Big Boi / Sleepy Brown: Big Sleepover
Big Boi and Sleepy Brown set the stakes of their joint album early. “We have nothing else to prove,” Sleepy sings with calm assurance on the title track. The line nods to the pair’s extensive list of collaborations as members of the Dungeon Family, and Big Boi and Sleepy Brown’s particular recording history. It’s impossible to see their names together and not think of “The Way You Move,” the seismic 2003 hit that ironically both declared “OutKast is everlasting” and reintroduced Big and Sleepy as dynamic standalone performers. Big Sleepover smartly doesn’t try to recapture that lightning or peddle nostalgia. But it’s built on the conviction that when Big Boi and Sleepy Brown come together, magic happens, a premise that unravels as they struggle to find a groove.
Teased since 2019, the album grew out of frequent touring. “Just being on the tour bus, we were like, hey … why don’t we do some new songs, you know, some brand-new songs, just me and you, a whole album?” Big Boi told NPR last month. That easygoing, open-ended approach characterizes the record, which feels like an extended hangout, the two artists casually trading ideas as friends and family drift in and out the room.
Their chemistry is undeniable. No song feels strained or overloaded, and both artists pull back or step up as needed, be it Big Boi supplying a fleet bridge on electro-funk track “Animalz,” or Sleepy adopting a choppy growl to fit into Big and Killer Mike’s bar clinic on “Lower Case (no cap).” The Dungeon Family emphasis on coherence and harmony is deeply ingrained in both of them.
But instinct hinders them as much as it helps. There’s no particular mission or purpose guiding these songs, leading Big and Sleepy to fall back on limp sex romps and dull player tales that grow increasingly impersonal and perfunctory. “Can’t Sleep” laments the thirst of women who make booty calls, a goofy and undercooked conceit. “Last night, can’t sleep/Girls keep calling me/This girl keep calling me/She keep on partying,” Sleepy sings mechanically on the hook. Is he annoyed? Is he tempted? Does his phone not have a “do not disturb” setting? There’s no drama or tension in Sleepy’s crooning, or in Big’s bitter verse, just old men finger-wagging. “Intentions,” a loungey cut produced by Organized Noize, is just as stifled. After Big Boi’s colorful sex raps, the song flatlines as Sleepy and guest Cee-Lo blandly recite their designs for a potential lover. For a song about lust, it’s weirdly chaste.
Sleepy frequently disappoints in this way, his melodies serving as placeholders and timekeepers. He’s never been the type of performer to steal the spotlight, but he could be counted on for style and flavor. From the pimp strut of “So Fresh, So Clean” to the smooth yearning of “I Can’t Wait” to the icy cool of OutKast deep cut “Spaghetti Junction,” Sleepy has long been a shapeshifter. But here he is often muted and one-note, his waning presence accented by Big Boi’s eternally spry rapping.
The pair’s shrewd beat choices keep the record lively despite its lopsided performances. There’s no outright jams, but funky keys, bass, and guitar pop up throughout, keeping the mood buoyant and loose. The fizzy synths on “Return of the Dope Boi” evoke a robot doing a Doug E. Fresh impression. And the bright, choppy keys on “Doin’ It” have a spirited, almost ragtime sway. The album’s true secret weapon is Killer Mike, whose guest verses light up four songs with verve and humor. Sleepy Brown and Big Boi rarely spark anything as engaging by themselves, but there’s something charming about them still creating spaces for other artists to shine.
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