In 1994, I became obsessed with hip hop and music in general. The album that did it, Outkast’s debut, Southernplayalisticcadillacmusik. Prior to that point, all I knew about Southern hip hop was that I thought the Geto Boys were the most “real” rap group I’d ever heard in my life, “My Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me” was the dopest and most unique song I’d ever heard, and that Mr. Scarface was the most underrated emcee in all of the game. The second I popped Outkast’s debut into my Walkman, I knew three things. Foremost, Outkast was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. They were a blend of funk, soul, honesty and superior lyricism. I also felt that they had an uncanny chemistry, like a Simon and Garfunkel of rap. As well, I told every single one of my friends that Big Boi and Dre were going to be the base of a Southern hip hop revolution. Well a Ludacris, Master P, Lil Wayne, Paul Wall, T.I., Soulja Boy and Gucci Mane later, and we’ve hit another evolutionary point. And here comes Big Boi once again with new release Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty to yet again set the creative and stylistic precedent for the Dirty South.
Whereas Dre evolved into Andre 3000, a celestial rap superpower with his feet firmly rooted in the streets, Big Boi has merely become one of the best meat and potatoes emcees in the industry. There’s no flash or eye catching glitter to his style. It’s straight ahead lyricism over crunk, trunk destroying rhythms, still, 16 years later, the kind of music you play in your Cadillac as you cruise the trap in the SWATS on a humid summer evening. In taking nearly three years to put together Sir Lucious Left Foot, the industry changed, and Southern hip hop definitely veered away from lyricism and into the realm of producers, namely Fatboi, Tha Business and Bangladesh becoming in many ways larger stars than the rappers that rapped over their tracks. In one hour flat, Big Boi, in an era with T.I. serving time and Lil Wayne firmly entrenched in a Sun-Ra esque period of interpretive rhyming, resets the game and brings it back to basics. With producers familiar to him like Scott Storch, Organized Noise, Salaam Remi, and yes, rap partner Andre 3000, a veteran crew performs in a veteran manner to execute a stellar album.
Already released singles “Shutterbugg” and “Shine Blockas” (with Gucci Mane) are the mainstream club crunkers we expect. However, this album being three years in production is fire from beginning to end. “General Patton” features Big Boi at his braggadocios battle emcee best, while “You Ain’t No DJ” features support from buzzed about neophyte Yelawolf, whose style isn’t too much of a far cry from the established Outkast playbook. “Tangerine” once again shows Chico Dusty’s boy to be a top level storyteller, not having slacked since the days of “Git Up, Get Out.” This album is likely Big Boi’s precedent setter for the rest of his career. Having largely been silent insofar as a creative direction, with guest shots from Janelle Monae, George Clinton, Too Short, Jamie Foxx, Joi and Sleepy Brown, we get the method to his madness here, and it’s truly exemplary.
Following in the fine footsteps of the Wu-Tang Clan, The Roots and Jay-Z, Big Boi’s release shows that there is a definite necessity for hip hop’s veterans to be active stewards of setting the standard of excellence for the game to aspire to for the next generation. This album, by merely featuring a hip hop stalwart doing his job to the best of his ability, is likely a contender for being one of the finest rap albums of 2010.