Big Boi @ Kentish Town Forum 01.11.10

‘Too commercial, I don’t mind Outkast’s earlier stuff’.

For the hip hop purist Outkast lost their way in 2003. With the genre-sprawling double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, they transgressed some invisible line in the community’s consciousness. Whatever you might call it, – too pop, too commercial, too easy – it all points to the same thing: it just isn’t real enough.

The fellow queuer outside a Pharoahe Monch gig a few weeks prior approved of MF Doom and the like, but Outkast? Even seeing the less flamboyant, more traditionalist of the duo was met with a sucking of the teeth.

The encounter is broadly illustrative of the strange self-defeating snobiety of the average Hip Hop fan (as well as my excellent taste in hip hop). Even the snootiest rock fan wouldn’t go on about claiming his suitably obscure artists were the true form of the genre. Yet hip hop has this strange, ill-defined fissure running tearing it apart; its fans seem to have a Lacanian obsession with ‘the Real’.

Big Boi isn’t concerned with such things. He’s only conservative in comparison with Andre 3000. And, showing a healthy disregard for stuffy critical credibly, he manages to cram a healthy selection of Outkast classics into a relentless medley that has the effect of streamlining the songs down to their essentials. So Fresh So Clean, B.O.B and The Way You Move are just a small taster of a blistering medley that serves as a potent reminder of the depth and ubiquity of the duo’s legacy.

Of course, the medleys also have the useful benefit of hiding Andre 3000’s absence. Songs can be cut and spliced for Big Boi to give us the hook and his verse, but the present absence of his partner in crime is obvious. You only have to look up at the Outkast videos being played on the wall-mounted projectors – videos in which Andre was always the most comfortable showman. It’s hard not to day-dream of a full Outkast production with a p-funk backing band, brass band, church choirs, synchronised backing dancers and at least three costume changes.

Big Boi keeps it sparse dressed all in black with the traditional DJ and hypeman set-up backing him. His act is what the majority of all hip hop shows are (though, mercifully, the sound is good), and it’s more than understandable that he dips into a back catalogue that he has a stronger paternal claim to than most solo artists emerging from the shadow of a previous project.

And in his defence, Big Boi isn’t just here to trade in former glories. The ‘new shit’ from Sir Lucious Left Foot gets more than a warm reception, which is only fair for one of strongest albums of the year. Shutterbugg in particular is met with the kind of reception reserved for established classics.

As he departs after a short, perfunctory encore, it’s surprising to realise he was only on stage for just over an hour, yet it’s hard to feel short-changed but such a commanding showcase of his past, present and what will hopefully not be his future for too long. As good as he is solo, a reunited Outkast is too great a proposition to pass up.

MP3: Big Boi – Back Up Plan


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