Big Boi has been struggling against straight-man typecasting for years. That will happen when the public first encounters you as the guy standing next to Andre 3000, whose arty tastes and Ziggy Stardust wardrobe made him Outkast’s natural focal point. But Big Boi made a convincing play for Outkast’s freaky, funky legacy on his solo debut, 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. On this follow-up, he goes even further left, diving into a sea of bleary synth washes and floating female voices – a sound that owes as much to “Planet Rock” as to current indie rock.
The guest list reads like a blog digest. Big Boi shares the synth-pop fever dream “Lines” with moody indie duo Phantogram and cocksure Harlem MC A$AP Rocky. “Shoes for Running” is a three-way race with bubbly rapper B.o.B and surly Cali punks Wavves. Bringing these new jacks together in harmony is impressive enough; the ease with which Big Boi insinuates his smack-talking, game-kicking self into their midst, even more so.
But the album is most fun when Big Boi stops trying to prove he’s bigger than hip-hop. Best of all is “In the A,” an old-school, ego-fueled lyrical jag: “King shit, Buckingham Palace/Till I’m buckin’ on the motherfuckin’ beat, goddamn it,” he spits, sounding like Zeus dusting off the old thunderbolt. —Rolling Stone