OutKast’s creative mitosis becomes nearly complete with Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, a full-fledged solo project that feels as effervescently whole, if not as ambitious, as the duo’s combined work. Freed from the aesthetic demands of an odd-couple partnership, Big Boi (Antwan Patton) improves on the standard set with 2003’s Speakerboxxx, an ostensibly solo work crystallized inside a double-album set, delivering a record that’s rigidly focused and almost uniformly strong.
Whether this quality stems from the long gestation period (the album was reportedly in the works for nearly three years) or simply general autonomy, Sir Lucious Left Foot succeeds as both a character summation and a declaration of independence. It’s hard to tell what might be different here had complete separation not been enforced by Jive Records, which, as masters of the group’s contract, forbid André 3000 from appearing on the record, but this decision also functions as a blessing in disguise, giving Patton room to inhabit every corner of Sir Lucious Leftfoot, rather than play the technically accomplished straight man. It also proved to be the last of several hurdles that had pushed the album back from a planned 2008 release, resulting in the jettisoning of three tracks, including original lead single “Royal Flush,” which featured Andre and Raekwon.
Andre shows up here briefly, providing production for the suitably jittery “You Ain’t No DJ,” supplying an endlessly oscillating beat that Patton rides effortlessly. Despite the picaresque-sounding inclinations of the title, there isn’t much weirdness. This is by-the-books hip-hop with just the right proportion of ingredients, with guest appearances that don’t overshadow the main star—who’s consistently in fine, tongue-tying form—or drag him down, and mercifully short skits tacked on to the ends of songs.
It makes sense that Patton—OutKast’s veritable anchor, who kept the group conventionally rooted as Andre’s quirky preoccupations strayed farther and farther afield—would hunker down as he does here. Speakerboxxx had a similar sense of sturdiness, willfully traditional while never drab, but felt comparatively at odds with the tangents, explorations, and larks imposed by its counterpart. The interesting aspects here are mostly the result of technical choices, subtle moves like choosing Janelle Monáe for the female vocals on requisite slow-jam “Be Still,” which affects an eerily baroque reading of which a weaker presence might not have been capable.
Otherwise, the album mostly exceeds at loud, booming party tracks. The chorally enhanced “General Patton” is tremendous, forming a convergence point where bluster, canned horns, and a Georg Solti opera sample joyfully collide. Even cheap tricks like “Tambourine,” all facile booty praise with a radio-ready rhyme scheme, work by virtue of the general skill of everyone involved. A funky, crackling guitar line recalling “Chonkyfire” off 1998’s Aquemini, doesn’t hurt either. These kinds of nods to Patton’s past are useful, though the greatest misstep here is an attempt to recapture OutKast’s creatively roving dynamic. This occurs via a lame guest appearance by the band Vonegutt, whose poisonous emo wail stinks up the track “Follow Us.”
A more nagging issue is Patton’s lyrical slackening, which may have resulted from the lack of a partner to keep him on his toes. The material is still spry and springy, but it abandons the usual political and social tinges, which had even showed up on Speakerboxxx, for the easier pastures of self-love. He raps so incessantly about how good his lyrics are that it’s generally all the songs are about, forming a kind of weird Möbius strip of egotism. It’s a troubling change of focus, but is a minor flaw on an album that offers few other options for improvement.