Inside his own Stankonia Studios on November 27, Big Boi sat on a stool onstage, nodding furiously to “Descending” – the ambient conclusion to second solo album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Suddenly, one of his band members picked up and started playing his electric guitar. A drum beat started, then another joined in. Big Boi jumped up from his stool, grabbed the microphone and launched into his verse off Stankonia‘s explosive “B.O.B.”
As he entered his solo career, Big Boi faced daunting expectations as created by OutKast. It didn’t help that 2010′s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty faced delays and major-label constraints that prevented Andre 3000, of all people, from making an official album appearance. In comparison, and despite its slew of unexpected collaborations – from newcomers Phantogram to a posthumous Pimp C verse – his follow-up Vicious Lies arrived without a hitch, mostly. (Longtime fans: The Kate Bush collaboration is still in the works.)
If anything, Vicious Lies reiterates that Big Boi can stand on his own as a rap auteur. Before he previewed the album, Christina Lee used a playlist as a springboard to talk with Big Boi about his solo career thus far, his opinions on rap regionalism and moments that inspired Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.
Michael Jackson debuted as a solo artist with this song. What would you say is the biggest pro and con to operating solo?
The biggest pro to being solo is just having total creative control. I guess the biggest con is the heavy writing load, just writing all those songs. It’s like, to be a songwriter and producer, to produce and write all of the records – that’s a ton of work. But, as it goes, if you want the pro, you gotta have the con. If you want total creative control, you have to do more work like that.
Who are your primary sources of feedback?
Definitely my children, because they listen to everything. My producers around the studio. I’ve got a crew of producers and artists who all work together, so – boom, boom, boom. All the guys that work around the studio have really good ears, and I trust their ears.
You first heard Little Dragon several years ago. How did their music make you feel?
The first time I heard their music, actually, ‘Dre played it for me at his house a couple of years ago. It was just refreshing. It just sounded like something that you had never heard before. Just – her voice, man. It was dope to hear different grooves and not hear the same cadences and melodies, a whole other different dimension of what our music is today. That’s what drew me to their music, definitely.
You performed “Mama Told Me” with Little Dragon at Austin City Limits. How did that feel?
I felt right at home. I’ve been performing with a band since the OutKast days. I still perform with the same band that me and ‘Dre used from day one, with a couple of pieces – guitars, the drums. So I just felt right at home, know what I’m saying? I was right in my living room. It was nothing different from what I’ve been doing, but it was just different bodies, you know?
Killer Mike worked with a New York producer, to create his version of Dungeon Family music. You worked with a ton of collaborators, from all over. Do you think regionalism in rap still matters?
Not really. It just depends. I make global music, so for me it’s all about expanding and breaking boundaries and just going further than your immediate surroundings. When you make music, you make music for the world, and not just for the people on your street or the people who’s on your zip code, because you want as many people to dig it as possible. You don’t just cater to one region. My whole take on music is just, whatever strikes me, I use it. It can come from outer space, and it don’t even matter, know what I’m saying? Really, you gotta get past the county lines and state lines and just really expand your whole horizon, if you want people to really know who you are.
I meant to ask this earlier, but what I’ve heard of Vicious Lies so far reminded me of these ’80s takes on funk. What brought on that electrofunk sound?
Speaking of which, the nickname for this album is The Nigga Thrilla. The electrofunk actually came about from touring the world with these different bands, to Glastonbury, Camp Bisco, Bonnaroo and Counterpoint, just experiencing different crowds. I’ve been touring for almost 20 years now, so to be out there with crowds with 50-, 80-, 100,000 people at a time, is just a different element. You have people from all walks of life just coming together for one groove, and so that’s what it’s all about.
That’s “Pyramids,” right? Aw, I love that. I go to the four-and-a-half minute mark. I like the beginning part, it’s dope, but when it gets to that 4:30 mark, that’s my jam. The video was super dope too; it was just really in a different world, in a whole other dimension, and it matched the sounds – the 808s, and just how he’s singing. That’s my favorite song on the whole album [Channel ORANGE]. People said that this song is long as a motherfucker, but at the same time, it morphs into something else. The song is supposed to be an adventure.
Frank Ocean’s a great example of someone who’s clearly thought about how to release music online, on his own terms. Has the internet changed the way you’ve consumed music?
Definitely. Being in the digital age is like, people are all, “Gimme more. Gimme more. Gimme more,” so you gotta keep feeding that machine. Music travels the world at the push of a button right now, know what I’m saying? I can record a brand new song right now, right here and release it to the world just like that, so that’s a cool thing to be able to do as an artist. After this record right here I’m looking at free agency, so I can make a song every day and sell it if I want to do so. That’s what dope. It took me a minute to get into the transition, to get in touch with what was happening. But now that I’m into it, I can see how fast-paced it is.
I just watch different music blogs, sites or whatever. There’s a new song from a different artist every day. Some songs catch, and some songs get sucked right in that vacuum. Shoop! Gone into space. So, you gotta put your best foot forward every time you come out with new music. My whole thing is quality over quantity, so when it’s time to hear you, it’s gonna be an event. It’s gonna be a treat, and it’s not like you’re doing songs just to throw it out there, just to be over-saturating the market. I don’t agree with that.
“So, I typed a text â€””
There’s a posthumous Pimp C verse in Vicious Lies. Where did that come from?
I was working on this lil’ album, and it was a verse that I actually had left over from the last record. It was a song with me, Pimp C and Future, and it just didn’t mesh well. So Organized Noize, who actually produced the song, added to the verse to “Gossip.” The song matched up perfectly with it, and just to bring in Big K.R.I.T. – who was an up-and-comer and in the same vein as that UGK, OutKast sound, all those new-school elements – as well as what me and Bun B are doing, it was just a cool record. It was a treat for the fans, definitely.
What was working with UGK like?
Everything that we ever did with them was some real cool shit. Pimp C and Bun B – me and ‘Dre grew up listening to them, and so to be able to work with them, when we got into the game, was definitely an honor. Pimp C was just one of the greatest, and he was just a great guy, a real guy. He spoke from the heart and spoke the truth, know what I’m saying? A lot of people can’t handle that truth, but I’m all about the truth.
Has your perception of her music changed at all, from your teenaged years to adulthood?
Not at all. Actually, ever since I’ve been in contact with her on the telephone, I love her even more now. She’s so down to earth, and the music is incredible, you know what I’m saying? It’s just like a hidden gem to those who really love music and stories, the production and the writing. She and Bob Marley tie for first place for my all-time favorite, ever.
When Kate Bush arrived, critics often noted how they felt they needed an encyclopedia to dissect her stories. This was pre-Rap Genius, when people had to â€”
They had to decipher what she was saying. She used a lot of symbolism in her lyrics too, so you just gotta listen to it. It’s super dope. I just listen and try to figure it out, but my uncle’s been into her for a long time. He told me what most of the stories meant, when he first gave me her music, so I kind of got a head start on it. I would just listen to it and be like, “Damn, that shit is deep.” “The Man with the Child in His Eyes,” “Breathing,” stuff like that, you know? She’s deep, man.