I’m not gonna lie. It’s my professional opinion that OutKast has been the most important, influential and beautifully brilliant act in hip-hop, and maybe even all of music, for the past dozen years or so. It’s hard for me to overstate what Big Boi and Andre 3000 have contributed to American culture in that time.
Which is my roundabout way of saying that I expect a lot from them.
Their last proper album as a duo, 2006′s soundtrack to their movie Idlewild, was a pretty colossal disappointment. It’s got some gems (“Mighty O” might be OutKast’s most underappreciated single, and “Morris Brown” is just awesome), but it gets bogged down pretty badly in the not-terribly-interesting plot and characters of a mediocre movie seemingly made to show off Andre’s acting talent.
Their previous album, 2003′s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was an interesting experiment — basically two solo albums in which each member made a couple guest appearances on the other’s record.
I’m not one of those OutKast fans that likes to say either Andre or Big Boi is the better performer of the two. I see that as an unnecessary comparison, since they blend so well together, kind of like rap’s chocolate and peanut butter. But I unapologetically think Speakerboxxx is better than The Love Below, in part because it is a sonic continuation of what the duo had done before on their best albums, Aquemeni and Stankonia, rather than a left turn into trying to be Prince. (For the record, I still think The Love Below is pretty damn good on its own merits.)
In its way, Big Boi’s newest record, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (one serious mouthful of a title), though it comes seven years later, feels a lot like Speakerboxxx 2. And I mean that in the best possible way. It builds on that previous album in an organic way, where you can hear the growth in sound and ideas but it remains very grounded in the infinitely appealing OutKast style of years past.
You can hear it on the album’s first two tracks, the croony “Feel Me (Intro)” and the hard-hitting “Daddy Fat Sax.” (Big Boi could probably have titled every track on here one of his nicknames and had a few left to spare.) They’re both clearly OutKast tunes but neither one feels stale, either. And that’s basically the MO for the remainder of the record, though some experiments (the sour rock of “Follow Us” and Jamie Foxx’s flimsy R&B hook on “Hustle Blood”) don’t work out as well as others (the incredible sonic assault that is “General Patton,” the earworm “Shine Blockas,” the throbbing “Shutterbugg”).
But even the unevenness of the album — the good songs are so good that it’s hard to not skip over the other tracks to get to them — is classic OutKast. Hum “B.O.B.” Now hum “Toilet Tisha.” Exactly.
The only thing keeping Sir Lucious Left Foot from being the great new OutKast album it could be is the huge, gaping Andre 3000-shaped hole in it. He’s completely absent from it save for some spacey production on the track “You Ain’t No DJ,” though it’s no fault of his own. A record label change led to complications that ended up with the two tracks Andre did appear on being left off the record (they’re widely available online).
But I can only imagine what it would be like if Andre had done some verses on the songs that are on here. Thinking of a possible Andre verse on “General Patton” kind of makes my brain melt a little. Dear Internet, someone insert a Dre verse from another song into that one. You’ll be doing the world a favor.
You thought: It’s going to be a steady spin for at least a couple months.