Before Young Thug was Atlanta’s king of weird, Outkast wrote the playbook on how to cross over into the mainstream with an off-kilter aesthetic and a genre-bending sound to match. But in their case, Big Boi was the Kelly to André 3000’s Beyoncé: His work was rarely met with the same gasps of “Genius!” as that of his more flamboyant collaborator. There was never any doubt Big Boi is a formidable MC. But as is the case with most musical groups, the member with more Hollywood “it” factor (i.e., André 3000, Quavo, Swae Lee) tends to outshine his collaborators, however vital to the unit they might be.
But those who’ve been paying attention over the past two decades know that Big Boi is not to be taken for granted. He’s just as skilled at speaking poetry (“International Players Anthem”) as he is at making you dance (“Shutterbug”) — and more often than not, he does both at the same time. Since officially splitting from Outkast nearly a decade ago, his projects — such as his 2015 collaboration with electro-pop group Phantogram, Big Grams — have stayed continuously forward-thinking and progressive. And his long-anticipated album Boomiverse, his first solo effort since 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, proves that his ability to constantly reinvent and push himself puts the 42-year-old rapper on par with E-40, Snoop Dogg and other artists of his generation with similarly enduring appeal.
Boomiverse is an exuberant record that dabbles in different subgenres of hip-hop to emerge with a crisp, cohesive final product that stays true to Big Boi’s roots while cultivating an up-to-date sound. With Outkast collaborators Organized Noize handling the majority of the album’s production, Boomiverse is steeped in the classic Southern sound that predated what we know as trap music today. The album contains features from Southern icons Killer Mike, Jeezy, Curren$y and Gucci Mane. These familiar voices root the project in early ‘00s Atlanta, where these artists first made names for themselves. Although the city’s new vanguard of rappers is currently reinventing its sound, Boomiverse showcases its pioneers and reminds us of the skills it took to put their city on the map.
While the aggressive thump of “Kill Jill,” Boomiverse’s lead single, fires up Big Boi, Killer Mike and Jeezy to give their verses their all, the album is also full of pop gems and unexpected forays into electronic music. “Mic Jack,” featuring Adam Levine (who seems to be in the middle of a Justin Timberlake-esque reinvention), Scar and Sleepy Brown, is a funk and disco-inflected jam that wouldn’t sound out of place next to Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” and Calvin Harris’ “Slide” on the radio this summer. The synth-heavy “Chocolate” pairs Big Boi’s slick-talking verse with a four-to-the-floor house beat — odd combination, but it surprisingly works. And “All Night,” with its feel-good piano riff, is Boomiverse’s emotional high point, conjuring images of glasses clinking over good jokes.
If the variety in Boomiverse’s production proves one thing, it’s that Big Boi has a foolproof ability to ride nearly every type of beat, making it sound memorable and epic. The album is far from the work of a legend resting on his laurels; instead, its inventive and genuinely fun sound makes a compelling case for why, 20 years after his debut, we should still be paying attention to Big Boi.