Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

It was with some trepidation that I listened to Big Boi's new solo album. Like most of us, I am a HUGE OutKast fan and have been somewhat disappointed by some of their later output, like the "Idlewild" soundtrack and some of the guest spots Andre 3000 has put out recently. I hold on just barely to hopes of a successful OutKast reunion, especially since Andre's guest spots make it sound like he's given up on rapping altogether (or should). But the press surrounding Big Boi's "Chico Dusty" project made it sound like a return to form, as did some of his performances on the late night talk show circuit. I saw him do "Shutterbugg" on Leno with a band similar to OutKast performances: dj, horns, guitar, bass, back-up vocals, hype man. It was pretty good.

And that is probably the best thing I can say about the album. It is pretty good. Highlights are "Shutterbugg," the two versions of "Shine Blockas" (remix with Bun B is the better version), and "Tangerine," featuring T.I. and Khujo from Goodie Mob. "Tangerine" is unfortunately typical misogynistic fare, but that doesn't negate the talent of the m.c.'s involved. Overall, though, the album reminded me of the "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" double album from OutKast. It was pretty good, but didn't live up to the high standards of "ATLiens," "Aquemini," or "Stankonia." That is probably not a fair standard for any solo artist leaving an amazing group, but it can't be helped. I'm interested in what our readers think, and if the rumored OutKast reunion will be better.

How I Got Over

This is the ninth studio album by The Roots, who now have a day job playing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. The Roots are one of my favorite groups, they put on an amazing live show and put out thought-provoking, challenging records. I'm glad they're making regular money, but Black Thought, the primary M.C., is underused on the program and sometimes it feels like they could be doing something else that is less silly. On the other hand, I like knowing they have a sense of humor and it is fun to guess what song they'll play for each guest's walk-on.

Anyway, "How I Got Over" was originally scheduled for February release, but was pushed back to June, reportedly by Def Jam. Is it worth the wait? Kinda. I think I am still holding The Roots up to the incredibly high standards of "Things Fall Apart," which might be unfair. No one can keep recreating the same dope album, and no one should try. Artists have to grow and change. "How I Got Over" has a theme of introspection, questioning God, looking at the problems around our communities and pondering how to change them. It also has way too many guest stars, similar to "Rising Down." Both albums are good, and challenge conventions of what hip-hop is. This is a good idea in theory. But not always great sounding in practice. The title track is very good, especially Black Thought's sung verses. He started using this style on the "Game Theory" album, to particularly good use on "Baby." "Dear God 2.0" is another good track, featuring Jim James of Monsters of Folk. It's a stellar reworking of the Monsters of Folk original, and deserves multiple listens, even if it doesn't make you nod your head until your neck hurts. Overall, the album is heavy on content and not heavy on beats. The only track that really bangs is "Web 20/20," featuring Peedi Peedi and Truck North.

The Roots have every right to make an album that makes you think. But they used to make you want to dance, too, or at least bang your head while listening on the train. Are they growing up? Getting soft? Enjoying that talk show money? Or just following their muse as real artists? I am not entirely sure.