Within OutKast, Big (born Antwan Patton), 43, was seen as the sharp-tongued street ballast to Dre’s exotic bohemian. His solo career has often felt aimed at correcting that reductive perception. He has made dirty G-funk (“Fo Yo Sorrows” with George Clinton), set tongue-twisting rhymes atop psychedelic pop (“Shoes for Running” with Wavves), sung earnest lamentations over acoustic soul (“Descending” with Little Dragon) and concocted an entire EP with indie-pop group Phantogram. With its straight-ahead rhymes about women, cars and cash, Boomiverse has a more back-to-basics vibe, but stealth pockets of weirdness remain, including “All Night,” a jangly confection co-written/produced by Dr. Luke, which appeared in a recent series of Apple ads. Originally put out on Epic, the album, which hit No. 8 on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart, will be rereleased later this year by Hitco, the new label founded by Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who originally signed OutKast.
At Stankonia today, Big Boi’s compact frame buzzes with enthusiasm. As he giddily unpacks a chicken-nugget meal, his assistant, Shea, needles him: He’s supposed to be on a diet. “Chicken is allowed on the weekend!” he protests. It’s Thursday. “I missed a day,” he says with a grin. Shea asks whether his newest pet, an imposing eagle owl named Simon, is at the studio today. (He is.) “It’s fresh as hell,” says Big. “I wanted a bird, but I wanted a big bird. An owl is cool as fuck.”
Big’s got the sharp wit and cool, confident bearing of the guy at a party who knows he has the best stories to tell, along with a work ethic that -- after selling close to 20 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen Music (between his own solo work and OutKast’s) -- it’s safe to say he hardly needs, but which fits with the earthiness that has always attended his celebrity. Here in Atlanta, it’s not uncommon to see Big tucking into a plate of hash browns at a local Waffle House, or checking on the pups at the bulldog kennel he founded over 20 years ago. He still goes to the studio every day, even as he has become an investor in startups like Ring, a video doorbell and security service acquired by Amazon earlier this year for $1 billion. And he’s taking on meatier acting roles, including a supporting part in the remake of the blaxploitation classic Superfly, out June 15.
Big Boi could be forgiven for treating his career as an extended exercise in legacy grooming; instead, as was evident in our lengthy conversation, he’s still driven to explore new territory without losing touch with hip-hop’s mainstream -- a superstar with something to prove.
You’ve now made almost as many solo albums as you ever made with OutKast. Did it take a minute for you to figure out who you were apart from OutKast?
Absolutely. When you’re a part of something that big, it’s hard for people to distinguish you apart from that. No matter what I do, I’m OutKast until the day we die. To get people reacquainted with me has been challenging but also gratifying.
Do you feel you’re underappreciated as a solo artist?
They know. And if they don’t, then they’re still learning. With every record, it’s “Holy shit, you sound like you’re still hungry.” The affiliation with the group is like the throne I sit on. The role I played [in OutKast], that shit was a yin and yang. And right now, you getting all yang! You getting some yang in tha thang!