Delayed albums wrought with contractual disputes, label changes and a few too many cooks in the kitchen often result in scattered, unfocused music. Not so the long-awaited appearance of a Big Boi solo album. Legal issues kept his longtime partner in Outkast, Andre 3000, from appearing on this record -- but it's a good thing. The tracks leaked years ago and meant to promote this album ("Sumthin's Gotta Give" featuring Mary J. Blige and "Royal Flush," on which Andre 3000 did appear) are not on "Sir Lucious Left Foot." Andre 3000 still has a producer's credit and a guiding hand, but his vocal absence means we finally hear Big Boi all by himself, charting his own course well away from the "Speakerboxxx."
Well, "by himself" isn't quite accurate given that nearly every track here features guests. But rarely are they very prominent. In the nicely balanced "Follow Us," Big Boi raps a little about the album's delay and crowded set list -- "I've been patiently waiting to weigh in / been under construction for two years ... The game seems haunted / 'cause there's so many ghost writers" -- before turning over the tuneful refrain to Neil Garrard, an impressive Atlanta-based singer with a cadence that leans toward old Talk Talk singles.
The presence of an icon like George Clinton doesn't even steal the show; on "Fo Yo Sorrows," Clinton recites some lines about the dangers of drugs, then guides the spacey backing vocals, which give the track a little lift-off. Only omnipresent newcomer Janelle Monae hogs the spotlight on "Be Still," and thank heaven; without her commanding presence, it would be a pretty plain ballad.
Big Boi is not the deep thinker that Andre 3000 has been. Bless him, he tries. This album opens with him flinging rhymes about Obama assassination fears, but it's not exactly a thoughtful analysis of what ran through African-American culture during the last two years, and thankfully it's brief. By the chorus, he's back to boasting about the six woofers in his Cadillac, and for the most part he's leading the party throughout this CD. In this way, "Sir Lucious Left Foot" holds firm the identity established on his side of Outkast's landmark 2003 double-album, "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." Big Boi pokes through a few more hip-hop boundaries while staying rooted in some pretty old-school breakbeats ("Night Night" really lets 'em fly) and some beautiful, sometimes earthy, windy and fiery harmonies ("Turns Me On"). And while "Tangerine" wallows in slavish sexuality, the rhymes are really inventive (wish I could print some of them). Big Boi is having a heckuva time, as he always has, but he's no dope. "Sir Lucious" is a good-time album for the summer fest season -- including his upcoming slot at Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival.