Back in 2003, when the white-hot OutKast released dual solo albums—Big Boi's Speakerboxxx and André 3000's The Love Below (LaFace/Arista)—something peculiar happened: Big Boi arrived. Speakerboxxx confirmed that Antwan André Patton, often considered the earthy, loquacious rapper of the duo, was indeed as cosmic and inspired as his more flamboyant counterpart. Speakerboxxx earned accolades for its tremendous synthesis of caffeinated crunk ("Ghetto Musick") and sleepy-eyed soul ("The Way You Move"), and the album helped usher in a second act for Big Boi as a hip-hop polymath.
Yet, as OutKast's hiatus became indefinite and Hollywood proved an anemic option (see: 2007's Who's Your Caddy?), Big Boi refocused on his solo career. In 2010, Big Boi released Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam), an incredibly strong effort. Featuring full-bodied and game contributions from Jamie Foxx, Janelle Monáe, Too $hort and George Clinton, the album is a kaleidoscopic trawl through hip-hop's history and future; it's also possibly the best hip-hop album of this young decade.
On his latest, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam), Big Boi again proves his curatorial eclecticism by fusing a variety of incongruent acts, like the electro-indie group Little Dragon with Killer Mike. Currently, Big Boi is tackling his first national tour in two years. Speaking by phone from Salt Lake City (sure!), Big Boi, like his recorded self, is a figure of cool confidence when it comes to assessing the tour.
"It's going great, man," Big Boi said. "Just jamming out; killing shit every night. Love to see the fans and watch them groove to the music and the vibrations."
The tour itself, entitled Shoes for Running after a chirpy track from the new album featuring Wavves and B.o.B., is an interesting concept of music and modern carnival. Along with a traveling mobile record store, complete with all manner of Big Boi merchandise and a shoe drive in select cities (sorry, not Tucson), Big Boi is getting personal with each stop. With the added potential of appearing on the pilot of Big Boi's upcoming reality show, some Tucson fans will have a chance to meet and hang out with the iconic artist after the show.
"It's all around a good position to be in, just having a good time with the fans," Big Boi said of his unique approach to touring. "Got a lot of longtime fans coming in, bringing every album and signing them. It's great getting to meet them."
Big Boi's magnanimity clearly applies to his recording process as well. Although his approach to making music never changes ("Just an experimenting process: going in, trying to create new grooves, find new sounds, new raps and flows"), his expanding roster of collaborators does. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is a more skittering, ambient and poppy affair than Sir Lucious, which is simply the result of the sum of its parts.
"Little Dragon and Phantogram came from performing at festivals," Big Boi said of the relatively unknown indie groups. "We invited them back to Stankonia and we just camped out, let the creative juices flow."
Mentions of Stankonia Studios, a Valhalla of modern hip-hop, pique interest in the status of the indefinitely suspended OutKast. According to Big Boi, however, it's best to table said interests.
"Next question," he said with no hesitation.
In other news of endlessly deferred music however, Big Boi did clarify his association with Modest Mouse, whose latest album is still (likely, surely) coming out sometime this year.
"Co-produced a couple records with them and I got on one of the records as well, and I can't wait until it comes out," Big Boi said. "I did maybe three or four records with them ... it was for the new album."
One listen to Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, which some critics found desultory and distracted, confirms that Big Boi, unlike other veteran artists, will always pursue risky, new sounds. "CPU" is rave-pop mounted on low-end electronics. "Tremendous Damage" finds Big Boi crooning over a charged piano ballad; and deluxe-edition closer "She Said OK" is a syrupy jam hinging on mesmeric falsettos and salacious lyrics. For Big Boi, his musical approach is a mere extension of his being.
"It's really just using all my talents," Big Boi said. "I'm a producer, a writer, [I] rap, sing, all of that. It's really about using all you got, using your powers and creating that Franken-funk—that's what I like to call it."
Whatever it's called musically, Big Boi's indisputable ability to connect with generations of fans as well as his sure placement in the music pantheon—thanks to songs like "Rosa Parks" and "So Fresh, So Clean"—sit nicely with him.
"It's just great to be a part of, making great music that people can really live by," he said. "You get a lot from the fans. Certain songs, certain albums helped shape and mold parts of their lives, so that's very gratifying in itself."