The Return of Sir Lucious Left Foot: Big Boi on World Domination
Originally published by PopMatters on January 4, 2013
Let’s clear something up: Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, the provocatively titled new record by Big Boi should not be read as an attack on his partner in OutKast, André 3000.
It’s important to make that distinction because, as Big Boi noted during a telephone interview, this is his album and his alone. But more on OutKast in a minute, because for the first time, Big Boi is truly stepping out without his mercurial compadre, and the results are nothing if not dynamic.
“We’re just out here campaigning, shaking hands and kissing babies, you feel?” says Big Boi at the beginning of the conversation. The Atlanta-based raconteur has been all over the place, on chat shows both day and night, on the radio and the blogosphere, and on Instagram, because Big Boi is nothing if not current. He’s transmitting messages across the Twittersphere as often as most people blink. Big Boi is taking it to the people because that’s how it’s done.
“It’s just about bringing awareness to it,” he says. “You want as many people to hear it as possible. A certain amount of songs, I leak just to give people a taste of the record. And the response has been very, very, very good, you know? I’m just thankful and blessed to be able to still be here doing what I love to do and have people still receive it the way they have been.”
Born Antwan André Patton, Big Boi spent much of his childhood in Savannah, Georgia before moving to Atlanta during high school. It was there that he met André Benjamin, the pair eventually morphing a love of hip-hop and performance into OutKast, innovators of sound and vision. On the surface, André 3000 was the eccentric sonic wanderer, Big Boi the urban purist. The truth, as Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors clearly proves, is a lot less simple to pin down.
Technically, the new album is Big Boi’s second solo release, following 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. But in September 2003, OutKast released a critically acclaimed double-album, each half showcasing the talents and sometimes disparate interests of the duo. Big Boi’s half, Speakerboxxx, included the single “The Way You Move,” a #1 radio hit featuring a guest appearance by Sleepy Brown. But both Speakerboxxx and André 3000’s showcase The Love Belowfeatured numerous performance and production crossovers between the pair. Sir Lucious… also included a track, “You Ain’t No DJ (featuring Yelawolf)” produced by André 3000.
So, really, if you want to be a stickler about it, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is the first Big Boi record without any André 3000 at all. Which is why it’s understandable that Big Boi mostly wants to talk about the album and not his relationship with André 3000, what’s happening with OutKast, and all that extraneous stuff. But since Big Boi is shaking hands and kissing babies and André 3000 has been keeping a relatively lower public profile, he’s having to deal with those questions anyway. And he’s kind of tired of it.
“It’s funny, me and Dre talk on the phone about this all the time,” says Big Boi. “We’re not going to keep explaining things; you know what I’m saying? This is my record, and my man wants me to shine on my own like I’m shining, you understand what I’m saying? It’s a Big Boi project, and he had nothing to do with this project at all. He produced a record on the last project and we did a song for it that didn’t make it. But it’s my time to shine right now.”
It’s been more than six years since Idlewild, the soundtrack to the group’s film of the same name and the last official full-length release under the OutKast umbrella. Though some reports in the media speak of artistic and personal differences having driven a wedge between the longtime friends and musical partners, Big Boi claims that isn’t the case.
“It’s not tense at all, man,” he says. “We talk, and we hang out, but it’s not for the world to know. We’ve been at the hip joined together since the 10th grade. Goddamn, can we get a break? That’s all it is, but people don’t know us. They don’t know that he comes to my house and my kids and his kids play together and play video games and stuff like that.”
The absence is still there, though. Not on the new album, where Big Boi has deftly intertwined guest appearances by luminaries across the vast spectrum of music. André 3000’s absence is more pronounced in a live setting, when Big Boi performs OutKast songs without the familiar sound of his partner’s distinctive drawl in the mix. Such was the case last month at SOB’s, a small live music venue in New York City’s SoHo, which has seen some of hip-hop’s biggest stars grace the stage with special performances. According to Big Boi, the last time he was on that stage was with OutKast in celebration of the group’s 2000 album, Stankonia. This time around, it’s Big Boi’s show.
“I have a full band complete with a horn section,” says Big Boi. “Being that I have a catalog that spans 20 years, the show is like a piece of every era of music that I’ve ever done. To fit all of that stuff into an hour-and-a-half, an hour-and-45 minutes is fairly easy. Nothing is missing at all.”
Indeed, Big Boi’s set included songs from the earliest days of OutKast, complete with video accompaniment; André 3000 was there on screen, and perhaps in spirit, if not in person.
There were also guest appearances at SOB’s, including Phantogram and A$AP Rocky, both of whom appear on the new album. That sort of thing is likely to happen for the duration of the tour in support of the record, with different guest stars popping up from time to time.
“When you’re in cities certain artists are in, they’ll come out and rock with you,” Big Boi says. “That makes the show special, too.”
Little Dragon, who also play on the album, performed with Big Boi on Late Night with Jimmy Fallonone night earlier. A few days after, Kelly Rowland turned up in support of the record’s lead single, “Mama Told Me,” on The View. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors also features guest appearances by T.I., Ludacris, Killer Mike, Wavves, B.o.B., Kid Cudi, and more. It’s a collective spirit Big Boi equates to European radio, which he says is often much looser in format than the airwaves in America.
“I guess overseas they really appreciate music more than we do here in the States,” he says. “On their radio stations over there, it’s not the same five songs played over and over and over. They might go from a hip-hop record to a rock record to a country record to a techno record. Their radio stations play all genres of music all day long. It’s much more diversified.”
That’s not to say that same iPod shuffle scenarios isn’t seen in the United States, but Big Boi posits it’s not as prevalent on the radio as it is at music festivals.
“Here, you have the whole hipster crowd, the indie rock crowd,” Big Boi says. “The festivals are the same. Like, your Bonnaroos and your Camp Biscos, and things like that where they come out, you know what I’m saying? Even though the music is not being played on the radio, these people don’t listen to the radio, you know what I’m saying. Over here they rebel against the radio, which is good. I know my audience, and my audience is a wide array of all walks of life, all ages, and that’s the good thing about it, for sure.”
Though the details are still being sorted out, Big Boi says a massive tour is likely, with festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza a possibility along the way.
“The bookings have been coming in for a minute now,” he says. “I’m going to probably do a House of Blues run first, then come back and do theaters. And then I’ll probably do festivals for the rest of the year. I toured 18 months off my last record. I’m just really having fun, man. Touring is really one of the best parts of making music, because you get to see the fans’ reaction to the songs that you created and you’ve just been wondering the whole time how they’re going to receive it.”
A full-scale world tour is also likely, especially as the Big Boi experience has been rapturously received across the globe.
“Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the whole shebang-a-boom,” Big Boi says, adding that the craziest crowd he saw while touring Sir Lucious… was in Europe.
“It might have been the Netherlands,” he says. “It was ridiculous over there. I think it was the Roskilde Festival. Bananas, know what I’m saying?”
The festival circuit is where Big Boi’s relationship with Phantogram, an indie-electronic outfit from upstate New York, was cemented. He first came across their music on the internet.
“Phantogram, I like to say the music is organically created, never genetically modified,” says Big Boi. “How I discovered Phantogram, I was on my computer, and you know how they have pop-up videos when you’re closing screens out? And ‘Mouthful of Diamonds’ came on, on the screen and I Shazamed it, and after I Shazamed it I put it as my jam of the week on BigBoi.com. After I did that, Sarah (Barthel) from Phantogram contacted me and was like, ‘I appreciate it, we love your music, we need to do something,’ and she sent me some autographed vinyl to [OutKast’s Atlanta studio] Stankonia. We actually did a couple of festivals together, Outside Lands in San Francisco being one of them. From there, I invited them down to Stankonia. They came for a week and camped out and we made a lot of good music, man. That’s why you see they’re on the album more than one time; that’s like a week’s worth of recording. We done a ton of music.”
Big Boi says Phantogram is currently in the process of recording their second full-length album at Stankonia.
“They’re trying to get some of them vibes,” he says.
Little Dragon also found their way onto Big Boi’s new record in a similarly organic way.
“I was at Dre’s house a while back and we was sitting around talking and listening to music, and he was playing me some of the new stuff that he was into, and he was playing me some Little Dragon, some MGMT, and some old George Benson,” Big Boi says. “And my godbrother, Trevor Kane, was actually doing some work with some of the guys from Little Dragon, and he kind of hooked us up. I invited them down for a week and we did a ton of music, a shitload of music then. I have a gang of songs from Little Dragon as well that is not on the album. It’s kind of in the vault.”
That collaborative approach is a hip-hop tradition, one which thanks to artists like Big Boi is continuing to expand into musical genres not often associated with hip-hop.
“It’s really about trying to put down your ideas when you’re really in the groove of things,” he says. “When you’re in a group with somebody you kind of feed off each other. But being that, you know, I don’t want to hear a whole album of just my own voice. I just kind of sprinkle different artists in as ingredients to just kind of jam out with. I love feeding off other people’s energy, and it works. As long as the music is jamming, I’m open to it. It’s always about the search for that new sound, that new groove. This is how you keep music going. The art form, period. The craft of making the coldest shit on the planet. This is what I do, this is what I was put here to do, and I’m just getting started.”
To that end, Big Boi began work with indie rockers Modest Mouse on new material over a year ago. The sessions have yet to pick up again, though Big Boi says he’s ready to roll.
“I’m waiting on Isaac [Brock, Modest Mouse’s primary instigator],” Big Boi says. “They’ve still got to get some stuff together internally. We did like three songs with them, and I can’t wait for them to come out. They’re jamming like a motherfucker, too. I think the people are really going to love it. So, you know, as soon as they handle whatever they’re handling internally, I’m sure the people will get it. But the stuff sounds incredible.”
In the meantime, Big Boi has just one artist at the top of his list of dream collaborators.
“Kate Bush is the only person I want to work with right now,” he says. “Kate Bush, hopefully when I get to London. I spoke to her a couple of times on the phone and sent her a few tracks. She was digging them, so you know, we want to sit down and have a cup of tea and catch up, and hopefully something can come from that.”
How any material which came from that collaboration might surface is unclear, but it’s worth noting that Big Boi, while just beginning promo for Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, is already 10 tracks deep into his next record.
“It’s almost like stringing a pearl necklace together,” he says. “I just work on songs, and when you carve out certain records, they make a certain kind of sound together. I might have recorded maybe 40 records for this album and just took 17 of them and put them together to make this one sound. They’ll see the light of day, though. They’re in the vault, and as long as people keep supporting me, I’ll keep giving it to them.”
It’s all about keeping busy, no matter where he is. And technology being what it is today, an artist like Big Boi can indulge his desire to constantly create at any given moment.
“I’m keeping my foot on the neck of the whole music game,” he says. “When I’m on tour, I’ll be writing this next record. I’m in the beat selection process of it now. It’s shaping up pretty nicely. I’ll probably have a studio on the bus, and any tools I need, a beat machine, I’ll just take it on the bus with me. As long as you’re in the groove, man, you got to keep it going.”
SOB’s has a listed capacity of around 400, and at times a great percentage of that total is on a small stage against a wall in the middle of the room. Big Boi’s live band is electrifying, and after Phantogram are introduced to perform on slinky versions of “Objectum Sexuality” and “CPU,” Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky steps into the mix for “Lines.” It’s as close an approximation as one might imagine a studio session would be, and Big Boi is clearly enjoying it. Clad in camouflage fatigues, Big Boi is as comfortable running through OutKast classics like “Rosa Parks” and “Player’s Ball” as he is with every inch of his new material. He’s a performer and band leader, and he seems both adept and happy with the dual roles.
The show begins with a painter reproducing the vivid artwork adorning the cover of Vicious Lies and Dangerous Truths, and video screens bring the colorful imagery of Big Boi’s entire recorded career to life over the course of the performance. In Big Boi’s world, it’s important to merge visual art with music in a symbiotic fashion.
“As an artist, to me, I want everything to look like how the music sounds,” he says. “For the visuals to be dynamic and off the wall, I want it to look surreal. It’s not the typical stand in front of a car rapping, or holding bottles of champagne and throwing money. It’s got to look like the music, and the music is all about emotion. The ‘Mama Told Me’ video is fun like the song. The colors, how the video pops makes you feel a certain way. I’m hypnotizing the public. I’m digging it, man.”