It was refreshing to encounter such an effortlessly forward thinking hip-hop record as 'Sir Lucious Leftfoot:The Son of Chico Dusty' last year. Big Boi made a masterful album of perfectly crafted and hugely inventive pop songs, whilst showing off the full extent of his microphone skills. It was assured example of what commercial hip-hop should sound like in 2010. Whilst no serious hip-hop fan could doubt Antwon ‘Big Boi’ Patton’s mic credentials, it’s been a shame that he’s lived in Outkast compadre Andre 3000’s effervescent shadow. A new audience of casual hip-hop listeners bought the Outkast double album, but only ever spun 'The Love Below', dismissing 'Big Boi's offering as juvenile thug-talk, irrelevant hustle and 'just gangsta rap. Which, it is. But that doesn't compare the two records on merit. Sir Lucious Leftfoot saw Big Boi step out of that shadow- Patton himself referring to the album as his 'Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi' moment. Collaborations with artiste-du-jour Janelle Monae helped, as did a steady stream of well produced promos and exciting live videos.

So the stage was set for this, Big Boi's first UK gig in a few years. The gig was booked in preparation for his headline slot at Glastonbury's West Holts stage- a warm up then, a dress rehearsal, or a chance to say 'whats up' to your real fans. Heaven was packed early. A short support slot from up and coming RnB singer Yasmin entertained but never really engaged the crowd. Hers was a blend of hip-hop beats and four-chord choruses that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Xenomania compilation- it was slick, polished and Yasmin herself carved an excellent presence onstage. A very capable singer with excellent range, tone and timing- there's clearly something about Yasmin which can captivate, her closing track 'Finish Line' demonstrating catchy hooks and a rousing finale- but in truth this crowd were only present in patient wait for Savannah, Georgia's finest. Support slots like this are tough gigs at the best of times, but Yasmin gave an excellent account of herself.

A little while (and some classic hip hop jams, thank you DJ) later, the lights dimmed, and Big Boi (and entourage) hit the stage. With only one proper solo album to his name, the audience could be forgiven for expecting a 'Chico Dusty' live set- but Big Boi came out to a host of Outkast classics- Rosa Parks, Atliens, So Fresh So Clean. Dashing expectations, perhaps to remind of the time that Anton has spent in this rap game, before we took the breathtaking new material for granted.

Donning green army camouflage and heavy set sunglasses, Big Boi marauded the stage pouncing on verses. My experience of live hip-hop is that all-too frequently, vocal clarity is lost- but that wasn't the case here. His voice was staccato, each syllable orated with precision. Pay attention, and jaws dropped. His flow was playful, unpredictable but engrossing, flirting with rhythm- never staying in a groove for too long. One moment arguing against beats, only to then conspire with them. Brief forays with General Patton followed, Daddy Fat Sax and Ghetto Musick came next, a barrage of newer material juxtaposed with the 'OG' intro.

It's hard to argue with either his vocal dexterity or his back catalogue, but there was something remiss about the manner in which Big Boi was performing, or rather I should say, those who were performing with him. Allow this reviewer a moment of open speech and of deconstruction. Accompanying Big Boi onstage was the token 'second rapper dude', who's mandate it was (as is standard in live hip hop) to accentuate the 'end of line' rhymes, do some hustle between songs. Black Owned C-Bone has put out a few of his own records and collaborated from time to time with Anton, guesting on some old school Outkast and getting Big Boi to spit a verse over one of his tracks. To my mind though, in such live arenas, there is a delicate balance in presentation and performance. Whereas Big Boi's oration was clear and precise, it was a shame that C-Bone's was drawn out and woozy. The mix didn't help- for the first 4 songs or so, his mic was notably louder than Big Boi's. As the gig went on, it increasingly became clear that they were rapping on a par with one another, trading verses. And this wouldn't have been a problem per se, but he just couldn't hold a torch to Big Boi when it came to skill. Slurred calls and co-raps didn't add to Big Boi's flow, but detracted from it. To my mind, these songs are tight, glossy productions- but C-Bone's contributions enacted them like drunk frat-boy party raps. I spent the gig longing for him to shut up, to let Big Boi hold the stage on his ownsome- he is more than capable, why not?

Things took a turn for the distasteful when, during Speakerboxxx classic 'I like the way you move'- a bevvy of ladies from the crowd were called onstage to 'shake it'. Clearly taking a liking to one in particular, C-Bone then made it his mission throughout the remainder of the gig to compliment her on-mic and dance up real close. Losing focus perhaps, I know that I hadn't come to this gig to see Big Boi's second rapper dude hitting on girls from the crowd all night. Arguably, it was a question of balance- and I think C-Bone overstepped it. A slight giggle perhaps, but it carried on and became more than a little uncomfortable.

More 'Chico Dusty' numbers followed, 'Shine Blockas', 'For Your Sorrows', 'Tangerine', 'You Aint No DJ'- and the set ended in a celebratory fashion. It was hard to argue with the material, or with Big Boi (who is a compelling performer as much as he is rapper)- but the production of the night let these things down. A little less hustle, perhaps- a little more respect for the music.

    Appendum:

  • I was going to leave it there, but I've just seen Big Boi's Glastonbury performance on the iPlayer and I'd like to make some notes on that and this.
  • Big Boi had a full band at Glastonbury yet only a DJ at Heaven.
  • Mid-set in Heaven, C-Bone offered that 'the gig is going well, we'd like to take a request'- cue much screaming, apparently a 'pretty girl in the front' had yelled out the Outkast classic Ms Jackson, so we were treated to that. It felt special and real- at Glastonbury the same trick was repeated, and the same song played. Now I'm not sure what to believe.