable path in the last handful of years or so, but it’s seemingly gotten very close. And its not like the topics usually discussed have really altered in any significant way, it’s just the way in which any true artistic and musically creative substance has been abandoned by lyricists, no matter what their lyrics are actually about. It also, in some part, has been due to the shifting of a production focus from stereos, cars, and headphones to the club. Yet Sir Lucious has found a way to still give us a handful of club-friendly songs, while taking on the tried-and-true hip hop subjects, with enough artistic aspiration to make us forget hip hop’s seeming decline (at least briefly).
It’s lyrical moments such as within the song Turns Me On when Big Boi raps, “Who gives a damn about the past? I live for the day, plan for the future, pack a lunch and haul ass. Anyway; It ain’t no time for no picnics, this that buisness, the slickness, the get-your-chick-hit-quick.” in which his immense rhyming ability is palpable. Or in Shutterbug when he succinctly tells us that he is still on the mic, “not to flex, but to protect my neck like the Wu-Tang, self preservation is the rule, when you do aim.” He also has the ability to play with the timing of his lyrics in relation to the timing of the beat, specifically the ability to rap perfectly in double time or half time, and can transition from one to the other instantly. In this way he has the ability to actually trick your ears into thinking the beat is superior than it actually is. A great example of this is one one of the more mediocre tracks of the album, Hustle Blood, which features Jamie Foxx. When Jamie is singing the song sounds gaudy, and unpleasantly poppy. Yet when Sir Lucious takes the beat he approaches it with so many interesting timing changes that it immediately comes off as a more dexterous song – if only shortly.
That being said, there are also some solid beats, as there should be though, considering every track is produced by a different guest producer. Night Night Ft. B.o.B. and Joi is produced by DJ Speedy and provides for a entertaining track that is reminiscent of the old Outkast tracks replete with quirky female backup singers, effected horns, and an intense tempo. The Train Pt. 2 and Back up Plan are also a couple of the better songs (and both are co produced by Organized Noize), as they both have a great toe-tapping, highly excitedly – yet mellow – southern sound, that reminds one of old Dungeon Family material. Big Boi was adroit to pick some producers and songs that would employ a level of discriminating beat-taste and wouldn’t play lowest common denominator and just shoot for club-bangers (which you know he could make plenty of money off of).
To be sure though, each song is not a success. Be Still Ft. Janelle Monae is simply a miss; the beat is boring, the backup singing misplaced and no style of lyrics could morph the beat into something really engaging. You Ain’t no DJ is produced by Andre3000, so you would think it would be a song to bet on, but the beat is too garish and over-bright with an over pronounced beat.
So while there are some tawdry tracks on this album it still is an overall breathe of fresh air as far as popular hip hop is concerned. Don’t expect the esoteric and rarefied lyrical styling of ATLiens or Aquemini to return (and you know that really would be best), but Big Boi does consistently remind us on this album why we once loved him as a part of Outkast; because of his exceptional control over word and rhyme timing, as well as his ability to simply make a producer seem like a beat-creating genius just by turning on his microphone. Big Boi is not going to save hip hop from it’s slow tailspin, but its proof that at least there are a couple of lyricists out there who were able to successfully jump, open their parachutes, and live to make more quality records for their genre.
By Sean Brna