“Expect the unexpected."
Big Boi is talking about his new album, but really it's a phrase that could apply to his whole career. As one-half of trailblazing Atlanta duo OutKast, as a solo artist, as a producer and as head of his Purple Ribbon imprint, Big has consistently challenged the seemingly set-in-stone boundaries of hip hop, pop music and society as a whole. And don't look for that to change anytime soon. With a new album on the way, and a freshly inked management deal with his old partner-in-crime Michael "Blue" Williams, Big Boi has a newfound bounce in his step. Big Boi sat down recently with BET.com to discuss his upcoming projects, the state of Outkast and more.
Big Boi made a major mark two years ago with his awesomely titled first solo album, Sir Lucious Leftfoot... The Son of Chico Dusty, led by the fantastical future-bounce of hit single "Shutterbugg." He's now gearing up to drop his sophomore effort later this year, but he's already looking way beyond his earlier music's, and Outkast's, Southern funk-hop foundation.
"Every different genre of music will be used," Big told BET.com. "Hip hop is the least thing I listen to right now. I've been listening to lots of folk, bluegrass and rock. Groups like Mumford & Sons, Lana Del Rey."
This genre-bending approach probably explains why the album's no longer titled Daddy Fat Sax: Soul Funk Crusader (Big says he'll reveal the new name "in a month or so"). And with all those indie-blog favorites on his iPod, it only makes sense that the album features Swedish electro-pop quartet Little Dragon. He's also been busy working with Portland, Oregon–based rock group Modest Mouse on their new album, and they'll likely return the favor.
“Every time we drop it’s different from everything that’s out," Big Boi said. "The whole thing with Outkast is to really have your identity. It’s all about individualism. So don’t expect to hear what you hear on the radio right now. We gotta defibrillate the game. Shock it, pump it up. I love where music is at right now, but we choose a different path.”
The "we" Big Boi is talking about? Outkast, his legendary partnership with the elusive rapper-turned-actor Andre 3000. Unfortunately, it's unclear how much of a "we" Outkast really is. It's been six years since Outkast dropped a project, and that was just the soundtrack for their film Idlewild. But Big Boi insists that the six-year lull is just a hiatus, not a breakup, and that it began — and stays — on good terms.
"Everybody was pursuing just different things at the time," Big says of the decision to take a break. "Andre wanted to focus more on acting. I’m really just still in love with the music, so I've just been recording the whole time."
But Michael "Blue" Williams, OutKast's former manager who broke from the duo around the same time, hints that there was a little more to it than that.
"Honestly, we were tired of each other," Blue told BET.com. "We had spent 12 years compromising with each other, sacrificing, missing family’s birthdays and births. Any rock band — 'cause Outkast was a rock band at the end of the day — after 12 years of that much time together, sometimes people need a break and they just gotta walk away. It was never a break-up. Some people thought there was more to it but it was just growth. Everyone still talks; we’re all on great terms."
But despite these great terms — and despite two thirds of the Big Boi/Blue/Andre triumvirate reuniting — it doesn't seem like we can expect a new Outkast album anytime soon. Last year, rumor had it the duo were signing a new deal, and Big Boi's been hyping up a reunion since at least 2009. But Andre walked back the reports in an interview with GQ last year. Though it seemed like the pair were often contradicting each other in terms of any new material, Big Boi says they're on the same page — and for now, that page is solo careers.
"We're just really focused on solo projects. I'm working on mine, he's working on his, and we'll just go from there," Big Boi said. "I just like to make music. I can go either way, solo or Outkast. My whole thing is just to keep the recording process going. When it's time to do the Outkast record we'll do it, but right now it’s solo time."
Big Boi says the reunion rumors may have started because Andre and he often work together or simply visit each other in the studio. "I said we were working on music, not the Outkast album," Big said. "Sometimes he comes to the studio and be in my sessions just checking out music. People get excited when they see us in the studio together, but it was never for one specific project. Sometimes Dre’s in the studio listening to my new music."
Though this doesn't guarantee that Dre will be on Big Boi's album. "Nine times out of 10, he’ll be on my new album," Big said. "I just gotta find the right song."
But whether on his own or with Andre at his side, Big Boi is primed to have a 2012 that lives up to his oversized moniker. A new album, a new management deal (which may lead to new movie roles) and most importantly, a new confidence.
"The music I’m making right now is some of the best music I’ve made in my life," Big Boi said. Considering how great his past work with Outkast has been — Aquemini, ATLiens, Southernplayalisticadillacmusik — it's a lofty claim. But with Andre on the lam from now until who knows when, it's one we hope Big Boi truly lives up to.
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