While his partner in OutKast, Andre “3000” Benjamin, indulged increasingly bizarre flights of fancy, ranging from grass skirts and shoulder pads to Beatlesque jangle pop, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton was the one who ultimately became responsible for maintaining the group’s street credibility. For over a decade the two were able to satisfy both sides, and the dichotomy between the two members — one that seemed to sharpen with each successive album –ultimately led to one of the most legendary careers in hip-hop history, balancing critical cred and extreme commercial success.
However, Andre and Big Boi haven’t recorded a complete album together since 2000’s Stankonia; the last two OutKast LPs, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) and Idlewild (2006), saw the two collaborating on only a handful of tracks. It seemed like it was just a matter of time before one or the other released an album under his own name.
It took a couple of years to emerge, but after numerous delays and a label switch from OutKast’s longtime home, Arista, to Def Jam, which is back under the direction of L.A. Reid, who signed the group back in ’93, Big Boi has finally blessed us with his solo debut, Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty. Much to my surprise, he more than holds his own without his more notorious partner.
Chico Dusty actually winds up having less filler than any OutKast-related album since Stankonia. Joined by a list of familiar collaborators, ranging from production team Organized Noize to protegée Janelle Monae, Big Boi delivers an hour’s worth of that smooth, funky pimp shit he’s been serving up for nearly 20 years now. He’s as musically eclectic as ever, and the absence of Andre 3000 means that Big Boi’s considerable skills as an emcee shine more than ever.
True to form, Chico Dusty is firmly steeped in funk. OutKast has owed more of a debt, stylistically and sartorially, to the Parliament-Funkadelic family than any hip-hop act this side of Digital Underground, and George Clinton himself makes a guest appearance alongside the legendary Too $hort on the smokers’ anthem “Fo Yo Sorrows.”
Most rappers wouldn’t dare to be as offbeat as Big Boi — a song like the first single, “Shutterbugg,” would only work for a member of OutKast, or maybe Snoop Dogg — but don’t take “offbeat” to mean “uncommercial.” The wistful “Be Still,” featuring the aforementioned Monae, would be a summer hit in an ideal world, and “Follow Us” works the same rock-ish vibe that turned Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar” and B.o.B’s “Airplanes” into smashes. “Tangerine,” featuring a delightfully dirty verse from T.I., will very likely be playing in strip clubs all across the south for the next several months. Even the offbeat stuff works, such as the chest-beating orchestral background heard during the triumphant “General Patton.” Want proof that Chico Dusty is a winner? Even the song with Gucci Mane, the delightfully soulful “Shine Blockas,” is listenable!
What amazes me even more about Chico Dusty’s quality is that several songs rumored to be on the album in previous incarnations are missing, including the political track “Something’s Gotta Give” and the OutKast reunion track “Royal Flush” (allegedly, Andre 3000’s vocal performances were snipped from the album at the request of OutKast’s label; he does produce one track, however). Despite the removal of quality material, the album remains a winner. If you’ve bopped your head to any of the music hip-hop’s last remaining dynamic duo has made over the past 17 years, it goes without saying that a copy of Chico Dusty should be in your collection. While we wait for the inevitable reunion, Big Boi’s official solo debut is more than good enough to tide us over.
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