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Big Boi - 'Shutterbug'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:11 UK time, Sunday, 20 June 2010

Big Boi

The human voice is a wonderfully adaptable - and surprisingly powerful - tool, isn't it? Down here in Cornwall, you've got your Fisherman's Friends, an amount of men (you count them, I'm on a roll here) who do nothing but arrange themselves into a semi-circle and sing sea shanties, and yet they are capable of bringing otherwise sensible adults to the brink of tears. I know some of them. Hell, I AM some of them.

Then there are opera singers, who could no more whack out a sea shanty than I could throw a javelin and pop the moon, but they have the same gift. They open their mouth, and everyone listening quivers and inflates and then exhales and collapses, emotionally speaking.

Somewhere in the middle is yer pop music, which likes to take great liberties with the stuff that comes out of the human mouth, and yet it too can leave devastation in its wake.

This song is almost entirely made up of human voices. It might not make you cry though.

(Here's the video. There is literally never a dull moment.)

Let's count the ways, shall we? First there's the sampled bass-line. Using syllables as bass noises is an honourable tradition that goes back to the birth of sampling. The Art of Noise were among the first to do it, when they made their Earth-shaking 'Close To The Edit', way back in 1984. It was a good idea then and it's a good idea now.

Then there's the vocoder. Now this is different from the bleating auto-tune noise, because rather than taking the noise of a human voice and treating it so it becomes more robotty, a vocoder takes a synthesizer noise (or any noise) and allows a human voice to control how it moves around. That's why it's a smoother sound, and that's why that bloke has a tube in his gob in the video. He plays the synth and his mouth makes that sound into words. Vocoders are cool.

Meanwhile, in the realm of actual voices, there's singing and there is rapping. In this case, most of the work here is rapping. Big Boi has a tale to tell of nightlife and naughtiness, and being a very good rapper, he's diced his story into word-sized chunks, and then re-arranged it into a seamless rhythmic mosaic. He's got 'flow' the way Stonehenge has staying power.

But, to vary things even further, there's some singing going on too. Otherwise it could sound to unconcerned ears like a bunch of jibber over jabber. So here's a little choir, backing up Johnny Vocoder with their meaty realness.

And what do we learn from all this vocality? Well, the chief lesson seems to be that Big Boi is the best at everything ever, that's certainly what he'd like us all to know. But underneath that is just a general sense of awe that such amazing things can come from the same hole you cough out of.

Four starsDownload: Out now

BBC Music page

(Fraser McAlpine)

Mediocre Music Blog says: "Can't quite put my finger on everything that's going on here but I know it reaffirms my long-held belief that Big Boi is the man."

Shazamer's Blog says: "A glorious blend of West Coast hip-hop, Roger Troutman style vocoder and electro drums."

Consequence Of Sound says: "So if Big Boi wants to turn his band members into plush puppets, more power to him."



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