Big Boi of Outkast
by Andrea Woo
The battle of hip-hop is a bloody affair. Those who have survived this decades-long war have done so with tremendous agility and resilience, dodging and weaving through the crossfire of gimmicks and trends, flexible enough to adapt to uncertain terrain yet headstrong enough to maintain the integrity of the mission.
Amidst a sea of corpses stands Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, a tireless warrior who has survived more than 15 years of active duty. As one-half of Outkast, Big Boi has sold more than 25 million albums and garnered six Grammys and diamond certification by the RIAA (for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below) – one of only four hip-hop albums in the U.S. to do so.
"I need music to live; I thrive on it," says the 33-year-old Savannah, Ga. native. "I thrive on the desire to hear this new sound, vibes, new energy – the desire to hear new subject matter [and make] something funky that's gonna touch people."
Said funkyness has manifested itself through various outlets, such as music, acting and, as of last April, a collaboration with the Atlanta Ballet. The production, entitled "big," ran for four days at Atlanta's historic Fox Theatre and featured Big Boi, artists from his Purple Ribbon label Janelle Monáe and Sleepy Brown, dozens of dancers and other guests in an animated amalgamation of classical ballet and hip-hop.
"It [was] very, very, very exciting," says Big Boi of the shows, which included songs such as "Morris Brown," "Church" and "Bombs Over Baghdad." "My whole band, we [were] up there funkin' around, having fun."
In July, Big Boi is slated to release Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, his second solo album after 2003's Speakerboxxx. Sir Lucious Leftfoot is one of Big Boi's many aliases and Chico Dusty is a nickname his father earned during his time as an Air Force pilot and marine.
"He was a bad man," says Big Boi. "And I am his splitting image, so that makes me even badder – some real Desperado shit."
As of press time, Big Boi confirmed that the album will be 13 tracks long and feature production by Organized Noize, Mr. DJ and Royal Flush, a new production team. Guests include Andre 3000, Raekwon and Mary J. Blige, as well as potentially a few others he's still "trying [his] damndest" to get.
"[Sade] and Prince; I'm looking for them two," he says. "I got the perfect song for them already and I'm just waiting on the response back, but I might have to go hunt Sade down."
Big Boi had originally told media that he would leak the album's first single, "Royal Flush" – named after the production team and song featuring Andre and Raekwon – at midnight on New Years, though it didn't end up dropping until March.
"I couldn't make my mind up for which one I wanted to put out first, so I was like, 'Let me wait,' " he explains. "I waited, then recorded a couple more songs, then I ended up going with the song I was going to put out from the get-go." Another single, "Sir Lucious Leftfoot Saves the Day," debuted as the last song of the night during the "big" ballet performances.
If all goes according to plan, Outkast's long-anticipated next album, 10 the Hard Way, should also see the light of day in early 2009.
"That record was supposed to be out on the Outkast 10-year anniversary, so we done passed that," he says with a laugh. "I'm gonna put this Leftfoot album out, let Dre put his [solo] album out in the winter and we'll put together the Outkast record to come out [at the] top of next year. We don't know what it's gonna be called yet, but it's gonna be hard."
In addition to working on his own album, one of Big Boi's current priorities is pushing his artist Janelle Monáe, for whom he just got a pressing deal. "We're gonna give her the exposure and attention that she needs right now … then I have two other groups that I'm waiting to unleash after [that]," says Big Boi. He says he is also working on a few film projects, though he is hesitant to speak on them "until [I] kind of lock it down."
In the moments that aren't dominated with writing and recording, Big Boi is handling his duties as a family man. His sons Cross and Bamboo play football and soccer and his daughter, Jordan, plays the piano, so he is often at their games and recitals.
"I'm a strong supporter of family," he says, adding that, in addition to music, friends and family are what make him happiest. "Dungeon Family or blood family – we're all the same."