Friday, July 9, 2010

Review: Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Legend of Chico Dusty

Do you ever wonder how art would develop on an alien planet? Would film evolve and be used in the same way? Would cave paintings still lead to the Mona Lisa? Would they use an entirely new medium? If we met a parallel civilization, what would their music sound like? Thankfully, Big Boi's Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty puts all that speculation to rest. It would sound like celestial bloops, intergalactic funk and a bit like the dirty south. In a word: awesome.

Big Boi's long gestating masterpiece has trickled out morsel by tasty morsel over the last two years. Some tracks released as singles, some leaked unfinished, other still mysteriously showing up online after a dispute with Jive records forced songs Big Boi recorded with his Outkast partner Andre 3000 off the record. With every tidbit you heard of the album, be it the weed opus "Fo Yo Sorrows", the transcendent "Shine Blockas" or the teeth-rattling ode to bass that is "Shutterbugg", the expectations for the album rose impossibly higher. There was no way that Big Boi could make an album that existed on the same level of these songs and actually WORKED. Well thankfully for us, Big Boi revels in being underestimated because he has obliterated these lofty goals.

Sometimes I think that Big Boi and Timbaland were separated at birth, both born with an unparalleled sonic palate and a penchant for ruthless hooks. Timbaland sharpened his skills as a superstar producer, stringing together hit after hit in the 90's before deciding to fetter his best beats away for his solo work a decade later. Big Boi went the other way, broadening his talents through collaboration in the form of Outkast, widely recognized as the most innovative and genre-pushing hip-hop act of the last 20 years. While he was decidedly  less commercially successful than Timbaland, ask anyone worth their salt and you'll see how critically revered Big Boi is. I make the Timbaland comparison because to my ears, what Big Boi does here is analogous to what Timbaland did in the 90's, taking unique and familiar ideas and combining them in an irresistible, albeit edgier way. Which is more admirable: the one who machete'd the new musical path or the one who blew it up with dynamite, paved it with gold and rolled a red carpet out on it? For my money, if you compare the solo outputs, Big Boi is the undisputed champion.

What does it say about an album when every song on it has been caught in your head at different points during the week? This morning I found myself humming the grungy chorus of Tangerine in the shower, mouthing the words to "Daddy Fat Sax" at work and cranking "Back-Up Plan" to ear-shattering levels on my drive home. I haven't even mentioned the smooth Jamie Foxx ballad "Hustle Blood" that reminds me fondly of K-Ci and Jojo or the achingly beautiful Janelle Monae collaboration "Be Still". It's only fitting that Monae guests here, as Boi made an appearance on The Archandroid and she is his only galactic competition so far this year. Sadly, Sir Lucious also has an obligatory commercial rock/rap track a la Timbaland's absolutely putrid Nickelback collaboration on Shock Value 2. It's a testament to Big Boi that he nearly saves this song from the emo depths with two fantastic verses, but that doesn't excuse it. Trust me when I say the album more than makes up for this minor speed bump.

Listening to Sir Lucious it makes me wonder about the folks who fell over themselves in recent weeks to praise Drake's inconsistent debut album. Maybe it's because Lil Wayne is in jail, Kanye West had isolated himself from the rest of the world and TI and Gucci Mane were been serving prison terms, but have our standards fallen that much? I mean, Tha Carter 3 was only two years ago. Hearing Big Boi destroy track after track with surgical precision and ferocious strength is like watching an episode of Arrested Development after having your sense of humor pummeled into submission by Two and a Half Men. Maybe Charlie Sheen and that goofy kid extracted a pity chuckle or two out of you, but once you bask in the relentless wit and density of AD, you feel sheepish for having even wasted your time.

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