Big Boi, Electric Ballroom, London<br></br>Lemar, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

The real thing versus the Brit version
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The Independent Culture

Shaking it like a Polaroid picture is, it seems, not recommended. Once upon a time, you see, when the developing chemicals were located in a sachet at one end, and the picture developed upon contact with air, waving the picture around was necessary.

But according to the FAQs on the official Polaroid website, "When using the integral films ... that are used in our most popular current camera models ... the image develops and dries behind a clear plastic window and never touches the air, so shaking or waving has no effect. In fact, shaking or waving can actually damage the image. Rapid movement during development can cause portions of the film to separate prematurely, or can cause "blobs in the picture". Imagine, for a moment, being Big Boi from Outkast.

You can probably see where I'm going with this [No - Ed]. One half of the Dirty South duo for over a decade, and suddenly one song, "Hey Ya", by his sidekick Andre 3000, becomes such a runaway global phenomenon that camera companies are issuing solemn refutations of its lyrics. To make matters worse, he can't switch on the TV without seeing the video, which features Andre in 15 different guises, and Big Boi not even once.

The latest - and, it appears, final - Outkast release(s), Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, is a double album in which each member has free rein on their own disc. Any blow to Big Boi's ego is surely soothed by the fact that the twinset has, largely on the back of "Hey Ya", sold platinum in the UK. After this, it seems, they go their separate ways. Andre 3000 is lined up to play Jimi Hendrix in a biopic... and Big Boi? Well, Big Boi is setting out to remind the world that he exists, starting with Camden Town.

To my shame, I never saw Outkast in concert, and I only have myself to blame: it's not as though I didn't have prior warning. Back in 1994 - I hope you're wearing crash helmets, because here comes the mother of all namedrops - I was sat in the Park Lane Hilton making smalltalk with TLC, when Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes told me I should really check out these friends of hers from Atlanta.

Like the rest of Britain, it was only with the sublime "Ms Jackson" single, and Stankonia album, that I finally took notice. And it's that song, three numbers into Big Boi's solo set, which reminds us all why we're here.

Big Boi, it's fair to say, is the less charismatic of Outkast's dynamic duo. With shades on, his hat jammed down and medallion swinging, he's not a very commanding presence, and his name is presumably ironic (he's a shorty), although his dancers, kitted out in camouflage and performing amusingly camp routines, add some visual spice, like the Security Of The First World go to Vietnam.

Big Boi, it's also fair to say, is no less talented than his more recognisable colleague. Speakerboxxx may be the more neglected of the twin discs, but it's a fine record. When US hip-hoppers discovered ecstasy house in the late Nineties, Big Boi was one of the most enthusiastic partakers, and you can hear it tonight on hyperactive Stankonia cuts like "Bombs Over Baghdad", as well as Speakerboxxx's delirious standout track "Ghettomusick".

When a "very special guest" is introduced, hopes of an Outkast reunion rise momentarily, but it turns out to be the corpulent, talentless Bubba Sparxxx, the Rik Waller of rap, who is, for some unknown reason, wearing a Charlton Athletic shirt (surely Alan Curbishley isn't that desperate for a replacement for Scott Parker). He does his two forgettable hits - the Missy-sampling one, and the other one - and throws his Addicks shirt to the crowd, jiggling his belly's-gonna-get-ya frame and employing a little Har Mar reverse psychology: "It's obvious to anyone with a functioning pair of eyes that I'm a pretty motherfucker..." The next guest, Stevie Brown, is billed as "the third member of Outkast", when what everyone wants is for the first member to run onstage and shout "One! Two! Three!" After Big Boi drops his single, "The Way You Move", there is no encore. When he gets back to his hotel room, I bet he doesn't switch on MTV.

Well, I don't know about you, but my first thought, when I learnt that someone called Lemar had won the Brit Award for Best Urban Act - beating the exhilarating modernism of Dizzee Rascal, but honestly, what do you expect (and I'm not bitter about not being invited, although sort it out next year, eh?) - my first thought was, "What, the bloke who sang 'There's Nothing Like This'"? (Nope, that's Omar.) My second thought was "What, the bloke from Kajagoogoo?" (Nope, that's Limahl.) To many of you, Lemar Obika, apparently a 24-year-old from Tottenham, is presumably a well-rounded personality. For 12 weeks, when the able-bodied world was out having fun, and the able-minded world was reading a book, you watched him on Fame Academy (yes, he's one of those), and hung on his every "At the end of the day, it's about the music." You've seen his ups. You've seen his downs. You've followed his struggles to free himself from the quiet misery of being an Accounts Manager at a north London branch of NatWest, and scale the heights of being a Shepherds Bush Empire-filling soul singer. You feel his pain. To me, he's just another mannequin with good pecs and a nice set of pipes.

Like Liberty X, but unlike some of his peers (Where's Sneddon now? Hello, Sneddon? Can you hear me, Sneddon?) Lemar, or perhaps Lemar's people, have decided - wisely, it seems - to hang back a while before launching a career.

Because it's worked. The Empire is bursting with young women who make a noise to which I could only do justice by repeatedly hitting the E-key, at the first glimpse of his smart-casual navy denim suit, red Adidas Sambas and hoody. (He eventually strips topless, looking considerably more attractive than Bubba Sparxxx, and throws sweat-wiped towels into the reachy, needy, feeding-time-fledglings below.) Lemar's own album is spread thin over a set which includes a soul medley (Jodeci's "Freek'N You" into The Isley Brothers' "Summer Breeze"), and a version of "Let's Stay Together" which would have the Rev Al Green spinning in his pulpit. His famous soul reinterpretation of "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" is probably a sign that The Darkness have truly arrived, just as The Beatles knew they'd achieved immortality when their songs were covered by Frankie and Shirley. And it's not bad at all, given a stripped-down Bill Withers feel by a lone guitarist. The screamers love it, and their glow sticks move like slow, slow metronomes.

So, by a public process of elimination, we've produced another slick, polished laydeez' man: a Craig David who can shave properly, a younger, sexier Lynden David Hall. Well done, Britain. But is this really the best we can do?

s.price@independent.co.uk

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