11:10 AM CDT, April 25, 2013
Big Boi is a serial collaborator, one of those endlessly curious artists who’s always thinking “what if?” when he charges into a new project. As one-half of OutKast, Big Boi helped expand the language of hip-hop. As a solo artist, he’s gone even further out in playing musical mix-and-match on “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty” (2010) and his latest, “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.”
For as long as he can remember, Big Boi -- born Antwan Andre Patton 38 years ago in Savannah, Ga. -- didn’t discriminate against musical styles.
“Growing up, my grandmothers and aunties listened to all types of music,” he says. “They were never biased about it. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t see a lot of shows, other than free ones in the park. But my grandmother would send us to the record store every week to buy 45’s (7-inch singles).”
He remembers two records in particular that had a big impact: “Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ -- my grandmother played the (expletive) out of that record. I loved the horns and Bob’s voice, and the vibe from the bass player – that was a real calm, laid-back, dope record with a powerful message. And then there was Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up that Hill.’ My uncle Russell was a very eclectic guy in terms of the kinds of things he’d listen to and appreciate, and he gave me one of her records. I’m riding my bike and it was like a movie listening to Kate Bush.”
Big Boi began collaborating with a likeminded high-school friend, Andre Benjamin (a k a Andre 3000), and the two ended up recording six genre-busting albums as OutKast from 1994 to 2006.
“The two of us were listening to Fleetwood Mac, N.W.A., the Isley Brothers, the Beatles, Kool and the Gang, James Brown – there were no boundaries,” Big Boi says. “When we started out, there was a lot of back and forth. On the early albums, we sat in the studio and wrote together, traded bars. It was a full-on collaboration. By the time we got to (the 2003 double album) “Speakerboxxx”/“The Love Below” we were in different spaces – he was at his house in Atlanta, and I was at (OutKast’s studio) Stankonia, but we still came together at the end to piece it all together.”
As brilliant as that double album was, it signaled that the duo was starting to drift apart. After a movie and soundtrack, “Idlewild” (2006), Big Boi and Andre 3000 put OutKast on hold.
“I just kept going,” Big Boi says. “I record year-round. Dre and I have owned Stankonia for 15-16 years – it was previously owned by Bobby Brown. Basically, I live there. There’s a loft upstairs, and sometimes I sleep with the music. On a typical day, I’ll get there around 4 or 5 (p.m.), and record all night until the juice runs out, around 4 or 5 in the morning. I’ll go to sleep, catch me a little Waffle House, and get back to work.”
He has dozens and dozens of notebooks dating back decades containing all his lyrics, poems and musical ideas. “An iPad? Hell, no! I’m not into that. I write it all down, scribble-scrabble style. I’m working on many songs simultaneously, and each one has its own page.”
Big Boi also works just as tirelessly on finding new collaborators. While on tour for “Sir Lucious Left Foot,” he bonded at festivals with artists such as garage-rockers Wavves, indie-pop duo Phantogram and Swedish electronic band Little Dragon. All ended up contributing to tracks on “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors,” as well as rappers Ludacris, T.I., Kid Cudi and B.O.B.
“In the A,” with Ludacris and T.I., conjures classic Southern G-funk, and “Apple of My Eye” could be a close cousin of OutKast’s “Hey Ya.” But the murky space ballad “Descending” with Little Dragon and the whistled interludes on the scrappy “Shoes for Running” with Wavves push Big Boi’s music into new territory.
“It doesn’t matter who’s hip-hop or not, I’m only interested in working with the dopest, most creative artists I can find, because it can create something bigger than hip-hop,” he says. “I want to make music that’s global. I’m an MC first and foremost, and hip-hop is my home, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I’m more interested in making great music, regardless of what genre people call it.”
Does he have a dream collaboration that he’d like to see happen? “Oh, yeah. Me and Kate Bush could do something. I spoke to her on the phone, and she said she was flattered that I love her music. When I go to Europe next, we’re gonna have some tea and maybe chop up some beats.”
Big Boi with Killer Mike: 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave., $27 and $74; jamusa.com.
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