OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was hip-hop’s White Album. Across its two-hour span, the album covered a vast amount of musical territory, touching on jazz, funk, hip-hop, new wave and electronica. On a deeper level, it mirrored the Fab Four’s 1968 opus in the way it severed the alchemical ties that bound the group together. It broke the union down to its requisite elements, revealing the ragged inseam of their songwriting partnership. Speakerboxxx, and its attendant press whirlwind, ultimately posited Andre 3000 as OutKast’s demented musical genius and Big Boi as its tough-guy trad-rap veteran.
Andre’s jazzy break with hip-hop was lauded as something of a masterpiece, while Big Boi’s half of the double album lingered like an afterthought. Big Boi’s depressive futuristic funk odyssey had arrived in the right place at the wrong time, it seemed. Andre, then the group’s perceived draw, checked out after Speakerboxxx, filling his schedule with anything but music, while Big Boi began work on a solo album only to be met with indifference from his label. Three long years of label wrangling and abortive lead singles later, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty has arrived, and it is apparent from the opening strands of intro “Feel Me” through the closing chants of “Back Up Plan” that Big Boi took the adversity in stride. He hunkered down to make the best album he could possibly make.
Lucious settles into a sleek, funky stride early on and scarcely lets up for its hour-long runtime, bouncing from highlight to highlight. The album is fairly scattershot in its attack, its only real constant being Big Boi’s elastic flow. One minute he’s shouting down Sir Georg Stolti’s orchestra on “General Patton." The next he’s bobbing and weaving through Andre 3000’s woozy, cluttered production on “You Ain’t No DJ” or skipping effortlessly between single- and double-time rhymes on “Fo Yo Sorrows." No two songs are of a piece, but Big Boi is at home on the mic no matter what the background. Lucious’s wild mood swings might have proved a problem if everyone involved hadn’t brought his A game, producers and guests alike.
Big Boi is no stranger to riding shotgun on a track, and Lucious finds him trading bars with guest MCs more often than not. Alabama newcomer Yelawolf gives Big a run for his money in his two verses on “You Ain’t No DJ." T.I.’s lascivious sex rap on the strip-club anthem “Tangerine” is easily the song’s highlight. Janelle Monáe’s breezy chorus on “Be Still” is a wonder. Jamie Foxx’s silky, layered vocals on “Hustle Blood” fit Lil Jon’s achingly soulful gem of a beat perfectly. Big Boi gives the guests here ample space to make an impact, and while all but three of Lucious's 15 tracks feature guests, there’s never a hint of confusion as to whose album this is.
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty isn’t just an expertly produced and performed slab of brilliantly odd, futuristic dance music. It isn’t just the best rap album of the year so far. It isn’t just a convincing argument for Atlanta as hip-hop’s current thriving epicenter. It is also Big Boi’s time to shine, finally. Even though he’s brought all his friends along for the ride, Sir Lucious Left Foot remains proof positive that Big Boi was never just “the other guy in Outkast." He’s a genius in his own right.