Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: Big Boi *Sir Lucious Leftfoot...The Son of Chico Dusty*

To read the reaction to Antwan "Big Boi" Patton's new album, Sir Lucious Leftfoot...The Son of Chico Dusty, is to witness the intersection of the whiplash of historical revisionism and a small cultural awakening (of which I, too, am guilty). Conventional wisdom has it that Outkast, arguably the most popular and critically beloved rap group ever, was the product of a polished MC (Patton) and a wild near-genius visionary (André "3000" Benjamin). Exhibit A, and the example par excellence, is Outkast's last album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, essentially two solo albums glued together. Dre's half was ridiculously hailed (largely, and understandably, due to "Hey Ya!"), while Patton's half was, to be generous, merely admired (when discussed at all).

History revised: seven years later, André's The Love Below sounds better in memory than it does playing through speakers. As is the case with the product of any visionary, the excitement of the new overshadows deep flaws. Speakerboxxx, however, sounds better than ever: tight, muscular, and assured. "Hey Ya!" got all the attention, but "The Way You Move" is nearly as wonderful and, since it wasn't as overplayed, it still sounds fresh.

The catalyst of this revisionism, via the advance tracks to Sir Lucious Leftfoot, almost three years in the making, was the realization that perhaps too much credit was heaped on André. The cultural awakening is realized with every repeated listen to the album proper. Lean by Outkast's standards (just 15 tracks), Sir Lucious Leftfoot is great throughout and shows that Big Boi doesn't lack for flourish, while also maintaining a staggering level of competence that approaches virtuosity. I don't mean to insult by faint praise: real competence is hard to come by.

Much like Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid, which Patton had a large hand in, Sir Lucious Leftfoot reaches an early artistic zenith with a triple play. "Follow Us", "Shutterbugg", and "General Patton" could each carry an album single-handedly. In the case of "Follow Us", the catchy modern-rock-radio chorus by Vonnegutt is elevated by the surefooted funk that surrounds it. "Shutterbugg", the album's giddy first single, pounces with an unstoppable beat ("cut a rug!"). The bombast of "General Patton", with its glorious sample of a Georg Solti aria, obliterates any notion that Dre was Outkast's only visionary.

Singling out these three seems unfair, as the rest of the album is nearly as great (see: "Shine Blockas", "Tangerine", "Hustle Blood", "Be Still", "Fo Yo Sorrows", etc.). The large roll call of artists (including the aforementioned Janelle Monáe) who contribute to the album never overtake Patton's gift -- the deft turn of phrase -- which is the album's true highlight. The surprise, and the bottom line, is that Sir Lucious Leftfoot is as good, if not better, than any Outkast release. André who?