Big Boi gets back to hip hop on "Boomiverse," but his approach still remains scattered.
After the high-octane thrill ride of Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Big Boi's solo career took a turn for the worse on 2012's Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors. On the former, he did the near-impossible, living up to Outkast's reputation by charting a totally different course, one more freewheeling, easygoing, and perfectly okay with resigning itself to "cool uncle" status. The latter took all of this to the extreme, finding Big Boi collaborating with random-as-fuck denizens of the indie rock world, still seeming like an uncle, but no longer a cool one. 2015's Big Grams expanded upon this, bringing us even more collaborations with indie pop duo Phantogram that we didn't need to begin with.
Boomiverse is, for the most part, a step back in the right direction without being too much of a departure from Big Boi's existing solo catalog. The album's refreshingly brief, and it does a good job of mixing the ATLien's recent pop/funk impulses with a South-heavy guest list. It's quite possibly the only album that will ever feature both Dungeon Family soothsayer Big Rube and Top 40 mainstay (and lest we forget, Kesha abuser) Dr. Luke, and Big Boi's quite possibly the only rapper that could steer Boomiverse from being a jumbled trainwreck.
Central to his genius, as usual, is the giddiness with which he approaches rapping. Nothing's off the table for Big Boi, whether it's braggadocios chest-beating, one-of-a-kind descriptions of luxury items, self-help advice, callbacks to Outkast's heyday, references to goofy cultural ephemera, or grown-ass lust. He may never return to the enthralling storytelling of "West Savannah" or "Da Art of Storytelling," but then again, his drawled Southern version of MF DOOM non-sequiturs might be more interesting at this point in his career. He definitely isn't, as he boasts on "Get Wit It," "one of the last rap n****s snappin,'" but despite his pivot from Andre 3000's grounding god of rap fundamentals to lyrical variety show, Big Boi's undeniably still got it, as far as rapping goes.
The best moments on Boomiverse, by and large, are the ones where the star is paired with guys that exist in the same rarified airspace as him. Mostly, it's Southern veterans like Killer Mike, Jeezy, Gucci Mane, and Curren$y, but there's also room for West Coast legends Snoop Dogg and Kurupt to step up and deliver respectable verses. At these times, the album feels like a late-career Rat Pack reunion, or a version of the Grown Ups franchise that's actually decent, and for fans of any variety of Southern rap, that's great news.
More uneven, as seems to be the case with all of Big Boi's solo work, is the half of the album that ventures into poppier territory. The first instance of this, the Adam Levine-featuring single "Mic Jack," works surprisingly well, with DJ Khalil and DJ Dahi delivering a slick beat reminiscent of Gorillaz' "DARE," and Levine keeping things relatively chill. "All Night" is okay, but feels like a blatant attempt to capitalize on D.R.A.M.'s (or Kodak Black's "Patty Cake") formula of rudimentary piano line + identical vocal melody, and I hope Big Boi didn't have to shell out multiple stacks to Dr. Luke for such a simple beat. "Chocolate" is the vintage house music/Yeezus play that we never needed from Big Boi. Worst of all is "Freakanomics," an aimless blast of carnal funk that's an insult to all of Big Boi's previous strip club anthems (especially the incredible "Tangerine").
Boomiverse is kind of a messy album-- veering between styles with little warning, recycling a Scott Storch beat, making time for groan-inducing Bill Cosby and "Cash Me Outside" punchlines-- but compared to Big Boi's recent moves, it keeps him afloat as an artist past his prime looking to rock diverse festival crowds. I guess Big Boi solo projects are just always going to have some queasy out-of-character moments (the most egregious of which are still the B.o.B and Wavves-featuring "Shoes For Running," and "Follow Us," the sole bad track on his solo debut), and although Boomiverse has its low points, we have to be thankful that none are nearly as low as the majority of Vicious Lies. Based on this, I'd either love to see Big Boi do a "Kings of the South"-style album that's heavy on collabs, or else something more autobiographical and insular with a single producer. At this point in his career, he's stretched himself pretty thin, and we can only hope that he retains enough of that fundamental core to give us several worthwhile tracks per album.