New York has Big Boi seated on the brink of speechlessness. That seat currently rests inside a Mercedes-Benz executive coach van, where the accessible half of Southern hip-hop’s iconic duo, OutKast, spent most of the past week zipping to and from interviews, performances and album-listening events. This brisk November morning precedes Big Boi’s final afternoon of promotion before he flies back home to Atlanta, and the usually loquacious Antwan Patton is groggy, economic with his speech and fed up with the Big Apple.
Once conversation arrives at the root of Big Boi’s irritation, it’s discovered that his issue isn’t with New York as a whole, or even his unrelenting schedule-it’s just the city’s online media. During the week’s publicity run, he was asked why partner Andre 3000 remained absent from his new album. With pure sarcasm, Big Boi replied that Andre was too busy fulfilling endorsement obligations for Gillette. The next day, fallacious headlines like “How a Razor Came Between Big Boi and Andre 3000” emerged online. Big Boi felt violated, and unappreciated. Now he’s shutting down. “I’ve been a liaison [for OutKast fans] because Dre wasn’t saying [anything],” he says. “So now, [because] y’all want to twist my words up, no more OutKast answers from the kid.”
Ironic that the 37-year-old fell victim to the Web’s subjective ethics while promoting a second solo album (he considers it his third, counting ” Speakerboxxx,” his half of OutKast’s 2003 diamond-selling double disc, as his first), whose title “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors” (Dec. 11, Def Jam) was inspired by that very subjection. “The world is really run by the Web,” Big Boi says. “There’s so much information out there that you can click and keep going down the rabbit hole finding stuff. On the other side, there’s social media, where anybody can put anything out, whether it’s out of context [or not].”
For 19 years, Big Boi has managed to voice the times between lyrical acrobatic exhibitions. On his latest, the avid tweeter and Instagramer used today’s digital era as his podium with a new-age score to support. Much of the LP’s busy soundscape comprises funky electro sonics and plenty of bass, fluctuating its feel among current, chaotic and OutKast nostalgic. This is attributed to a couple of things – old and new. History states that Big Boi and Andre have made a multiplatinum career on constant innovation with a yawning disinterest in industry vogue.
The scoop is that after releasing his last solo album, 2010’s “Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty” (No. 3 on the Billboard 200), Big Boi toured for 18 months, hitting festivals like Glastonbury, finding new education and inspiration abroad. “They play all types of different music [overseas],” he says. “We’re the only ones being programmed to like the same seven, eight songs. I’m just a product of my environment, and it comes out in the music.”
Touring has opened Big Boi’s ears, optics and network to new artists and subgenres. What shines most about his new album is half of it features subterranean acts. While vets like Kelly Rowland guest on lead single “Momma Said” and A$AP Rocky adds youthful swagger to the trippy “Lines,” Swedish act Little Dragon appears on two cuts and indie pop duo Phantogram on three others. Ironically, Big Boi discovered the latter group online. “I was on the computer and their song ‘Mouth Full of Diamonds’ popped up on one of those ads,” Big Boi says. “So I Shazamed it, found out who it was and then put it on my BigBoi.com.”
“We freaked out, like, ‘Holy shit, Big Boi likes one of our songs,'” Phantogram vocalist Sarah Barthel says. “We started tweeting each other and then were playing a couple of the same festivals, so we started hanging out and letting him know that we were down to collab.”
In January, Big Boi flew the New York act down to his Stankonia studio for a week. The results -“Lines,” the spacey “Objectum Sexuality” and EDM-flavored “CPU”-established the album’s core sound. “Big Boi was looking for more of a dichotomy, more contrast by working with other artists,” Phantogram’s Josh Carter says. “The tracks that we did with him came out so special because of that juxtaposition.” Big Boi adds: “I’m into creating something that I’ve never created before.”
The artist navigates today’s landscape with the same courageous “art first” mentality that he and Andre owned while calling themselves “ATLiens” during Sean Combs’ champagne and Versace peak. As co-owner of a legendary legacy, he’s aware that he’s playing with house money — “[When you sell diamond] you don’t have to ever make another album” — albeit his drive to win is still pimp pure: That Cadillac is just a bit more digitized.
“There’s so much piracy that the music is basically free,” he says. “Today’s music game is about concerts and merchandising. You still have to make dope [music] though. So if they keep buying, then I’m supplying [laughs].”