With the release this week of rapper Big Boi's sophomore album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, we're reminded of how truly great his 2010 solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty truly was. It's rare that a rapper hits a home-run when making their first effort as a solo artist following their departure from a successful group, but the ones who've successfully pulled it off have made some of the most memorable solo statements in rap history. Here's our picks for the top five post-departure rap debuts.
For clarification, in order for an album to eligible it has to be an artist's first solo album following either their leaving a celebrated group, the group dissolving, or the group being inactive for a substantial period of time.
5. Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)
For as cherished as Outkast's contributions to the hip-hop canon are, it's doubtful many expected Big Boi's solo debut to be as outstanding as it was. After almost three years of record label red tape and legal issues preventing his partner Andre 3000 from appearing, the sheer amount of horror stories of the album's journey to stores seemed like a red flag. Fortunately, these hiccups were more of a red herring as Big Boi proved he's more than capable of carrying an album by himself. By continuing in the strong tradition of what made his Outkast verses so memorable and still forging a path into the future that cemented his own new fully-evolved style, Sir Lucious was everything a debut departure record should be.
4. Busta Rhymes, The Coming (1996)
Leaders of the New School were a collection of New York MCs as charismatic as they were technically impressive. After recording two fun and multifaceted albums, the group seemingly imploded during a taping of “Yo! MTV Raps.” Fortunately for member Busta Rhymes, a chance performance with A Tribe Called Quest on “Arsenio” lead to him inking a solo deal with Elektra. As a result, The Coming was forged. A wildly creative hyper-kinetic onslaught that captured everything that made his star-making cameo on Tribe's “Scenario” so great, its release shot Rhymes to rap superstardom for many years to come.
3. Big Mike, Somethin' Serious (1994)
Houston rapper Big Mike is notable for releasing albums with two critically celebrated groups before venturing out as a solo artist. Originally one-half of The Convicts, whose self-titled concept album remains one of the strongest entries in the Rap-A-Lot catalog, he then joined the Geto Boys for the Til Death Do Us Part album during member Willie D's departure. After he returned, Mike forged a solo path, hot shotted by the landmark Pimp C-produced single “Havin' Thangs.” Along with cementing Mike's status as one of the most consistent and prolific artists ever signed to Rap-A-Lot, “Havin' Thangs” went on to find a second life with new listeners after being included one year later on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack.
2. Ice Cube, Amerikkka's Most Wanted (1990)
Ice Cube's departure from gangsta rap innovators N.W.A. was anything but amicable. After helping put the genre, the group and the new west coast sound on the map, Cube faced the challenge of creating a debut that was guaranteed to continue his status as a hip-hop trailblazer. After enlisting Public Enemy's east coast beat architects the Bomb Squad to handle production duties, Cube readied Amerikkka's Most Wanted. The first solo debut album to get a perfect five mic score in the source, it effectively united hip-hop as one nation under Cube.
1. Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)
If there's one element of Dr. Dre that's gone understated, it's his ability to successfully reinvent himself time and time again. Originally the DJ for smooth R&B outfit World Class Wreckin' Cru (complete with a shiny bejeweled stethoscope), the good Doctor then became the beatsmith for the unapologetically abrasive N.W.A. During his time with the group, he famously stated he doesn't “smoke weed or cess, cause it known to give a brother brain damage,” and then years later remolded himself into the mastermind behind The Chronic. If your group's responsible for a genre-changing masterpiece, and then you yourself make your first solo album become another genre changing masterpiece, it's hard for anyone deny your talents. Lets hope Detox eventually shocks us just as much, or at least as much as his headphones.