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Interview: Big Boi (of Outkast)

on October 14, 2010, 3:00pm

It’s the middle of the Los Angeles heat wave outside, and it’s fucking hot. For me, a New Englander, it’s excruciating. I’m currently taking shelter in a bus, sponsored by Gibson, and playing guitar, waiting for one of hip-hop’s finest rappers to enter and give me a few moments of his time. While his birth name is Antwan André Patton, he traditionally goes by Big Boi, a name he’s made for himself as one of the two geniuses that make up Outkast, the Atlanta hip-hop group that turned the genre upside down with their funky rhymes, bizarre form of lexicon slang, creative sense of style, and a culture name-drop of a camera company that, despite recent popularity, may be considered obscure by future generations. (It’s Polaroid if you don’t get the reference.) In the past few years, though, Big Boi and Andre 3000 (the other half of Outkast) have been extremely busy, just not with each other.

Big Boi enters the bus with beads of sweat dripping from his forehead, and he’s sporting all black attire. He just finished playing an outdoor, afternoon show at the Epicenter festival, so I ask the casual questions about how the show went, but his perspiration already reveals his answer. “Hot! It was hot, but it was good” he replies abruptly, which is saying something for a rapper from a place nicknamed Hot-Lanta.

However, heat does not seem to be Big Boi’s defeating factor.  “I’m just really having fun and doing the thing,” he continues, indicating that rap comes first, comfort comes second. Big Boi then tells me that the 108-degree heat caused his turntables to shut down and not function properly.“We had to improvise, man, do a little freestyle, and a little ‘Spottieottiedopailicious,’ you know how it is, just kicking it and having fun, that’s what it’s all about.”

I learn within the first five seconds of talking to Big Boi that his favorite phrase is “you know how it is.” To an extent, I would say I know how it is. I know what it’s like to freestyle, have fun, and kick it, but being a famous rapper is something I know little to nothing about, especially one who is as intelligent as this portion of Outkast. Outkast has always been known for composing complex hip-hop records, with quick-witted rhymes, different genre-influencing beats, and super-human flow. These are all qualities that no hip-hop group within the mainstream has been able to truly replicate. Big Boi discusses his world as though it’s just easy to create mind-blowing hip-hop, because for him, it is easy.

outkast Interview: Big Boi (of Outkast)We do, however, seem to share beliefs at one small tip of the musical spectrum. Before the interview began, I had to let my inner fanboy have his moment. I shook Big Boi’s hand as I introduced myself and stated one simple fact. “I just have to put it out there, I mean, I’m only going to get one chance to say this. Your album, Aquemini, was the soundtrack to my entire college career.” This is only about 85% true. Indeed, Outkast’s masterpiece was an album my friends and I often passed a doobie around to and on one occasion ate some decent acid to and thought we discovered the meaning of life through it. To say it was our soundtrack is a little absurd, though, but even if I had told that story to Big Boi, he’d have understood.

“Albums are like time capsules,” Big Boi tells me a bit later. “You know, they all have a bit of personal feel to them, and I try to take that with me. It’s all about making music people can feel.” I ask him if the process of making albums now is any different without his partner in crime helping him out. “It’s not a big difference,” he explains. “With ‘Dre, you know, we do all the aspects of production and writing. It’s not a big progression or anything; it’s more like cell division.”

So far, cell division seems to be working out for both members of Outkast. A few years back, they announced their split publicly, not necessarily stating they were done for good but that they were taking a break to each do his own thing. After Outkast released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004, arguably their biggest album to date (certainly their longest), they took a break for a couple years and then released the soundtrack to Idlewild. Since then, any hope for a new Outkast record has been left afloat.

However, that doesn’t mean either member is taking it easy. While Andre continues with his own thing (making jazz, doing movies with Dirk Diggler, etc.), Big Boi continues to crank out solo records in the same format he’s been doing for over two decades. “I’m always in the laboratory man, like Dr. Funkenstein,” he tells me. “I’m just trying to build one massive and cohesive body of work. Making albums is just my way of experimenting, you know, trying to do some great.”

And Big Boi has no plans to stop either. He tells me about his next album, the follow up to this year’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, which he’s calling Daddy Fat Sax Soul Funk Crusade. (I’m still unsure as to whether or not he just pulled all those words out of a hat.) But his prime concern is just getting ideas and touring. “I try to keep my ideas down,” he explains. “I’m six songs into my next album, but at the same time, I need to pick what songs are good for the next Outkast record. I just try to lay everything down while it’s fresh on my mind.” As for touring, Big Boi will continue to blaze trails across planet Earth, since he’s booked long into next year. He’ll be in America until October, where he’ll be performing at City Arts and MoogFest, then head off to Australia and Europe. “You know, I’m going to get out there and see what’s happening,” he tells me with excitement. Again, I don’t know, but I’m extremely fucking jealous.

As we part ways, Big Boi and I briefly discuss the state of modern hip-hop and how the game has changed since Outkast’s debut almost 20 years ago. But rather than bash “the now” and talk about “back in the day,” Big Boi remains optimistic. “I love that it’s global now,” he tells me. “Yeah, there’s a lack of creativity sometimes, but there are so many artists that keep it alive and let the art form live on.” It’s inspiring to hear these words from somebody so involved and revolutionary within the game that is rap music. Big Boi (and Andre 3000 for that matter) has always stood out in modern hip-hop as one of its finest heavyweights, and it seems he will not be giving up the title anytime soon. Clearly, there are more rhymes, more beats, more shows, more albums, (hopefully one by Outkast sometime soon), and some hope on the horizon for Big Boi. I’m excited and waiting with anticipation….I definitely know how that is.

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