Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Brief History of Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

At the risk of assuming my esteemed colleague's opinion on the matter, I'm pretty sure that there is nothing we at Rockaliser are more looking forward to than Big Boi's long-delayed Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. My long-simmering anticipation for this album has nothing to do with subscribing to the rap hype machine and everything to do with the consistent stream of incredible tracks Big has leaked since March 2008, which run the gamut from merely bangin' to extraordinary to extra-extraordinary. Due to a protracted label battle (of which the details still seem sketchy), the album has been the victim of constant delays, and I feared that label disputes might result in a partially-formed, slapdash kind of project.

But everything Big Boi has done so far has significantly allayed these fears. Having finally signed to Def Jam, and with the release date for SLLF:TSOCD finally set (July 6), I thought it might be a useful public service to provide a brief history of all things Chico Dusty, and in doing so, I thought I'd make a few extrapolated assumptions about what the album means for Big Boi and the future of Outkast as a cohesive unit.

I'm not in-the-loop enough to know when exactly Big Boi began sessions for Chico Dusty, nor do I know when the general concept for a solo Big Boi album was first suggested. My guess is that he started working on the album in the summer of 2007, which would have been around the same time that "International Players Anthem," which featured both Big and Andre 3000, was released. He first mentioned the album publicly in December 2007, in an interview with Vibe Magazine (and let it be stated for the record that Vibe makes it a pain in the ass to go looking for archived articles). In that interview, Big Boi was referring to the album merely as Sir Luscious Left Foot. He mentioned that the bulk of it would be produced by Organized Noize, Outkast's regular production team, and there would be twelve songs in total, nine of which at the time he claimed to have already finished. Amusingly, he also said, "I want all the stuff to be '08, everything to be brand new." At the time, I believe, it was assumed that the album would be on Laface/Jive Records, which had been Outkast's label since Southernplayalisticadillacmusik.

The first track to be leaked was "Royal Flush," named after Big's production team, featuring Andre 3000 and Raekwon (the team first featured on Outkast's track "Skew It On The Bar-B" from Aquemini). It appeared in late March 2008, made the blog rounds, and everybody seemed to love it. I did, for sure: as I have written before, it's really defined by Andre 3000's extended, virtuosic verse at the end, but basically everything else about it is great as well. The relative minimalism of the beat (bass + drums, with a little vocoder thrown in) is the perfect tether to keep these three MCs afloat, and the Isley Brothers sample that separates each verse provides just enough breathing time to appreciate more keenly how these rappers basically rise above hooks: nearly every phrase uttered sticks in one's mind as being either immediately repeatable or profoundly truthful. Critics, as far as I know, were unanimous in their swooning. It charted on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop list and was later nominated for a Grammy for "Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group." It lost to the T.I./Lil Wayne/Jay-Z/Kanye juggernaut "Swagga Like Us," not that anyone cared.

In late April of that year, Big Boi gave an interview with MTV News, where he talked about his overall plan for the album. At this point, his goal was to drop Sir Luscious Left Foot in July of 2008, which would be followed by a solo Andre 3000 disc and then a new Outkast album. He also said that the album had "thirteen cuts" (as opposed to the previously-reported twelve), and the official title was now Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Dusty Chico was Big Boi's father's nickname while he served in the Air Force). Most intriguingly, Big talked about an upcoming duet with Mary J. Blige that "will probably be the second single, called 'The World Is Too Big.'" The article goes on to state that the collaboration "addresses the election, poverty, crime and the war."

Big Boi gave another interview that following May to, in which he claimed that the album would be finished "by the end of August." The brief interview also mentioned "The World Is Too Big," and Big Boi uses the interview as an opportunity to describe Chico Dusty's lyrical message in general terms: calling it "a recession special," he said that the album would explore a number of relevant social issues, from "rising gas prices to the election." Interestingly, there was supposed to be a "Royal Flush" video at some point, directed by Bryan Barber, but nothing came of it, due possibly to Andre 3000's scheduling problems.

Between May and July of 2008, "The World Is Too Big" became "Sumthin's Gotta Give" (or, alternately, "Something's Gotta Give"--though I believe the former is how Big Boi spells it, you find that a lot of major publications spell it otherwise). An official video was released not long after the track was leaked in late July. The song is a much different beast than "Royal Flush": its roots are quite clearly socially conscious old-school hip-hop and R&B, more of a think piece really than anything you can jam to. True to his word, Big Boi addresses a bevy of social ills, ranging from the war to urban poverty to empty rap battles between "who can jive talk the best." The video shows Big and Blige rallying disaffected blacks, interspersed with shots of urban blight and decay. So it's obvious what this song's true purpose is, which was to endorse Barack Obama for president. The video starts with an epigraph from Obama and includes these lines from Mary J. Blige: "And the only hope I have to help me deal with this drama/is that maybe in November we'll be cheering for Obama." The question, then: is this song still going to end up on the album, 18 months after Obama has already taken office? Should we expect to see it augmented slightly? Since no one seemed to pay much attention to this song and we've yet to receive a set track list, no one is sure.

Luscious was still aiming for an October 28 release date when Big Boi dropped "Dubbz" to not-much fanfare in September. Again, the conceptual basis of the song, which features the rapper Backbone (of whom I'm unaware), seemed to come entirely out of left field: an asymmetrical synth line trades parts with melodically-similar blasts of compressed electric fuzz. There's some familiar Outkast super-deep vocals, but for the most part the song sounds like the two rappers have a hard time adapting their styles to such a leaden beat, and it's only at the end that the track manage to build up a little momentum.

Several release dates came and went before Big Boi released "Ringtone" in February 2009. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Sir Luscious Left Foot was officially without a release date at that point (there are some signs pointing to the summer of 2009, but I've been unable to confirm that). Despite having no official video and no album to promote, "Ringtone" was a modest radio success, probably due to the relevance of its subject matter as well as its use of autotune. I found that some critics accused Big Boi of catering to mainstream fads, but I don't really see that here: sure, there is some autotune going on, but it doesn't sound like any autotune vocal I've ever heard, and the flamenco guitar interpolations and low-end synth blasts are as Outkastian as it gets.

(It was also during this period that Big Boi began the transition from Jive Records to Def Jam, which I guess took him about a year. While I don't really understand why it took him so long [Big Boi attributed it to "behind the scenes label politics"], there is evidence to suggest that both Big Boi and Andre 3000 were no longer happy at Laface Records after it was acquired by Jive, possibly because the label kept interfering editorially with the kinds of music that the two rappers wanted to create. Though I would love to know, it is incredibly hard to find instances of the kinds of music that Jive didn't want them creating. But it's worth recognizing that at this point Big Boi is done with the album, and delays from here on out are due to protracted label-fighting.)

In July 2009, a two-minute snippet of a track called "Lookin' For Ya" is leaked. The Boi-1da-produced jam includes a chorus sung by serial collaborator Sleepy Brown and a verse from Andre 3000. This leads to some speculation that "Lookin' For Ya" was in fact meant to be on Andre's solo album, but Big Boi later says in an interview with Eye Weekly that it is indeed a Chico Dusty song, and the complete track will contain two verses from each. As such I don't feel it is right to evaluate the song just yet, although it sounds cool from what I can tell. It was also in this Eye Weekly interview that Big Boi revealed that the album would be released on Def Jam.

"Fo Yo Sorrows" followed, after a semi-long drought, on September 24, 2009. An Aphex Twin-ish blunt-rolling anthem, the track featured vocals from George Clinton and a ten-second cameo from Too $hort (appropriately named, in this instance). It caught on in a way that no Big Boi track had since "Royal Flush." Revelatory and endlessly inventive in the best Outkast tradition, one could easily make the case for it being the first single if it weren't entirely about smoking weed. This was followed not long after by the mighty "Shine Blockas" in October. Banking off a Teddy Pendergrass melody line and featuring a more-mealy-mouthed-than-usual Gucci Mane, it became yet another universally-praised instant classic. Nearly six months later, there aren't many days that go by where I don't listen to it at least once. "Shine Blockas" was released a couple days after Big Boi hosted a listening party at Stankonia Studios in Atlanta, GA--at this point, a total of 15 tracks were said to be on the album.

Videos were eventually made for both "Fo Yo Sorrows" and "Shine Blockas," although the latter is conspicuously sans Gucci Mane, who was in jail at the time of filming. Both of them seem to be pretty cheap, and as far as I know, they weren't meant for anything like MTV play. Seeing George Clinton (who might as well be called the third Outkast) act relatively lucid on camera is always a treat, though. Big Boi has stated that he plans to make a video for every song on the album, which certainly is no longer unheard of in the world of rap, but at least we may finally get to see Raekwon, Dre and Big in a room together.

Another truncated track made somewhat less of a splash in January 2010. "Tangerine" features yet another southern rapper, T.I., whose verse must have been recorded before he went to jail this past March. The song has a tribal, Timbaland-ish feel to it, but there's a conspicuous lack of bass in the leak, suggesting that, like "Lookin' For Ya," it wasn't released in finished form.

In late March, it was made official that Big Boi had signed a deal with Def Jam. The label battle was basically over. A release date was set for May 4 (EDIT: I'm reading now that it will be July 6), with a rumored track list of 20 songs, and a few days later Big Boi held another listening party in Electric Lady studios with LA Reid, playing several new songs, including "Shutterbugg," which will apparently be the "true" first single to the album. "Shutterbugg" is also awesome, by the way, especially if you're into syncopated talkboxing and Gary Numan keyboards. Oddly, it was produced by Scott Storch (odd only because it sounds like nothing else I've ever heard from Storch). Listen closely for a reference to "Protect Ya Neck" and an interpolation of Soul II Soul's "Back To Life (However Do You Want Me").

So that about brings us to the present. Big Boi has stated in multiple interviews that he's pretty set on Outkast's current plan--release Big Boi's album first, then Andre's, then get together for a new Outkast album. Since we haven't heard anything from Andre's end about this, it remains to be seen how long it might take for another Outkast album to see the light of day. I'm afraid that Andre's problem is only compounded by the fact that everything Big Boi puts out these days turns out to be gold--but if there's anyone up to that challenge, it has to be Three Stacks.

Speaking personally, my dream would be for an Andre album for summer 2011, and an Outkast album in 2012. Hopefully, this would be their long-rumored "ten songs" project, an album which would be comprised of ten potential singles, no filler or skits, and no guest stars, with everything being coproduced by Big Boi and Andre. However, the large time gap between this album's inception and its release gave Big Boi the opportunity to record another album's worth of music, so we may be seeing another solo album from Daddy Fat Sacks before anything from Dre comes down the pipeline.

I'll be sure to amend this post once I can find a legit track order. And you better believe I will be doing a track-by-track review in July. In the meantime, let's recap with what we've heard so far:

1. Royal Flush (Feat. Raekwon and Andre 3000)
2. Sumthin's Gotta Give (Feat. Mary J. Blige)
3. Dubbz (Feat. Backbone)
4. Ringtone
5. Lookin' For Ya (demo snippet; Feat. Andre 3000)
6. Fo Yo Sorrows (Feat. George Clinton and Too $hort)
7. Shine Blockas (Feat. Gucci Mane)
8. Tangerine (snippet; Feat. T.I.)
9. Shutterbugg

We'll likely hear more new material from the album in the next few weeks; until then, I will content myself with another listen of "Shutterbugg."


  1. No risk in assuming--I also eagerly await Chico Dusty, though I'm not nearly impressed by certain of the leaked songs (Tangerine, Ringtone, Dubbz).

    I think when the behind the scenes history of this album comes to light, we'll find out that L.A. Reid was instrumental in finally getting a release. Think about it: Big faces intractable problems at the Reid-less LaFace, and he finally jumps ship and signs with...Def Jam, where Reid now works. I'm too lazy to look it up, but I believe it was Reid who signed OutKast in the first place, and I think there's multiple Kast lyrics where they shout him out.

    Another interesting question: will the album be a hit? I kind of doubt it--Idelwild bombed, Big Boi's name doesn't carry the same weight as his group's, nothing has really caught on at radio yet, and hip-hop albums don't sell like they used to. Hope I'm wrong about that.

  2. Incidentally, I've been considering posting a defense of Idlewild for a while...maybe this will motivate me to get my act together.

  3. Yeah, LA Reid was the one who originally signed them--after already turning them down once before. The listening party that happened not too long ago featured him in addition to Big Boi, and he seems to very much be part of this process. Whether or not Andre and Outkast follow suit and go to Def Jam remains to be seen.

    My impression is that the album will be a hit, perhaps in spite of its lack of radio airplay. The fact that this album and the songs on it have been buzzed about as much as they have suggests to me that this might be more of a strong word-of-mouth album than your average Ke$sha chart-topper, but Big Boi still has plenty of latitude and Outkast is still a huge group.

    Please do a defense of Idlewild. That's an album that definitely deserves one, even if it seems like you and I are the only ones who agree on that.

  4. Looking forward to your defense of Idlewild. The band.