That brilliant title is certainly a good start. Such inventive use of language immediately undercuts the argument that Antwan Patton has always been the lesser half of OutKast.
This myth has had a surprising degree of longevity. It has been emboldened by the apparent consensus that, of the Speakerboxx/The Love Below double set, Andre 3000’s fantastical neo-soul broke the mould, whilst Big Boi’s contribution sat squarely in conventional rap territory. Big Boi’s reputation has probably also not been helped by the label wranglings and internal disputes that have turned OutKast’s post-Stankonia career into a soap opera. Yet anyone who approaches Sir Lucious Left Foot with more than a cursory interest would have to recognise the injustice here.
For a start, Patton is an astounding rapper with an idiosyncratic style. Whilst Sir Lucious… has a predictably lengthy roll call (including latest R&B sensation Janelle Mon�e, George Clinton, Sleepy Brown and even Jamie Foxx), Patton’s voice remains the most dominant. His combination of southern drawl and rapid fire double time wordplay never ceases to thrill. He is self aggrandising in the classic rap tradition, but insanely inventive in the way he does it. There are self referential nods and winks everywhere – from a “stank you very much” to a “so fresh and so motherf*ckin’ clean”. Big Boi’s confident, effervescent flow helps make this album so enjoyable (“My recitals are vital and maybe needed for survival”).
Whilst Speakerboxx and much of Sir Lucious Left Foot might be comfortably classifiable as hip hop, they could not reasonably be called conventional. This is extroverted, forward looking music with a restless energy. The involvement of producers such as Scott Storch and Lil Jon certainly means Sir Lucious is influenced by crunk and the multi-faceted dirty south hip hop sound (old friends Organized Noise also make an appearance). Yet Big Boi has clearly directed these inspirations towards the service of a stranger, more happily disorientated sound world.
Every time it seems that something predictable might happen, Big Boi adds a tangential element that confounds expectations. Tangerine begins with an electric guitar riff that could easily have heralded some horrendous rap-rock cliche. Big Boi is of course far too clever for that though, and the simmering, invigorating club rhythm that follows is irresistible. Even Shine Blockas, which risks becoming a sterile slow jam, is enlivened by its intricate details and bizarre curveball moments.
Sir Lucious Left Foot is enriched by a constant tension between direct but brilliant melodic pop and a drive for radicalism. The brilliant Turn Me On, a slice of pop hip hop as appealing as the Warren G classic Regulate, or the sublime Be Still, showcasing the silky vocals of Mon�e, represent the former. But proceedings are unsettled by the military precision and skeletal electro-funk of You Ain’t No DJ. The tension manifests itself most successfully when the elements come together – with majestic choruses placed against frenetic hand-claps and imposing bass lines. A case in point is the magnificent closer Back-Up Plan, which incorporates infectious chanting, clipped guitar lines and a wonderfully understated chorus melody. Even better is the hit single Shutterbugg, which trades a wealth of ideas with manic abandon. There’s robotic, vocoderised vocals, a dialogue between electric guitar and synths and, once again, a spectacular vocal hook.
What emerges as much as Patton’s musical invention is his riotous sense of humour. Daddy Fat Sax has him riding in a cadillac with “six woofers”, perhaps suggesting he’s never heard Hot Chip‘s Playboy. The self-congratulatory General Patton sees him rapping over an extravagant Verdi sample. It’s ludicrous and hilarious in the best possible way. This is party music – and Patton is preoccupied with hedonistic concerns – yet it’s all handled imaginatively as well as playfully. This is a left foot that can shoot and score.