OutKast’s Big Boi has dropped his first official solo release Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty after a delay of several years. In a recent interview with GQ magazine, Big Boi (a.k.a. Andre Antwan Patton) pointedly placed the blame at the foot of his former label Jive, who allegedly weren’t able to make any of his singles stick on radio and chose to let the album go.
After signing to Def Jam and collaborating on a couple of songs with André 3000, the other half of OutKast, Jive insisted that the two couldn’t appear together on songs for the competing label.
Assuming Patton’s allegations are true, it is jarring to learn of the mishandling of one of music’s most popular MCs, a rapper who quite improbably took a moody, sinister hip-hop track with deep funk and soul roots—”The Way You Move”— to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 charts.
Many of Boi’s tracks on Chico Dusty have more obviously commercial appeal: lead single reggae bopper “Follow Us” and “Theme Song,” with its love-me-down lyrics and auto-tuned voices, could easily be contenders on r&b/hip-hop and pop playlists. And the over-the-top braggadocio of “General Patton” fits the Ludacris hit-maker mold.
While Dre is often pegged as the more adventurous half of OutKast, Boi also shows a deep reverence for sonic eclecticism; the same statement held true for SpeakerBoxx, his portion of OutKast’s 2003 double album. As such, the foreboding intro “Feel Me,” replete with sonic nods to Zapp, sets up the expectation for the unexpected. With a varied cast on hand to drop verse or sing hooks, including Joi, Sleepy Brown, Gucci Mane, Jamie Foxx, George Clinton, Vonnegutt and Too Short, Chico Dusty draws on psychedelia, electronica, r&b, jazz and techno to create a unique palette of sound. “Shine Blockas” places Harold Melvin & the Blue Note’s soul classic “I Miss You,” including Teddy Pendergrass’s howl of a voice, over a trendy rap beat. And through it all, Patton’s flow and witticisms are topnotch.
The naked world gets significant attention here as well. “Turns Me On” has a laid back slinky charm. The ever-morphing “Tangerine” boasts verbal exchanges between Boi, T.I. and Khujo Goodie and sexist antics about female body parts. And the bleak rocker “Hustle Blood” features get-in-your-gut sex scream samples amidst a lusty chorus sung by Foxx. (As an erotic addition, fans might still be able to enjoy the flirty groove and kinky role playing of “Lookin’ For Ya,” featuring Dre, on Big Boi’s MySpace page.)
At times convention is left almost completely behind: “You Ain’t No DJ,” with YelaWolf, is akin to a turbo-charged foray into an extraterrestrial mine field. And “Be Still” features Boi protégé Janelle Monáe singing like an airy goddess, bringing old-school Supremes style vocals to a modern melody.
The comedic interludes that OutKast fans enjoy pop up to bring zany humor into the mix as well, though there’s plenty of standard rap tropes about cars, hustling and conquest. Many of the rhymes about sexing female are disturbing in their blatant disregard for women.
Yet in its exhilarating music and strong lyricism, Chico Dusty asserts that ‘hood life can go far beyond the same ole, same ole to show its potential richness. With their survival at stake, record labels can abandon traditional business models and construct new ways to get innovative hip-hop to inter-generational audiences. Jay-Z, The Roots, Q-Tip and now Big Boi have made it clear that hip-hop has a mature dimension that should be supported.