Big Boi shouldn’t still be this good.

That’s all I could think while I listened to the 42-year-old’s album Boomiverse in Atlanta’s legendary Stankonia studios—where Big and Outkast partner Andre 3000 recorded their greatest albums. The halls of the studio are filled with platinum plaques from past Outkast achievements, like Aquemini, Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. And beyond the corridor of classics is a wide room with a small stage for nights just like these. Big Boi is sitting in front of a Macbook, his chains banging on his chest as he instructs DJs to hit play on each song from his album. In between nodding to each beat he’s taking puffs from an vintage tobacco pipe—actual contents of the pipe up for conjecture.

As Boomiverse blares through speakers, one thing is clear: Big Boi hasn’t lost a step. In fact, he might be rapping as well as at any point in his career, which is as impressive a feat as when he and Andre released Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik when Big Boig was just 19.

Boomiverse features him tearing through traditional Atlanta trap and bass-heavy beats—many thanks to his long-time collaborators Organized Noize. “Kill Jill,” the lead single featuring Killer Mike and Young Jeezy is a lyrical maelstrom, seeing Big traipse along the snares like Michael Jackson on the shining sidewalk in the “Billie Jean” video. On “In the South,” with Gucci Mane and a Pimp C sample, is southern funk and pimpology that has been Big’s staple for his entire career. He sounds like he’s in his prime, which has lasted more than two decades. Somehow.

Big Boi has always been a top tier MC but has occasionally been overshadowed by longtime partner Andre 3000, who some conider the best rapper of all time. But let’s be clear: Big Boi made the Outkast engine run. We don’t get a catalogue of classic albums and unforgettable hits without Big Boi’s swagger, lyrical dexterity and creativity.

Think about it like this: When Kevin Durant joined the Warriors, pundits started worrying about two-time MVP Steph Curry’s production. He seemed to be having a subpar year by his standards but a quick check showed he was putting up the same stats as his first MVP season. The only difference is that he was next to another once-in-a-lifetime talent. But the secret to the Warriors is that Curry creates the space and chaos for Durant to be great. That’s what Big Boi did for Outkast. He was the conduit for the group’s transcendent music and there would be no Outkast without Big Boi.

That’s why Big’s late-career renaissance as a solo artist has been at once a reminder of Outkast’s greatness and a validation of his contributions. It’s easy to forget that one half of Outkast’s Album Of The Year-winning Speakerboxx/The Love Below is a solo rap album of classic ‘Kast sound manned by Big.

In the years following the 2004 Grammy, Big Boi dabbled in show-stealing guest appearances and side projects, probably most notably his all-time tour de force of double-time rap supremacy on “Kryptonite” as part of his Purple Ribbon Gang imprint. He finally dropped a true solo album in 2010 with Sir Lucious Leftfoot The Son Of Chico Dusty, which harkened back to classic ‘Kast sound we hadn’t heard in years. Since then the ATLien has put out steady work with inconsistent results. But he was lurking.

Boomiverse is Big Boi’s return to form. Aside from the aforementioned destructions of instrumentals, Big Boi used the album to flex his underrated creativity and musical dexterity. On “All Night” he actually sings the bouncy hook himself and ventures into house music with “Chocolage.” He tackles politics and world events on “Order Of Operations” and opening track “The Next Day.” The only real low point on the album is the poppy “Mic Jack,” featuring a highly superfluous Adam Levine. That track is all forgotten by the time the closer “Follow Deez,” a dream collaboration between Big Boi and producer Mannie Fresh (with a Curren$y assist as well) pipes in over speakers.

The best testament to Boomiverse and Big Boi’s greatness is that at the end of the album, I still want more from a rapper in his 40s. Who saw that coming?

Boomiverse