When the history of Outkast is written, Andre Benjamin will be regarded as the visionary in the partnership – the success of Dre’s ‘Hey Ya!’ single has seen to that, even though the track itself was probably the least innovative thing either member had done in years.
Anyone familiar with 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below will know, however, that the real heavyweight in the partnership has always been the more generously-proportioned Antwon “Big Boi” Patton. His “solo” side, Speakerboxxx, wasn’t so much innovative as it was downright funky and unerringly consistent; Dre’s The Love Below, by contrast, was a disjointed mash of genres that lacked the clarity and focus Big Boi would normally have brought to the table.
Since finally going their separate ways following 2006’s middling Idlewild, the same dynamic has played out: Big Boi formed his own label and helped launch Janelle Monae, while Dre produced an awful cartoon series for children. Three years in the making, Big Boi’s first official solo album, Sir Luscious Left Foot: the Son of Chico Dusty, sees him more or less pick up where he left off with his first “unofficial” solo record.
Like Speakerboxxx before it, Sir Luscious Left Foot embodies more or less all that is exciting in Southern pop right now. The list of collaborators is frightening in itself – T.I., Janelle Monae, Too $hort and B.o.B. on the performance end; Organized Noise, Royal Flush and Salaam Remi on production – but what’s most appealing is how seamlessly all the various actors are integrated into the whole.
The highlights come thick and fast almost from the first beat: opener ‘Feel Me’ is barely more than a minute long, calling to mind classic Blaxploitation tunes with funky Roger Troutman-style vocoder-infused singing. ‘Turns Me On’ echoes Stankonia’s ‘So Fresh, So Clean’ with sexed-up lyrics and strained, hushed vocals, while ‘Follow Us’ is old school funk by way of psychedelic ska with a huge singalong chorus.
‘Tangerine,’ featuring T.I., veers (briefly) into heavy rock territory with a grungey slide guitar melody. ‘General Patton’ destroys more or less everything in its path, mixing up a sample from Verdi’s Wagnerian opera Aida with boisterous funky horns, making it easily the best cut on the album and possibly any other album released this year. Even Scott Storch gets in on the act, rising above his usual negligible contribution to humanity with the decent Timbaland knock-off (and single) ‘Shutterbug.’
Sir Lucious Left Foot flags a bit towards the end, losing some of the relentless energy that makes the first half so exciting, but there’s still time for Gucci Mane to throw in a sneering star turn on ‘Shine Blockas’ and for Sam Chris to leave the heavy imprint of his light-touch vocals all over ‘Fo Yo Sorrows’ (also featuring Too $hort and George Clinton’ and ‘Train Pt. 2.’
Given the length of the time the album took to record, and the number of producers and performers involved, it’s achievement enough that Sir Lucious Left Foot is even listenable – that it’s an early contender for album of the year is a whole ‘nother triumph.