Big Boi – 170 Russell, Melbourne (13/03/18)

At this stage in his career Big Boi is left to fly the flag for one of the most celebrated hip hop acts of the ‘90s and early 2000s while Andre 3000, his partner in OutKast, rests in semi-retirement. The weight of that mantle is a curse, in that everything that he does as a solo artist will always be compared to his group’s high watermarks of Aquemini and Speakerboxx/Love Below, but is also a coupe as he is the only one able to travel the word playing that very material.

Attendance at 170 Russell was noticeably lacking, but that didn’t stop those in attendance from reacting enthusiastically to the Atlanta rapper’s every playful entreaty from the moment he bounced onstage. His latest offering, Boomiverse, showcased the slick flows, hooks and playa-centric rhymes that Big Boi has exhibited throughout his career and tonight’s show relied heavily on the new material. The album’s opening track ‘Da Next Day’ gave way without pause to 1996’s ‘ATliens’, and 1998’s ‘Skew It On the Bar-B’ and ‘Rosa Parks’, reassuring fans that there would be older jewels on show as well.

Backed by DJ Cutmaster Swift, who did an excellent job at integrating most of the set into a non-stop medley, Big Boi was also joined throughout by Sleepy Brown who, as one third of Organized Noize, has been an associate since producing the first OutKast album in 1994. Brown matched Big Boi’s enthusiasm, the two crisscrossing across the stage, rapping together and inciting the crowd to get excited. It was also an added bonus having Brown’s silky smooth vocal on hand for the hooks, many of which, such as ‘So Fresh, So Clean’, he sang on the original recordings.

Dressed in his signature khakis, gold chain, ATL cap and sunglasses, Big Boi kept a smile on his face the entire time, his command of the stage after almost 30 years clearly second nature. The one major complaint, besides the initially boomy sound and low budget graphics displayed on the screen behind, was that having seen them play two days earlier at Golden Plains, they not only played an identical set, but even the banter was delivered exactly word for word. However, for most people this was not a problem, and really who can complain about getting to hear ‘Ms Jackson’ performed live twice?

‘Spottieottiedopaliscious’ was a welcome addition to the setlist, with the entire crowd singing along with the famous horn line and Brown delivering the hook, although Big Boi remained on hype man duties rather than doing his verse.

With the news having broken earlier that day that hip hop legend Craig Mack had passed away, the group paid a brief tribute by way of his grimy 1994 single ‘Flava In Ya Ear’.

After dipping into several of the new album tracks, of which the single ‘All Night’ got the biggest reaction, the show was brought home with the familiar beats of ‘The Way You Move’ and ‘Kryptonite’, before a single encore of Big Boi’s verse from the classic UGK/OutKast collaboration ‘International Player’s Anthem’.

For an artist with such a long catalogue of songs to choose from, the set felt brief and incomplete, due largely to the fact that half of the show was dedicated to songs that Big Boi could only perform a single verse of. This was the reality of pursuing new music while simultaneously flying the flag for OutKast, a true gift and a slight curse, the result of which was something less than mind blowing, but still pretty good.

Written for Beat Magazine.

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