An innovative hip-hop stylist forges new alliances to keep it fresh
By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music
Bi Boi (©Jonathan Mannion)
Big Boi spent the greater part of his career being one of the architects of the legendary hip-hop outfit OutKast. Born Antwan André Patton, Big Boi, along with André 3000 (born André Benjamin), reinvented the wheel for Atlanta hip-hop by introducing a distinctive sound that leaned on funky rhythms, a stark contrast to the steady rise in Atlanta's trap rap scene.
General Patton continues to evolve with his second solo album, "Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors." The project is an amalgam of hip-hop's various corners, coupled with the inclusion of New York indie rock band Phantogram on several tracks. It's a new direction for Big Boi, one that he hopes to keep perfecting. As he embarks on this next phase in his career, he talks about never making music that fits in, and how he always aims to stand out.
MSN Music: Your new album sounds like you're really changing the direction of hip-hop, especially with some of the collaborations that you have on there.
Big Boi: I like to think of it as it's not just hip-hop, you know what I'm saying? I mean, it's everything. It's global music is what it is. Hip-hop is a part of the bloodline, but I just try to make jams, man!
How did you link up with Phantogram?
I actually Shazam'ed [looked up] one of their songs off of a pop-up ad that came up on my computer! The song "Mouthful of Diamonds," I'd never heard of it! So I Shazam'ed it and I bought it off iTunes and I made it the jam of the week on my website, BigBoi.com. When I did that, Sarah from Phantogram got in contact with me and said they were fans of the music, and we should hook up and do some work. She sent me some autographed vinyl, and after she did that, we played a couple festivals together and they came and camped out at Stankonia for like a week and just made music, beautiful music. They're actually in Stankonia right now working on their new album.
Yeah, man. You know, the vibe is alive.
You are looking to do a collaborative album with them, right?
Yeah, "Big Grams," we're going to do that soon. When they finish their record, we're going to do the "Big Grams" project.
What about having Little Dragon on your album?
Same type of thing. I was introduced to their music. Actually, I was at Dre's [André 3000] house a little bit ago, and we were just going through some records or whatever and he was just playing me what he was listening to. He played some MGMT, he played some Little Dragon, he played some old George Benson. I actually was playing a festival with Little Dragon and got to talking to them, and they were like, "Yeah, we want to come down and work on some stuff." And through my godbrother Trevor Kane, he hooked me up with them and they came and we camped out for seven days and made magic!
Live Music blog: Big Boi live in New York
Organically created, never genetically modified. I like how all the music just came together by chance, you know?
After "Sir Lucious Left Foot" [Big Boi's solo debut album] came out, what were some of the things that you wanted to change about your sound and your style from that first solo project?
Nothing really in particular. It was just, you know, every album is an experimentation. When you go in and you're making and creating songs, it's just all by a Frankenstein. Like you're building a Frankenstein almost. I call it Frankenfunk. So when you get into doing that, just really making a record, like anything goes. It's like stitching and piecing grooves together to make one cohesive body of work. So you never just try to make it sound different. When you put certain sounds together, they create a new sound, so it's all about just really compiling different elements of songs and making it all worthwhile, and it works out.
What did you learn from being in OutKast that you've now brought to your solo career?
That the writing load is extremely heavy. When you're used to writing songs with somebody and then when you're responsible for all the writing on the record, it's just ... it's fun, but it's also challenging, you know? That and production-wise as well. Because you know, he'll produce, like, every song on the record.
Are you pleased with the present direction of Atlanta hip-hop? You're going in a very different direction.
Yeah, I applaud and embrace anybody from the town that's doing what they got to do. But as far as I'm concerned, the name of the group is OutKast, so it's going to always be on the outskirts of what the cool thing is to do. We never follow the trends. I've never been one to do that, and I never want to do that. I'd get bored. So I just really try to keep myself excited about music by trying to discover new sounds.
Do you notice any differences touring with an indie rock act versus hip-hop artists?
Yeah, the audience is like 10 times bigger! [laughs] Rap audiences, unless you're doing arenas or whatever, it's not 50 [50,000] to 100,000 people in the crowd. So the hipsters, they come out and they support. They definitely love music and they love a good time and that's what it's all about.
If you were to stop making music, what do you think you would be doing?
Definitely getting into more films. I want to score films and act, and probably direct as well. That will probably be the next phase of whatever I do after I put out a couple more albums.
You're already 10 tracks deep into your next LP, right?
Yup, yup. Sure am.
Does André 3000 still record at Stankonia as well?
No, he just comes to visit. He has his own home studio.
Who's the next group that you've been interested in?
There are a few I'm looking out for, but I don't want to put it out there. I don't want to speak too soon and have somebody try to follow my vision so, I'ma keep it under wraps for a minute! But it's a whole totally new, different direction. You're going to never expect me to do the same thing twice.
Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL,VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives editor of AllHipHop.com and the current music editor of HipHopDX.com.