Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Big Boi -- Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Diary of Chico Dusty

Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Pros: Retains Outkast's brashly experimental style

Cons: Bloated guest-list can't replace star-power of Andre 3000

Bottom Line: Album shows Outkast isn't a one man-band but also why Andre has been the front-man all these years.

Recommended Tracks:

Shine Blockas

Be Still

Big Boi has been known as the other guy from Outkast for most of his career. Even a #1 single (“The Way You Move”) couldn’t get him out of Andre 3000’s considerable shadow, not with “Hey Ya” on the same double album. His new solo album “Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty” was stuck in label purgatory for four years, an ignominious fate for someone whose sold more than 25 million records worldwide.

But his relative anonymity has never been due to a lack of talent. His pinpoint breath control allows him to flow over almost any type of beat, something he takes full advantage of on “Sir Lucious Leftfoot.” He is as comfortable rapping over the laid-back soul sample of “Shine Blockas” (“the penmanship is so legit / I came equipped like an prophylactic”) as he is spewing syllables in rapid-fire fashion (“they got flour for tortillas and lettuce for enchiladas”) on club songs like “Shutterbug.”

There is an almost infinite variety of musical influences on the album, befitting the experimental style Outkast is known for. A top-notch production team, headlined by longtime collaborators Organized Noise, adds many musical touches, from electronic synthesizers to funk guitars, trumpets and orchestras, not often seen on a Southern rap album.

Like many rappers used to being in a group, Big Boi seems uncomfortable performing by himself. He recruited a bloated guest-list in place of Andre 3000, who was barred from appearing because of label politics. Of the album’s 15 songs, 12 have guest appearances.

The sheer number of guests and musical styles prevents Big Boi from putting his stamp on the album. On tracks like “Be Still,” a jazz-influenced ballad with Janelle Monae where he has only one verse, he feels like a guest on his own song. While Big Boi has the skills to be a star in his own right, “Sir Lucious Leftfoot” shows he might be more comfortable in the background.

Eminem -- Recovery


Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Pros: A sober Eminem takes an honest look at what drug abuse did to his career and his life.

Cons: After six albums, Eminem's mining of his personal demons feels repetitious.

Bottom Line: Eminem's skills are back, now he just needs to figure out something new to rap about.

Recommended Tracks:

Not Afraid

Love The Way You Lie

Almost as soon as MTV began playing "My Name Is", Eminem became a star. Fans and critics alike were fascinated by his contradictions -- the blue-eyed and blonde-haired white kid who look like a suburbanite yet rapped like an inner-city youth; the introspective word-smith who flew into rages of misogyny and homophobia. Everyone wanted to know more about him.

And over three wildly successful albums, het let us in. He painstakingly mined every aspect of his personal life for musical material. His life was an open book, his music a journal that all of America read. Audiences knew his wife, his mother and his daughter as well as they knew him.

But after the release of his semi-autobiographical movie “8 Mile”, Eminem faced a problem familiar to any memoir writer. He made his career by telling the story of his life, but now there was no longer any story left to tell.

So he turned to drugs for creative inspiration. The result, as he admits at the beginning of his latest album “Recovery”, was a disaster: “Hit my bottom so hard I bounced twice / Suffice this time around / The last two albums didn’t count / Encore I was on drugs / Relapse I was flushing ‘em out.”

What then would a sober Eminem rap about? “Recovery”, 17 self-loathing songs about the life of a depressed rap star, shows he still can’t look outside of himself. Fame and depression seem to have shrunk his world to the confines of his rap studio, and what at first sounds like self-reflection quickly becomes self-absorption.

The music matches the album’s dreary tone: dark beats with ominous instrumentation and far too many of his own attempts at singing. Not even a Lil’ Wayne assisted sample of Haddaway’s “What is Love” can bring much levity to the proceedings.

On “25 to Life”, he compares his relationship with rap to that of a battered spouse and fantasizes about leaving it behind: “Don’t think I’m loyal? / All I can do is rap / How can I moonlight on the side? / I have no life outside of that.” The irony is until he can find a life apart from rap, he will have distressingly little to actually rap about.