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Technicalities be damned—we all know that Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is actually Big Boi’s second solo album. His first was Speakerboxxx, which he mostly made himself, though it was bundled with OutKast crewmate Andre 3000’s The Love Below on a 2003 double disc. (Their label, La Face, wouldn’t let Andre put out his own project.)
How could Andre consider breaking up OutKast? Nobody knows, but, for his effort to distance himself from the greatest pop act of our time, we secretly harbor a Yoko-worthy resentment against him.
Big, meanwhile, appeals to our populist, “Git ‘er Done” sensibilities. While Andre has futzed with clarinet lessons, kalimbas, veganism, and teetotaling—and gone into near seclusion, neither completely writing off OutKast nor moving it forward—Big has simply smoked his kush and focused on crafting perfect gangsta tracks.
The only problem with all of this is that, in the darker recesses of our hearts, we suspect Andre to be the group’s true genius. We know it was he who crafted the “Rosa Parks” beat, and he who insisted on the electric guitar in “Bombs over Baghdad.” We even know, deep down, that his Depression-era, college-football-style clothing line is pretty tight.
But we want to like Big better, and Sir Lucious, being fully removed from the OutKast umbrella, gives us the potential opportunity to do so. Big cuts an even more sympathetic profile thanks to those bastards at Jive, who weren’t willing to put the album out, leaving him to flee to Def Jam. Beyond which, his ex-label apparently squelched the one track with Andre, “Royal Flush,” although ‘Dre produces a Sir Lucious track.
My expectations for the new work weren’t especially high, though, because Speakerboxxx was flawed. While Andre went all-in with his rock opera concept, Big offered up a compromised disc, splitting the difference between the fist-pumpers he liked (“Ghetto Musick”) and quasiphilosophical mush he may have felt Andre liked (“Church”). The album had too many styles and too many guest appearances. (Note to rappers: Your sons aren’t allowed to perform until they’re as old as Kris Kross.)
Exhale, then, because none of these complaints apply to Sir Lucious, a disc concerned solely with what Big does best—crowd pleasing—that sprints gaily from one infectious selection to the next. Had it dropped a bit earlier, it could have filled an entire first-half-of-2010 best-of survey, with songs like “Follow Us,” “Back Up Plan,” “Daddy Fat Sax,” “Fo Yo Sorrows,” and “Shutterbugg.” (Only missing would be the exuberant “Shine Blockas” featuring Gucci Mane, which came out last year.)
Yes, it’s that good, but it’s difficult to put a finger on why, especially since it’s been leaked in bits and pieces for the last two and a half years. For this reason, alongside the fact that it features a motley crew of producers, including Scott Storch, Mr. DJ, Lil Jon, and DJ Speedy, it’s tempting to think of the disc as a random assortment of singles, or simply everything Big recorded between text messages from Andre announcing another two-year extension of OutKast’s hiatus.
But there’s cohesion here, which one can ascribe in part to Organized Noize. The Dirty South-fostering Atlanta trio were formally honored last month by VH1’s Hip Hop Honors, but they’ve been fading for years, since around the time Andre gave them (and Big) the shaft on The Love Below.
Yet here they’re completely in their element, producing four strong songs, including “The Train Part II,” a particularly lush mood piece that gives the album a bit of down time from all the club romps. Even better is the Big-co-produced “Back Up Plan.” Its slow creep recalls “So Fresh, So Clean” and it could well serve as the Dungeon Family’s theme song in a largely-post-Andre world: “I got a back-up plan/ To the back-up plan/ To back up my back-up plan.”
Big has created an aesthetic that is entirely apart from OutKast: a fat-free, shit-talking, raunchy, unpretentious, speaker-bumping sound that likely won’t age. Many suspect that, left to his own devices, Big would have stuck to the formula of the group’s debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and indeed, Sir Lucious has the same Georgia stories, automotive braggadocio, and battle-ending rhymes. “I write knock-out songs/You spit punch lines for money,” he raps on “Daddy Fat Stax.”
There’s a throwback feel, what with the use of the talk box (not Auto-Tune) and double-time rapping on the “Shutterbugg” chorus. This is especially fun. Big has always sounded nimble, but here he could be a sugar-sprung white mouse scooting through a maze:
Now party people in the club it’s time to cut a rug
And throw the deuce up in the sky just for the shutterbugs
I’m double fisted and if you’re empty you can grab a cup
Boy stop, I’m just playing. Let me dap you up.
It feels triumphant, and one almost hopes he would throw a subliminal dart at Andre now and then. But though Big has for years based his identity around his famous duo (he seems to rarely end a sentence without the phrase, “OutKast for life”), there are nonetheless subtle assertions of his individuality here, beginning with the album’s title. He calls himself Sir Lucious Left Foot because he’s “the knight in rhyming armor,” as he told NME, and Chico Dusty was the military handle of his father, an Air Force pilot. “He passed away a couple of years ago and he was a real bad man,” Big told Hip Hop Weekly.”
It’s an indication that Big has roots deeper than OutKast, which we sometimes forget. It may not be a coincidence that a series of Sir Lucious promotional videos focus on his ties to Savannah, the Old South river burg where he grew up. Shuttled off to Atlanta to live with his aunt when he was a young teen, Big met Andre there, but he’s nonetheless quick to let us know that his family—his people—remain in Savannah.
In any case, things look likely to work out for Big Boi. If Sir Lucious is any indication, a solo career will serve as a quite-viable back-up plan to the open question that is OutKast.