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Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty

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Artist: Big Boi

Album: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty

Label: Def Jam

Review date: Jul. 6, 2010

It’s been three years since we’ve heard a full-length from Outkast, and seven years since we’ve gotten a proper Big Boi release. The wait was worth it. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Big Boi’s follow-up to 2003’s Speakerboxx, is a delight.

Sir Lucious is, in many ways, reminiscent of Speakerboxx. It’s precise southern rap, written so tightly it borders on being technocratic, that, at just the moments when Big Boi’s exactness seems poised to suffocate the album, bursts with ebullience. Here, those moments of charge are “Shutterbug” and “Shine Blockas,” two monster singles already in radio rotation.

“Shutterbug” recalls the structure of “The Way You Move,” Big Boi’s chart-topper off Speakerboxx. Like “The Way You Move,” “Shutterbug” rests on a plummeting bass line, this time pieced together from what sounds like a vocoded stutter and builds toward a soulful, glimmering chorus. But where “The Way You Move” featured Sleepy Brown’s convincing Marvin Gaye impersonation, the singing on “Shutterbug,” in keeping with its synthesized vocal beat, is processed through a talk box. So long Motown, hello Roger Troutman! Between those mighty frames of rhythm and chorus bounces Big Boi. He raps spryly and cuttingly, riffing about Mexican drug cartels and alluding coyly to UGK and Soul-to-Soul. As was the case in “The Way You Move,” Big Boi attacks the song judiciously. He’s a swift but wise performer, getting his punches in without pummeling the song. “Shutterbug” won’t be a decade-defining hit, but it’s already proved a constant and welcome companion for this summer of 2010. It seems ungrateful to ask for anything more.

The real treat, though, is “Shine Blockas,” a song that may not cross over but will likely prove more lasting. “Shine Blockas” is in the tradition of Rich Boy’s “Throw Some Ds” and UGK’s “Player’s Anthem” (which featured Big Boi and his Outkast partner Andre 3000): southern crunk that does not intimidate, gloat, or ogle, but effuses with joy; drums that don’t merely thump or drive the track from beginning to end, but which launch the song celestially upward, sailing on the wings of a church organ and a crooning wail. It is a wonderful, incongruously rapturous single – who’d have guessed that Gucci Mane’s admonition, “Don’t block my shine, shorty,” would prove so uplifting? If nothing else, “Shine Blockas” is a massive success by one measurement of hip hop: when played at loud volumes, it’s impossible to resist shimmying side-to-side along with it.

“Shine Blockas” is the most conventional southern hip hop number on Sir Lucious, however. As one would expect from one half of Outkast, much of the album is too weird to place safely in one regional category – even if that regional category has sprung directly from Outkast’s body of work. Big Boi has a soft spot for the music of his youth, which, given his relatively advanced age, precedes by nearly a decade the grade school years of today’s rappers. George Clinton and Too Short appear on the fittingly funky and trippy “Fo Yo Sorrows,” and on “Be Still” the odd and insanely gifted Janelle Monáe provides an R&B hook that’s classic and refreshingly cold, a frozen treat for this sultry season.

But even when Big Boi confronts hip hop on today’s terms, the outcome is slightly off. Take “Tangerine,” featuring T.I. and Khujo. The song, whose repeated catcall to, “Shake it like a tambourine,” would seem to place it squarely in Atlanta’s strip club music mill, is both too bare and too ornamented to be another soundtrack for dropping it low. The beat is simple – a bass drum and a handclap, with a guitar and piano drifting in and out – but the rhymes are complex. Who other than T.I., who increasingly seems to carry a thesaurus in his back pocket, would end a string of couplets with the words “euphoria” and “glorious”? And, of course, leave it to Big Boi to work in lines like, “On stage, she’s a model / But she only models shoes / Not fake like a prosthetic leg or a prostitute / I should choose / She whispers in my ear: I’m with you,” and, later in that same verse, “That means I’m hitting the head like Greg Louganis / And then I’m splashing,” – rhymes that can’t be written off as juvenile because they’re too wily and can’t be dismissed as in-the-club scuttlebutt because they’re too original, too well composed.

Indeed, the wordplay on Sir Lucious may be the album’s most striking feature. Big Boi has always gotten less burn than Andre 3000, in part because his performance is more demanding of listeners’ attention. If Andre 3000 is the ultimate ad man, coining memorable phrases with ease – “Shake it like a Polaroid picture,” anyone? – then Big Boi can seem like the scrivener, relegated to drafting the product’s fine print. It’s an error to underestimate the weight of Big Boi’s words, however, simply because there are so many. Big Boi is a remarkably fluid rapper, as technically skilled as any of his peers. And whereas someone like Eminem can draw unneeded attention to the intricacy of his lyrical skein, Big Boi always stops short of reducing his art to rote mechanics.

But he’s a challenging rapper, nonetheless. Sometimes his speed can be liberating – Big Boi efficiently works a bounty of wit into each verse, and, at his best, he weaves between the cracks of his programmed snares like Maradona swerving through a defensive formation. Yet, his approach can prove limiting as well. For someone who writes so well, Big Boi’s produced a shockingly small number of quotable lines. Normal folks like you and me simply lack the coordination to keep up. As he’s done time and again, however, Big Boi makes up for the density of his rhymes with songs that, when taken as a whole, are easily graspable. The deliveries on “Theme Song” and “General Patton” may require a set of headphones to glean in their entirety, but the rolling electro of the former and the operatic pugilism of the latter need no parsing. Their points, and the feelings they aim to connote, are clear.

That trick – the power to communicate at the minute level of the spoken word and along the entire arc of a song, the ability to entertain equally the aficionado and casual listener – is ultimately what defines Sir Lucious and, for that matter, Big Boi’s career. Big Boi isn’t an MC; he’s a songwriter. That distinction is what separates him from other rappers, and it’s what makes Sir Lucious – an album whose elán is instantaneously felt and whose spirit only becomes more invigorated with each listening – such a pleasure.

By Ben Yaster

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