There comes a juncture in a music legend’s career, should they want to keep making music, that asks the musician to make one of two choices: do everything in your power to stay relevant, or ignore the trends and keep doing what brought you acclaim in the first place. Big Boi decides on the latter with ‘Boomiverse’, his third solo album since the dissolution of groundbreaking hip-hop duo OutKast. It eschews recruiting buzzing names and doesn’t rely on the trappings of in-demand genres like, well, trap. The latest installment from “Daddy Fat Saxxx with three X’s” serves up another round of casual futuristic pimping, meeting the economic minimum for pleasing his fans while throwing in enough artistic gambles to attract a few new ones.
At twelve tracks, ‘Boomiverse’ is Big Boi’s shortest album, and he frames the length as an attempt to make each song stand out rather than offer a compact narrative. The presentation holds together until the final third, in which ‘Chocolate’, an inexplicable remix to a cheeky house track featured in a 2016 iPhone commercial, is followed by menacing boasts of violence from Big Boi, Kurupt, and Killer Mike in ‘Made Man’. ‘All Night’ takes cues from CeeLo and D.R.A.M.’s goofy yet charming catalogs to produce a jubilant potential single with an Atlanta bounce and a sweet, non-hostile proposal to the apple of Big Boi’s eye. The chilled groove of Snoop-Dogg-featuring ‘Get Wit It’ that succeeds ‘All Night’ works as a nice counterbalance, but lyrically throws cold water on the album’s momentum, replacing a more positive direction with a snooze of a chorus (“Bitch, get wit it / And roll up”) and lines that have been said in some form by Big Boi, Snoop, and others many times over.
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The production pulls from Big Boi’s first two solo endeavors, blending the energetic funk of the excellent ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot’ with the gliding electro-pop of the odd but solid ‘Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors’. For Big Boi, perched in the executive producer chair, it’s his best of both worlds, but for the listener it results in a detached experience. ‘In the South’, Pimp C sample queued up, puts forth a beat that doesn’t commit any cardinal sins, but it also doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from anything UGK or even contemporary darling Big K.R.I.T. have created a million times over. Scott Storch provides an equally unexciting soundscape of key loops and 808s for ‘Order of Operations’, an unfortunate deterrent in a song featuring two of Big Boi’s more charming verses. OutKast staples Organized Noize save the day whenever they appear, delivering the album’s most bombastic moment early on with ‘Kill Jill’. They return with later standouts ‘Overthunk’, which combines a hypnotic drip of a drum pattern with the album’s most memorable use of synths, and some welcome uses of saxophone and a talkbox in ‘Freakanomics’. Mannie Fresh gets a grimy last word behind the boards on ‘Follow Deez’, a moment important enough for Big Boi to point out during the song, and it’s as emotional as the proceedings dare to get.
Big Boi’s voice is comfortable over any beat, a rare trait that’s been set in stone since the days of ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’. His wordplay can skate gracefully between outlandish (“We break it up like the smile of Michael Strahan” on ‘Mic Jack’) and vicious (“I put the bottle down, hit the throttle, got ‘em now / Sodom and Gomorrah deplorables all around my style” on ‘Follow Deez’). The underplayed brilliance of his rhyming and a smooth voice that doesn’t seem to age are complemented well by the smattering of features, which include the harsher tones of Jeezy, the looser flows of Curren$y, and the roaring charisma of Big Boi protégé Killer Mike. By the time we reach the third Killer Mike feature, however, which also serves as the album’s last verse, we get the sense that as his stock continues to trend upward, Big Boi’s luster may be starting to fade.
One yearns at times for the lyrical content to undertake a more adventurous mission, as more than a few songs run rampant in the sexual brags and casual misogyny of pimp lingo, sounding even more tired and dated over the space-age boom-bap. Fortunately, Big Boi’s confidence and dexterity are channeled into some interesting subjects as well, such as powering through an obstacle-laden career, reminding challengers of his pen game (“I don’t write on no iPhone”), and retaining one’s identity to produce musical longevity. The most publicized line on the album, a possible crack at philosophy regarding the Bill Cosby trial, is too out of place and vague to make whatever sort of impression Big Boi might have intended with it. ‘Boomiverse’ won’t be remembered as Big Boi’s finest moment, but that’s more a testament to a fine career than anything else.
‘Boomiverse’ is out now via Epic Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment.