Big Boi on 'Boomiverse' Album: 'I Kinda Took it Back to 'Southernplayalistic' With Elite Street S--t'

Big Boi, 2016
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Big Boi performs at Doritos #MixArcade - Day 2 at L.A. LIVE on June 15, 2016 in Los Angeles.

As one half of OutKast alongside André 3000 and under the Dungeon Family collective, Big Boi's partially responsible for the direction of modern Atlanta rap today. Just to focus on Daddy Fat Sax’s discography -- which includes Speakerboxxx, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, and his experimental effort Big Grams with Phantogram -- you’ll discover that he maintains a consistent level of self-discovery.

It seems like every time Big Boi announces a new solo album, he’s figured how to push himself more and honor his commitment to the full spectrum of music. This summer, he is returning with Boomiverse, the first of two planned releases, and bringing on an all-star cast with confirmed features from Organized Noize (who executive produced the album), Gucci Mane, Killer Mike, Kurupt, Cee Lo Green, Sleepy Brown, Eric Bellinger and unreleased vocals from Pimp C.

When Big Boi hosted a private listening session for Boomiverse at New York's Electric Lady Studios last month, he played a total of 12 songs. A melting pot of musical tastes, it felt like vintage Big Boi from the ‘90s ("Made Man" with Killer Mike and Kurupt was a highlight) that meshed his current sounds with elements of trance ("All Night") and pop ambitions ("Chocolate"). His current singles, "Kill Jill" featuring Killer Mike and Jeezy plus "Mic Jack" with Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, are perfect entry points to this other dimension of reinvention he speaks about. 

Earlier this week, Billboard spoke with the ATLien about the concept of the album, working with Organized Noize, reuniting with L.A. Reid, and more.

As far as influences, what have you been drawing from since your last release Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors for Boomiverse?

I’ve been pulling from basically my whole music library, which consists from everything from Kate Bush to Bob Marley, N.W.A, A Tribe Called Quest, The Isley Brothers, The Arcades, The Whispers, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Matrimony, Phoenix -- a list of everything. It’s pretty diverse.

Is your project Big Grams with Phantogram a segue into Boomiverse?

Absolutely. That was my cocoon stage. Sir Luscious Left Foot was the intro. Vicious Lies was very experimental. It was light years ahead of whatever was going on in music. Classic. And it was a more personal album for me. Big Grams was definitely mad scientist in the lab with Josh [Carter] and Sarah [Barthel]. From that, we just developed more exquisite tastes for sounds and electronics and just different things. We kind of tapped into a whole new lane of music and start to hit the ground running with Boomiverse.

The records you played at your listening at Electric Lady Studios sounded very vintage Dungeon Family. I felt like with Vicious Lies, you were heavily influenced by indie and electronic music.

Yeah, just having fun, tapping into things. I did a [crazy] festival run. Vicious Lies was all the way there. That’s definitely festival music. With this record right here, I kinda of took it back to Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik with that elite street s--t. Everybody wanted the hardcore, hard rap s--t. We do all of that. We make pretty music and everything [else]. 

What’s the concept behind Boomiverse?

The Big Boom Theory is a play off of the Big Bang Theory, where everything starts. This is just a cornerstone of where we are gonna take music. We just hit the reset button -- starting over, fresh sounds. Get back to that lyrical prowess and aggressiveness that everybody loves and really just have fun with it. At this stage in the game right now, there’s nothing to prove so we want to go to another dimension and re-invent ourselves, re-create something. And we’ve done that. It’s all about evolution and evolving. Like I said, coming out of my cocoon with my wings still wet and we ready to fly.

You said there’s “two sacks.” We have one coming, which is Boomiverse, and another project is coming at a later time?

It’s deadly. I got it sitting in a pot of neck bones. It’s just marinating right now with neck bones and some seasoned salt. A little bell pepper, cayenne, onion, and all that. It’s goddamn soaking it up.

Is the second one going to be feature-heavy?

I just try to work with people and bring out the best. And somebody that’s going to bring out the best in me. From being in a group with my partner [André 3000] for so many years it’s always great to work in ensembles. There’s just so much talent out here. With Vicious Lies, I did a lot of work with unknowns, so many that people didn’t know about -- Phantogram, Little Dragon, Wavves. This record right here [was] lemme work with some folks that got core audiences and we gonna join forces and bring our audiences together. So when we get in them venues, you got all kinds of people just rocking.

There’s a record on the album you made on the day after the presidential election. Is it a political record?

No, it was just me blowing off some steam. [Laughs] It was the day after the election, the world was sad. I was still happy because I was alive and breathing, and just blessed to have my family in the middle of this record. It’s just like one thing can’t control the other. The working title was "The Day After the Election" and it ended up being the intro to the album. It just starts off with some good ol’ fashion rap.

Are there going to be other messages on the album?

It’s sprinkled throughout. We touch on everything [like] the madness that is police brutality but you gotta listen to the record because if you know anything about any OutKast records or any records that we do, you gotta decode [it] like hieroglyphics sometimes. That’s why you don’t put it right there. The listener can go back and now, they are still discovering things that we said or different sounds or whatever from different songs in ATLiens, Aquemini, Stankonia, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It’s like an Easter egg hunt. Some things are forefront, right in your face. Some things are kind of subtle. But we touching on everything -- from relationships to police brutality to partying too hard, women’s rights, life.

Did you record most of the album at Stankonia Studios?

It was a 60-40 between Stankonia and we went to record in L.A. for like a week. Like every other month, we’d go out to L.A. just to change the scenery and to change the vibe. And they got the best collard greens, broccoli, and trees in the U.S. of A so we had to switch it up. Our smoker’s taste buds yearning for something else.

Do you like creating in those environments that are familiar to you?

Actually, I’m not really partial to it. I’m comfortable in my space, and I found a spot out there that I really like. At the same time, I ran into some really dope producers that were out there that they wanted to work with me. We kind of switched it up. Me and Ray [Murray] from Organized Noize go behind the boards the whole time and we hooked up with a DJ Dahi or a Scott Storch would come through or my man Eric Bellinger so we were kind of politicking with different people and they were coming through catching the vibe. All of them had been fans of the catalog and everything that we’ve done so we gel real nicely with some of these cats. It just made for some cool, cool music friends.

Organized Noize is executive producing this project with you. They were on the first album and the second one. Probably on all of the projects, right?

From the beginning. Organized Noize signed us. They were our big brothers, and they did a production deal with LaFace Records. They were the ones that gave us our first shot and we been doing music with them since the beginning. Sleepy Brown is one third of Organized Noize, and you got Rico Wade and Ray Murray. Organized Noize got a dope a-- [ONP] EP coming out on Friday. Great f--king music on there, man. I’m on there as well on a song called “We the Ones” with Cee-Lo, Big Rube, and Sleepy Brown.

What was the thought process behind the "We the Ones"?

“We the Ones” is basically talking about the powers that be abusing power. Innocent people being shot down by the police. Politicians not listening to the people. It’s a song where you can put your fist in the air and get righteous.

There's a collaboration on the album with Gucci Mane and Pimp C, which is fitting because you and Gucci did “Shine Blockas” back in the day.

Yes, yes, yes! And that was short-lived because he went to jail so we didn’t get a chance to fully exploit the record. So to have "In the South," [it's] the second coming of Big Boi and Gucci. It’s definitely one of the top three songs on the album. And if you got any kind of speakers in your car, you better goddamn make sure you got that motherf--ker modified. It will tear your s--t up.

You mentioned working with Scott Storch on the album. He hasn’t been around in a while. Why did you want to work with him?

Me and Scott Storch ain’t never miss. When I got to L.A., he was one of the first producers I hooked up with. We cut about three or four records. We got one on there that’s so crazy. It’s for the [hip-hop] heads. They gonna love it.

You told this story at your listening about how L.A. Reid gave you a Dr. Luke beat to create “All Night.” Briefly describe your relationship with him now that you’re signed to Epic Records.

L.A. Reid is like my big brother and mentor. He taught me everything. He taught me about ownership and controlling your own destiny. We always had the work ethic but for him to give me certain pointers and things like that, of course, he made us some wealthy guys. We never really took that for granted. We took that from sleeping on the floor to us taking care of our parents. When we were teenagers, he spoiled us. For Christmas, L.A. Reid was buying us trucks and cars and s--t like that. We were like his sons. I always tip my hat off to him. When he left Jive and went to Def Jam, I left Jive and went to Def Jam. When he left Def Jam to go to Epic, I, too, was [like] time for me to go. Wherever L.A. is in this business, it’s been a known thing -- if he’s somewhere, I’ma be where L.A. is at. I feel the most comfortable. He understands the music. He gives me the creative freedom to do what I like ‘cause he trusts my judgment and we win.

I read you have another Pimp C record on the other album with Killer Mike.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s by Cory Mo. Cory Mo the legend. Killer Mike have been with me since "Snappin’ & Trappin'." When you say Purple Ribbon All-Stars, he’s one of the all-stars. It’s just the fact that he’s getting his just due right now. I’m so proud of him and Janelle Monáe and everything they doing. We like the hip-hop X-Men or the hip-hop Avengers. It’s already meant to be but it’s unstoppable. When we come together, oh my goodness, we make music.

There’s a debate going on online between Joe Budden and Lil Yachty and the divide of the older generation versus the younger generation. Are you on the side where you are welcoming the younger generation and want to work with them? 

I’m on the side of positivity, peace, love, and good a-- music. I don’t give a f--k who make it. Somebody out there appreciating it. Numbers don’t lie. Like I said before, the younger cats coming up, like these cats are in their twenties and some of them coming in in their 30s. You gotta think me and my partner [André 3000] started and was on when we were 16, 17 years old. We’ve been in that predicament before where we got boo’ed at The Source Awards because we were from the South. But the thing is, if you make music that’s jamming so hard that they can’t deny you, then all that s--t goes away. Just let your music speak for itself.