The other day I was talking to a 16-year-old about the wonderfulness that is OutKast, and he said something alarming. "Speakerboxxx and The Love Below came out when I was just a little kid," he told me. No, I was thinking, maybe you were a little kid when Stankonia came out. Then I checked it out and he was right. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below came out in 2003, seven years ago, and indeed my friend was just nine years old. Stankonia, much to my dismay, was released a decade ago, when he was six and was still probably listening to Raffi. My, how time flies.
Of course this begs the question...what has OutKast, arguably one of the most creative forces in hip hop, been up to in the last few years? Sure there's 2006's Idlewild, a film and soundtrack album that came and went without much fanfare in the mainstream media. But there's a good reason why the break-up rumors keep flying around: despite denials from Big Boi and Andre 3000, OutKast seems to be on an indefinite break. The latest evidence can be found on Big Boi's new album, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. After a few listens, this sounds and feels like an OutKast album, minus Mr. 3000. Considering that Big Boi has always been the more straightforward and serious partner, the humor and playfulness throughout this album seems to indicate that he's filling in the void, or at least showing the world that he has plenty of imagination too.
SLLF:TSOCD is a loose, funny and musically rich hip hop album. While Big Boi keeps the proceedings at a more even keel than in the typical OutKast album, there are still plenty of sidebars (spoken word pieces, etc.) in the mix to preserve that classic OutKast "all over the damn place" feel. Best of all, Big Boi puts his money where his mouth is and shows why he's considered one of the best--and most underrated--of all of today's hip hop stars. Even repeated listens can't quite unearth the fast, excited, endlessly inventive phrasing that weaves throughout these beats, and you'll find yourself searching one of those pop music lyric sites just to keep up.
Then again, it wouldn't be Big Boi if we didn't venture away from rap and into funk, R&B and whatever else catches his interest. For instance, his intro combines a man's whistle, a Dishonest John piano riff and porn guitar. "Follow Us" has an instantly memorable pop chorus (sung with Vonnegutt) that barely obscures a true reggae backbeat, and "Tangerine" has a funky, nasty nightclub vibe, one that my be rated unsuitable for my aforementioned fellow OutKast fan. For once that parental guidance sticker on the cover is well-earned, but not in a crass 2 Live Crew sort of way. In fact, Big Boi reveals his maturity in unexpected ways, such as his statement that "Snow? That's for toboggans" when asked about the influence of crack on today's city streets.
After all, Big Boi is 35 now. And OutKast has been around for a very long time. (Their debut was in 1994, back when I wouldn't be caught dead listening to hip hop...my loss.) While I hope we don't have to wait forever (forever? forever ever? forever ever?) for more from either Andre or Antwan, this album will certainly keep me entertained for the next seven or ten years, which is probably when we'll see the next OutKast album.