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Big Boi
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty Ross Pounds , July 22nd, 2010 13:10

When was the last time a genuinely game-changing rap album was made? There have been a few that have come close: Raekwon's immaculate Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II, Kanye West's The College Dropout, Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP. All of them outstanding albums, each quite possibly their respective artist's highest points, but not quite enough to irrevocably change the landscape of their genre. The only records to have done that since the turn of the millennium, arguably, are Jay-Z's seminal The Blueprint and Outkast's astounding Stankonia and its follow up, the groundbreaking Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Both of those albums were not only massively commercially and critically successful, but laid a new path down which urban music followed. The production and lyrical dexterity on show on Stankonia and the sheer audacity of Speakerboxxx… set up a parallel future free of the macho posturing and ludicrous bravado which was beginning to make rap seem stale and outmoded, a genre running dangerously close to becoming a parody of its former self. And although there have been a few attempts to match those albums since, they still remain untouched, sitting stately and proud atop their perch.

But now, a full seven years later, things seem set to change once more. Alongside The-Dream's Love King and Janelle Monae's jaw-droppingly assured The Archandroid, Big Boi's solo debut, Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (hereafter known as Sir Luscious) sets out the stall for 2010, a year which now looks as though it may be the time when everything begins again, where new benchmarks are laid down gleaming and ready, arms open, knowing it'll be a fair while before they're beaten. Recorded over a period of roughly three years, and tied up in unseemly label wrangles for almost as long, it wouldn't have been a huge surprise if Sir Luscious turned out to a be a huge dud, an overblown and bloated vanity piece by a rapper tied down by the ropes of his own ego. It's a credit to Big Boi, then, that he not only managed to get it released (on Def Jam), but also managed to create something quite fantastic, and an album which more than stands up to the considerable pantheon of work amassed in his time as one half of Outkast.

As early tracks began to leak, first 'Shine Blockas' and 'Fo Yo Sorrows' last Winter, then Big Boi's strutting guest verse on Janelle Monae's 'Tightrope' early this year, and then 'Shutterbug' a few months back, it became clear that we were in for something special, that those years spent recording down at Stankonia Studios in Atlanta weren't going to be for nothing, but were perhaps the most productive of his career, catching a man at the peak of a decade long purple patch, cramming more ideas into one song than most rappers manage in an album, or even a career. Those early indicators were true, the first hints pointing towards what we have now, an album that will surely be looked back upon as perhaps the defining document of modern rap music as well as fulfilling its almost duty-bound role as mother of a new era, once again reinvigorating a sleeping giant, dragging a stagnating genre out of the swamp and back up onto the pedestal where it deserves to be.

There's no doubting that Sir Luscious is a brilliant album, but what makes it truly remarkable is that it's a brilliant album significantly different from the brilliant albums Big Boi has given us so far. In terms of tone and delivery it's most comparable to The Love Below, but there's so much more here that proves he's an artist willing to move on, to constantly challenge himself, to push himself to the edge and then throw himself over. It's clear from opening track 'Feel Me (Intro) that Big Boi means business. It might only be a minute-and-a-half long, but the heady brew of rum-soaked whistling, wah-wah guitar licks and Cali-funk, Dre-esque piano bounce is Patton laying his weapons on the table, teasing us, showing us a snippet of his formidable arsenal before commencing the fight. The first words he speaks, as the track comes to a close, let us know that there's still a whole lot more to come: “Damn, that wasn't nothing but the intro.”

The sheer scale of the album can't be expressed enough. Always seen as the straight man to Andre 3000's extrovert, Big Boi doesn't so much come out of his shell here as smash right through it. Sir Luscious is an album which encompasses, amongst other things, Afro-futurist P-Funk, militant cosmic opera, and gospel music beamed down from another universe entirely, swathed in synths and backed by hooks bigger than the anchor from the Titanic. Patton's mastery of lyrics and his ridiculous verbal dexterity finally get put front-and-centre here too, finely balanced between a rakish, cavalier wit and a genuinely touching profundity, none more so than on 'Fo Yo Sorrows', summing up a nation's anger and frustration more eloquently and succinctly than any politician could at the appalling treatment of the citizens of New Orleans. “Remember when the levees screamed, made the folks evacuees/ Yeah, I'm still speakin' about it 'cause New Orleans ain't clean,” he raps, conjuring memories of the horrific images we saw, and the stories we still hear. It's a line so potent with meaning, so pregnant with rage and anger, but so simply expressed. It is modern day poetry, a clarion call to do better, a stark reminder that we mustn't forget. In short, it leaves his bandmate needing to make up some ground. Where once Andre Benjamin was seen as the forward-thinking one of the duo, now Big Boi has swept the rug from right under his feet. It'll be interesting to see where 3000 goes next, to say the least.

Sir Luscious is one of those rare albums where you get the sense that all the ideas that arose in those three years have been executed to perfection, the sounds and words in Patton's mind becoming stunningly realised on record. It's to be commended that Big Boi didn't bow down to his label (who, remarkably, didn't want to put Sir Luscious out, precipitating the move to Def Jam), to cave in and make up for the constant delays by producing a set of shallow, club-ready bangers. Rather, he's tuned in to risk-taking side of Outkast, the side which made them such a thrilling and unique proposition at their peak. His flow is as nimble as it ever has been, sitting on top of some flat-out great songs, from the elastic electro pulse of the fantastic, Soul II Soul referencing 'Shutterbug' to the zig-zag space funk of 'Follow Us', nestling up alongside the crazed, bombastic opera which underlies the joyous 'General Patton'. Even the guest spots feature some of their contributors' best work. Janelle Monae seems like a true kindred spirit on 'Be Still', whilst Gucci Mane is typically unhinged on 'Shine Blockas', ever divisive but brilliantly straddling the line between cocksure and effortless. The only obvious admission is Andre 3000 who, due to those aforementioned label politics, only appears in a producing capacity on one track, the wall-shaking 'You Ain't No DJ'. It's an absence which makes us hanker for what could have been, but it's a testament to the album's strength and completeness that Patton's old sparring-partner isn't missed.

It's almost impossible to pinpoint where the album is strongest, given the wall-to-wall hit count served up. 'Shutterbug' is a brilliant slice of talkbox-utilising Cali funk, and remarkable for the fact that it was produced, fantastically, by the usually appalling Scott Storch. It's not enough to exonerate him for his past crimes against pop music, but it's at least an indicator that there is still some talent there. The album's finest moment, though, comes in the form of the audacious 'Shine Blockas'. Carried sweetly on the back of a sample from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' sugary smooth 'I Miss You', it's a track brimming with such confidence that it's positively overflowing. A heady combination of teeth-clenching, trunk-rattling Southern hip-hop and straight up R&B smoothness, it seems to have caught both Big Boi and Gucci Mane at their peaks, lending it an instant classicism to go alongside its effervescent bounce. It's a standout on an album full of standouts, so agile and glossy and carefree, a track more than any other which makes that huge delay feel like no wait at all.

Sir Luscious is an exquisite monster of an album, a classic before it's even a month old, and exceptionally consistent. There are more ideas gushing forth from every corner here than in any other rap album of the last six or seven years, the tracks not so much songs as exploding statements of intent. For anyone with even a passing interest in the genre, it's truly life-affirming stuff.