Big Boi in 2010
Photo: Don Arnold/Getty Images
'Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty' At 10: The Story Behind The Missing Tracks From Big Boi's Solo Debut Album
Big Boi's solo debut was mired in label drama. Despite being half of one of the most commercially and critically successful rap groups of all time, the Outkast MC dealt with numerous label disputes and delays of 2010's Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son oO Chico Dusty. "[Jive Records] said, 'This is a piece of art, and we don't know what to do with it,'" the six-time-GRAMMY-winning, 18-time-nominated rapper born Antwan André Patton told The New York Times in 2010. "[T]here were a lot of Jedi mind tricks going on… [t]hey almost tried to kill my career with that waiting."
At the time, many fans believed a full Outkast album—their first since 2006's Idlewild—was imminent. "OK, Big Boi's got Sir Lucious out. They're messing with us, André's going to come next, and then all will be well!" Atlanta journalist Gavin Godfrey tells GRAMMY.com about his mentality at the time, breathlessly imitating an over-hyped hip-hop head. Big Boi himself contributed to the hype, telling Vibe in 2007 that a new Outkast project was due after he and bandmate André 3000 had dropped their solo albums. At press time, a follow-up to Idlewild still hasn't transpired. "It's me, standing alone," Big Boi told the Times of Sir Lucious. "Outkast is a part of who I am. But this album is just me."
Big Boi released Sir Lucious Left Foot, which contains just under an hour of irresistible funk-rap, just over a decade ago, on July 5, 2010. This month, the record club Vinyl Me, Please reissued the album on exclusive purple and silver galaxy vinyl. Due partly to disagreements between Big Boi and Jive Records—where Outkast had moved in 2004 from its RCA-owned sister label, Arista Records—several of its singles didn't make the original release; they don't appear on the VMP reissue either. These four songs—"Royal Flush," "Sumthin's Gotta Give," "Lookin' 4 Ya," and "Ringtone"—are deep cuts of the digital era that showcase Big Boi's evolution as a solo artist.
"Royal Flush," which features Raekwon and Big Boi's Outkast partner André "3000" Benjamin, was Big Boi's first solo single. The spare hip-hop track consists of three verses split up by a sampled hook from the Isley Brothers' Go For Your Guns jam "Voyage to Atlantis." Big Boi boasts about his studio filled with potions of emotion; Raekwon describes soaring past police on the way home to his castle. But on a verse triple the length of the others, André warns against turning to crime. "Unfortunate that if you come up fortunate, the streets consider you lame," he raps. "I thought the name of the game was to have a better life / I guess it ain't; what a shame."
A spiritual sequel of sorts to "Skew It on the Bar-B," a 1998 Outkast track which also featured the Wu-Tang Clan rapper, the track shows off the MCs' skill as rappers and writers. Furthermore, it shows that Big Boi's meant his solo work to be an extension of his work with Outkast, not a break from it. "It had the same feeling as I did when I was in high school, and "Rosa Parks" came out," Godfrey, who recently revisited the duo's 2000 album Stankonia for NPR, remarks. "It was so cool and different in a way that only could have been created by Outkast."
On "Lookin' 4 Ya," Big Boi teams up with André and frequent collaborator Sleepy Brown for a song about delicious anticipation for sex. André wants to test every piece of furniture for stability. Big says he and his partner have been digging each other for so long they're like archaeologists. Instead of trading verses over silky-smooth funk courtesy of the Dungeon Family collective, the trio raps over a pounding beat produced by a then-upcoming Boi-1da. "Lookin' 4 Ya" is another impactful reunion with André, combining harsh textures with an R&B hook for a quasi-industrial vibe.
Big envisioned "Royal Flush" and "Lookin' 4 Ya" on the Sir Lucious tracklist from the beginning. He even told East Village Radio that "Lookin' 4 Ya" was to follow "Hustle Blood," and "Royal Flush" was to end the album because he wanted his friend André to have the last word. So why did neither song make it on the album?
"I don't think Jive looked at Big Boi as a top-caliber artist without his partner," David Lighty, the former senior director of A&R at Jive, told the Times. "They wanted an Outkast album so bad that when it didn't happen, they were more disappointed than anything." Frustrated with delays, Big Boi left Jive Records for Def Jam. In return, Jive blocked any collaborations between the two from release on another label on the grounds of them being Outkast tracks—a group still signed to Jive's roster.
André's only contribution to Sir Lucious Left Foot is producing the beat for "Ain't No DJ." "[T]hey can't stop us, man. [I've] been knowing Dre half my life," Big Boi told GQ in 2010. "And for these people that we don't even know, that haven't even had a hand in our career at all, that's f**king blasphemy."
"Royal Flush" leaked to the Internet, was officially released as a single in spring 2008 and was eventually nominated for Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group at the 51st GRAMMY Awards. "Lookin 4 Ya" never received an official release but leaked a month before Sir Lucious Left Foot's release, with additional verses. In the same GQ interview, Big Boi implied he leaked them himself. "You know, I'm no stranger to that Internet, baby," he said. The thirst of the fans will be quenched."
"Sumthin's Gotta Give," also from 2008, was a departure from his usual approach. On this topical song, the ATLien raps about economic struggle and laments there are "no more messages in music." Mary J. Blige joins him for the chorus, lamenting lost jobs and hoping "Maybe in November, I'll be cheering for Obama." Big had rapped politically before — on "War," from 2003's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, he name-checked Osama bin Laden, the slain journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Black Panther activist Fred Hampton. But he had never been so overt.
Big Boi working with a superstar vocalist like Blige was an exciting prospect. "After Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, these dudes have gone diamond, they've won Album of the Year at the GRAMMYs, so they were officially certified superstars," Godfrey says. "People see him on a track with Mary J. Blige and think it's some kind of label pairing, but I feel like Big Boi isn't one of those dudes to pair up with people just to say he did. He's such a musical dude that he's like 'There is something in this song that I can create that can't be enhanced unless I have Mary J. Blige on it.'"
The slap-bass-heavy beat of "Sumthin's Gotta Give" sounds like it's trying to split the difference between New York swing and Atlanta funk, and Big Boi possibly prioritized the track's motivational message over its music. "That was basically to get people out to the polls to vote." Big Boi told HipHopDX in 2010, explaining why "Somthin's Gotta Give" wouldn't make the Sir Lucious tracklist.
Big Boi's upbeat 2009 single "Ringtone," a come-on to a girl who's got her ringtone in Big's phone even though they barely know each other. From its talkbox vocals to its synth bleeps. one could hear "Ringtone" as a brief history of Black soul music, leading up to the hollowed-out, autotuned sound of Lil Wayne's 2008 hit "Lollipop." Godfrey points to Big Boi's now-adult children as enabling him to stay current. "He knows what the kids like, so to speak," he says. "He's always tapped in; he's not one of these old hip-hop heads."
"Ringtone" was officially released as a bonus track to Sir Lucious Left Foot's deluxe edition under the alternate title "Theme Song," possibly to avoid the negative connotations of the 2000s ringtone-rap trend. While the track wasn't a hit, it sounds like it could have been—in a universe just slightly funkier than our own. Of the four left off the album, only "Royal Flush" and "Ringtone"/"Theme Song" survive in the streaming era. The other two are only available through dead links on rap blogs and unofficial YouTube uploads of dubious quality.
Big Boi has now been a solo artist almost as long as he's been part of Outkast. Since Sir Lucious Left Foot, he's continued making hip-hop steeped in the funk and soul traditions—even bringing his unique approach to the Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show. After the haze of delays and disputes has cleared, Sir Lucious and its leftovers remain highlights in an impressive catalog. "I am content with the knowledge that there probably will never be another Outkast album," Godfrey says. "But if there are more Big Boi albums, I'm fine with that."