Interview: Big Boi
Mon Aug 23 2010
For this week's preview of Big Boi's September 6 show at Brooklyn Bowl, TONY contributor Jesse Serwer sat down with the influential rapper.
It's going to take a long time for Big Boi's Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty to grow old. Alternately bold and bombastic, subtle and moody, the roller coaster--like LP from OutKast's other half wasn't just one of the most satisfying albums of Summer 2010—it already seems to be growing better with age. We quizzed the multiple-monikered MC (who is considering naming his next album Daddy Fat Sax: Soul Funk Crusader) about road life and some of Sir Lucious's quirky features as he boarded a plane bound for Miami (where he performed a free concert for HP's Summer Music campaign) last week.
The sheep-people don't think for themselves anymore. You can say anything and it's the gospel truth and they don't have to go research it or anything, and they believe everything the news tells them. People don't go and do their own investigations if it's relationships or politics or anything.
Click past the jump for the interview
Time Out New York: Have you come up with any new nicknames for yourself since you've been out on the road?
Big Boi: A couple. I think the newest one is Strong Back Steve. I carry a book bag with all kinds of books and computers and stuff in there like that. My wife started calling me Strong Back Steve.
Anyone that's followed OutKast over the years knows about your pit bulls. Do you ever bring your dogs out on the road with you?
Not lately because I've been doing a lot of flying, but I'm about to start doing these bus runs in the next couple of weeks. I got my newest one, he's like 11 months, his name is Bleed. He's in training right now and I get him back in two weeks. So I'll have him keep me company out on the road. Yeah.
Why'd you call him Bleed?
That's like my blood, my little buddy. So I'm calling him Bleed. [Laughs]
I got it. So who takes care of your brood while you're gone?
My sons do it when they get home from school. It's part of their chores or whatever to feed 'em and play with 'em. My kids, they're like nine or ten years old right now so you give 'em responsibilities just to keep them up on things. It ain't just all about getting on the skateboard or putting your Heelys on, and swimming in the pool all the time. You gotta do stuff like wash dishes, take the trash out, feed the dog.
Kids need that.
That's on-hand parenting....
In addition to your solo material from Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son of Chico Dusty, you've been performing OutKast songs as well. Is there anything off-limits that you won't do without Andre?
Not at all. Anything can be done. If I go see Prince or someone whose music I'm a fan of, I want to hear the jams. I remember one time I went to a Prince show and he wasn't playing a lot of Purple Rain stuff. He was playing all the New Power Generation [material]. I was like, Uhhhhhhh, you know what I'm saying? Songs like [obscure Prince track] "Sometimes It Snows in April," you don't get that at our show. I try to mix it up. Touring for so long, you know which songs people want to hear, which songs are gonna get a certain reaction. Of course, it depends on the crowd you're playing in front of but as long as you're giving them high-energy shows and it's full of hits, it's nonstop—there's not a boring second in the show.... I always leave 'em satisfied, or actually wanting more so I might leave the stage and come back and do two more songs. Yeah.
Have you been able to bring out some of the longtime collaborators from your camp you have on this album, like Sleepy Brown and Joi?
Brown came out on a couple of the West Coast shows. He stays in California now. Whenever I call him, he's always ready to go. We got a nice little squad, the whole team. Right now, I'm just really having the time of my life. Really. Been working on this album so long. Being out here, I'm just very happy. Very, very happy.
Everybody who hears it seems to love Sir Lucious. What's the most memorable feedback you've gotten on it?
What's most gratifying for me is when they say it's an album you can play end to end without skipping anything. One of the things we've always wanted to do is take you on a ride. Instead of just going past songs, we want you to just enjoy the whole thing so you can hear the whole project cohesively, together like one piece of music. I feel like I've accomplished my goal.
That's why it connected with people, I think. It has a seamless continuity to it.
It wasn't a race to get the album done. The album's not done unless you know that it's organically working. Not, you got your two or three hits and now go put your filler around it. I like to call mine all killer, no filler. It might take me two or three years to do it, because I don't have a ghostwriter, I write all my stuff and I'm coproducing the songs with the producer as well as writing and arranging and mixing. It's not just put a verse on this, put a verse on that and it's done. I work on the album like a house. You build a foundation with the beats and after you get all the beats together you kind of listen to it, and it kind of bleeds into your brain to where you know the songs inside and out—where the snare gonna hit, where the hi-hat's gonna jump. You live with it for a minute. Sometimes I live with beats for, like, two or three years before I put anything on it. It's all about making qua-qua-quality, quality-sounding music that people can listen to continuously and they're not disappointed. They can hear different things in the music. They don't get everything on the first listen.
One of my favorites on the album is "The Train, Part 2." Is that a commentary on anything in specific?
Just life, man, and being, I guess, disappointed in how people are really just like a herd of sheep. The sheep-people don't think for themselves anymore. You can say anything and it's the gospel truth and they don't have to go research it or anything, and they believe everything the news tells them. People don't go and do their own investigations if it's relationships or politics or anything. That's what that song's about. There's so many lies being told throughout the media and people just run with the lies. They're numb to it. Too many followers, not enough leaders. Also, a train is a journey. Every car is different from the caboose to the locomotive. You're going through the journey of life, so it's just about being aware of your surroundings and knowing all that's happening. I just want people to think.
What about "Shutterbugg"? Where did that come from?
When I first heard the record, before there were any lyrics on there, it made me feel a certain way. It kind of warms you up, makes you want to dance. I wanted to bring it to [the idea of] capturing the good moments in your life whether it's in videos or photos. Like pictures you got in your home where you look at it and know what song was playing or what the weather was like, what females were like in the room. Something that brings back memories, to capture that moments. Life moves so fast. You gotta document the good times, man. Them good times is all about a feeling, a vibe, for people to get away from the wickedness of the world. Sometimes things just capture that. Graduation pictures, a picture of your buddy's first birthday cake, a picture of your mommy and daddy when they were still together before they broke up. Stuff like that.
A lot of reviewers seemed to think that the effect you have on the vocals comes from AutoTune. I guess AutoTune is so ubiquitous now, people don't realize there are other ways to play with vocals. Or maybe they've never heard of a talk box...
That's definitely the talk box. That's Bosko live, B-O-S-K-O. I don't know if there's anyone out there killing it better than him. He did a lot of work with E-40 as well. I just wanted to keep the sound authentic. I'm a funk lover, so that adds another layer of funk to it. It's difficult to play, when you got a pipe in your mouth and a keyboard to hit the notes. It takes a talented person to be able to do that. I like people that put work in, and he killed it.... I'm trying to show these artists in Atlanta that AutoTune—that's cool if that's what you do, you never want to knock nobody—but let's show you where you trying to get the sound from.
I was fairly shocked that beat came from Scott Storch. Does he have a whole bag of funky stuff like that?
Nah, that's the only one. He was sitting on it for a couple years. He said he made it just for me. He played me 15 or 20 songs, all of 'em sounded different but that was the one that was like, "Man, let's do that."
You have Janelle Monae on the album and also Joi, who you've been working with for years. Joi was kind of like the precursor to Janelle in a way. Why do you think Joi never took off the way Janelle Monae has now?
A lot of it comes to, I guess, label situations. There's a lot of politics. But she's got some new stuff jumping off right now. She's working and doing shows. For me, it's once Dungeon Family, always Dungeon Family. We've been working together for so many years and there's a certain sound that I look for, and she's always been important on my records. It's always been a family effort. It's just like making a soup, man. Like the Colonel's recipe.