Photo credit: David Morrison
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When we spoke to Big Boi, I think you know that having him and Ali in the same room on mic presented an opportunity I could not let pass me by. The decades-long connection between Tribe and Outkast — which almost birthed a collaborative album 5 years ago — is an important part of understanding both groups’ music, and it surfaces here often.
That healthy competition went both ways. Big is still pushing, still challenging himself, navigating the pop music industry while it tosses and turns around all of us. And for more insight on his career, his roots and his partnerships, you should go to our website where you can listen to our interview with Andre 3000 and watch video of our live conversation with Organized Noize in Atlanta, which happens to feature a cameo by today’s guest.
But now let’s get into it with Big, where we started off at home.
BIG BOI: And I'm Big Boi aka Daddy Fat Sax aka Sir Lucious Leftfoot, the L stand for lavender cause the ladies like to put lip gloss on my lapel. But I'm married. Sorry!
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up, Big?
BIG BOI: What's up, man?
ALI: Oh, man. I'm so happy to have you up in here on Microphone Check.
BIG BOI: Good to be in your vibing space, man.
ALI: What do you think?
BIG BOI: I love it. I like it.
FRANNIE KELLEY: It's kind of lavender.
BIG BOI: I'm just trying to imagine how them woofers hit in there. I love the red and green Tribe like it's, yeah, tailor-made to fit.
ALI: Oh yeah. It is. I just gotta change the burgundy. That's a Raphael pre-Ali. I'ma change that. But forget the aesthetics, man. I'm just happy to have you here.
BIG BOI: Word.
ALI: It's been so long.
BIG BOI: Yeah, man. It's been good. It's been good.
ALI: A legend.
BIG BOI: Just trying to make it, man, staying out the way.
ALI: Let me ask this: hip-hop is now – wait. What is it? Forty-six? Forty-five years?
FRANNIE: What do they say? '73 is the official date?
ALI: The official date. So I'm just going to say hip-hop is a grandpa right now.
BIG BOI: Right.
FRANNIE: A young grandpa.
BIG BOI: Yeah.
ALI: Yeah! A young grandpa, those are the –
FRANNIE: Those are the best grandpas? Is that where you were going with that?
BIG BOI: The fun ones.
ALI: Nah. Yeah.
FRANNIE: Yeah, the fun ones.
BIG BOI: Yeah, the fun ones.
ALI: Yeah, cause they –
BIG BOI: Still active.
ALI: So, tell me about your grandfather.
BIG BOI: Grandfather. My mom's grandfather was George Patton. He was in the military, very stern. He was a hunter. Kept dogs in the backyard. That's who got me into dogs. And he was a real stern guy. Spent a lot of time on the military bases, bowling. I come from a military family on my mom and my dad's side, but George was, like, the king of the family.
And he was just really – he was real hard on us. But we used to do things like care for dogs, and he would take us hunting with them and things like that. So I learned a lot of outdoorsy stuff from him, from fishing and going on hunting trips. So he's a real cool guy.
ALI: Any of the personality rub off on you?
BIG BOI: I think the discipline, how I deal with my kids. I'm not as stern as he was, cause we used to get ass-whuppings. For real.
ALI: It was a different time period.
BIG BOI: That's a different time period.
ALI: Kids don't know anything about eight track tapes, and they don't know anything about –
FRANNIE: Or getting their ass beat.
BIG BOI: They don't know nothing about cassette tapes.
ALI: Cassette tapes!
BIG BOI: Right.
ALI: Or getting that butt whupped, tore up.
BIG BOI: Yeah. So it was more discipline, but I'm a fun dad though.
ALI: I ask that because you're entering – I know I'm already into the granddad age, even though I still haven't started that, but anyway, that's another thing. You have children, but picturing yourself in the time space that your grandfather was, how close are you?
BIG BOI: My kids are like 17 and 18, and my daughter's 23.
ALI: I mean personality-wise, in terms of that discipline, in terms of –
BIG BOI: Oh yeah, way off. I might've spanked my kids – maybe they might've got two spankings each, and my wife does most of that. Like, I can really discipline with my voice and a look. I don't like to really touch them like that. When they had to be touched, I did it, and I kind of went in my room and started crying cause I felt bad for whupping them. But it had to be done, and I did it at an early age. Maybe they never got whuppings passed 12, but they knew not to try me after that.
So it's pretty cool. I'm like the cool dad. I started – I've been a dad since I was 19. So I started young, and now my youngest boy is a senior in high school. Me and my wife, it's empty nest time next year, so just trying to be all I can be right now.
ALI: I'm trying to imagine what would that be though?
BIG BOI: Traveling and Netflix I think. Yeah, a lot of stuff like that. I'll probably do more films, cause I'll be able to spend more time away from home. Cause I won't be as demanding on me to be a dad at home all the time.
I made sure that I was there from the beginning, before they were born to now, graduating high school and about to graduate college, cause I felt it was important for me as a father to be there. They got a chance to live life with me. And it's very gratifying knowing that I know that they can go off to school, and I don't have to worry about them just wilding out. Yeah. Cause that would be terrible.
FRANNIE: Cause you know them that well.
BIG BOI: Yeah. I gave them enough game. They street smart and book smart. Where I come from, the projects of West Savannah to the hoods of East Point, my kids, they were born privileged, but summers I would send they ass straight to the hood, to my uncles and aunties. And they would go stay down in the projects with my family, and same thing I used to do when I was younger. So they got a taste of that life too, and I'm glad I did it. Spoiled but they know.
ALI: Well, I mean, sounds like they won't take it for granted. Hope not.
BIG BOI: Yeah, nah. Nah. Mm-mm.
ALI: Well, going back, let's say, to when you were 18, 19, just starting out, to where you are now, how has the drive and purpose of music changed and shaped itself – to, like, where you are now?
BIG BOI: I think when we first started, the drive was to be the best MCs and producers possible, to be with Organized Noize and to kind of learn and hone in on your craft to be dope songwriters. And after accomplishing all that you've accomplished, now, you still have that drive to be the best that you can be, but it's recreational right now.
Like, for me to do music, it's what I love to do. I got Stankonia Studios. Just like we was talking earlier, if you not at the crib, you at the studio. I'm the same way. If I'm not out of town, I'm always putting down my ideas, because music is really what makes me tick. If it could go a day or two without listening to music, I kind of find myself like a plant with sunlight. Something's missing. So whether it's having my phone on shuffle, which I got like maybe 25, 30 thousand songs in there, I'm just riding, listening to music, or creating whenever I'm in Stankonia, it's always still trying to find what's new, what's going to excite me.
Cause you know, after doing so many beats or writing so many records, it would be so easy to just recreate something that you already done. Start a song off like you started off one of your hit single, or a song that might've not been that well known, where I could take this and the new generation don't know about this song so I could mimic that flow like – you could do that all day. But to me that's cheating. It's boring. It's not inspiring to me.
And I take pride in my pen. I mean, I don't write on the iPhone. Like, I got papers to all my verses from Southernplayalistic to now, legal pads and some composition tablets, where it's like, scrolls. So I have the actual paper. So I'm still in the booth with the music song sheet holder. I'm reading the lyrics off the paper, reciting it to whatever song I'm working on. It's been like that forever.
I know with Southernplayalistic, I used to go and write in the garage a lot, just by myself. They would be working on beats, but I would just not even write to the beat. I think that's how my early style developed. It was kind of scattering and kind of tap dancing and kind of making whatever I was saying fit whatever the beat was, and that in itself was a challenge. So after the years progressed, I started like, "Man, you doing it the hard way." But it was like, I wanted to complete my thoughts first before I tried to make something match the actual song.
So I mean, to being a writer, there's a certain pride that we take in the art form, and it's still there.
ALI: Yeah. I recall way back in the day in elementary school and creative writing, they would say, "Write all your ideas out before you go in and start editing." It's just like, don't even really think about it. Just write. Just get it all out, and then you can start to structure your story after you get everything out. But if you stop to think about, "Wait. what do I want to say," you kind of get roadblocked.
BIG BOI: Yeah. Exactly. And that's how it was, man.
But that's why I tell a lot of artists – they'll be like, "What's your advice to the new or young generation?" – I was like, "Put all your ideas down." That's the benefits of having a studio, where you can just go in anytime you want to. But even if you don't, like, in your phone – if you're going to use your phone, you have voice notes. Whether if it's humming a riff or a line or a bass line or a drum pattern, put all your ideas down, so when you do go in the studio for that particular session, you'll have a whole arsenal of ammunition to kind of draw from. I mean, that's kind of how you do it. Stack it up.
FRANNIE: When you first started, when you were really really young, like middle school, was there a moment where you were ever just afraid to put yourself out there, your work out there, that people would laugh at you or that it wouldn't be as good as it sounded in your head?
BIG BOI: I don't think I was afraid. I think not up until the days of the Dungeon when we were – when you had Outkast and Goodie Mob and Cool Breeze and Witchdocter, and it was like maybe ten MCs. And it was a battle, for everybody. So you would kind of be hesitant, because you knew you had to be sharp when everybody started busting they rhymes. Them boys, they'll turn they back on you. They'll make you feel silly.
Like, you might be writing on a verse all day long, and then you go down, and everybody reciting rhymes. And you go to say your shit, and then Rico Wade from Organized Noize be like, "Hey, why don't somebody go – y'all order pizza or something." Like he didn't even hear you. Devastating. So you know not to come in there unless you was coming with it all the way.
FRANNIE: Right. So it was never – I was thinking about things that could be applied to people, like really really young kids, who are just like, "I've never done this before. I want to be an artist. I want to show somebody this thing that I drew. I don't know. I don't know if it's any good." How do you overcome it?
BIG BOI: I think, with me, the first rhymes were like "say no to drugs" rhymes, which obviously –
FRANNIE: Didn't stick.
BIG BOI: It was something that we didn't really believe in, cause we were smoking. But that was our first time to ever in school, "OK, we get a chance to rap."
FRANNIE: Like it was an assignment?
BIG BOI: Yes, yes. So, you pick something that you're passionate about, and you kind of – you research it, and you just gotta sit down and do the work to actually put it together.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I mean, it seems to me that you've gone against the grain a lot of your career, maybe the entire time, to this day. And I just think that that's really difficult on an emotional level to do.
BIG BOI: Yeah. I mean, to me, it's – the whole basis of what we created our group on was, like, we never wanted to be like nothing else that was out there, hence the name Outkast. So we never wanted to be in the in-crowd or be doing what everybody else was doing, even when it seemed like it was the cool thing to do. Had we not took the approach of, "We going to do us," then the impact wouldn't have been what it was and what it is today, to push yourself to be something other than what's going on.
It would be so easy, to me – the way the formula is to making music this day – I mean, music they call popular that's on the radio – it don't even take an ink pen to do those type of records. I could freestyle those. I could do an album of that in a week, and it'll sound really good too. I mean, just kind of fucking around. But I dig a lot of it, but it's not so deep as what we tried to make music. You know what I'm saying?
BIG BOI: I guess when we make it, it's layers and layers to it, and certain things have different meanings.
But right now, I think, being people's attention spans are so short, everything has to be kind of in and out, real quick. It doesn't take a super amount of thought. I mean, it's all about kind of catching the groove. A lot of the music is jamming, but it's for a party or just for a vibe. It's just not for something for you to critique like, "Oh, this is so eloquently said," or – but a jam is a jam right now.
And to evolve with the times, you can be aware of what's happening, but at the same time, it's certain I guess guidelines that I use when I make my music, and it's to push yourself.
FRANNIE: It's funny also, because there's this way that in sort of the Speakerboxxx/Love Below era, your partner was thought to be the avant-garde one kind of type thing.
BIG BOI: Right.
FRANNIE: But in a lot of ways, he prefigured things that we now think are totally – The Internet's album, I don't think happens without The Love Below, right? But it sounds – nobody thinks that's wild and crazy and super out there or anything now, or surprising for those kids to do.
But there's this way that the way you apply sort of some of the building blocks of pop music, and there's awareness of European dance music, and then you put that with very technical and advanced AP-level rhyming, that makes you the avant-garde one now. There's this way that you are doing something different that people don't quite know what to make of.
BIG BOI: Yeah. I think a lot of it has to do with, I guess, dress code maybe. You know what I mean? A lot of his – I mean, take on appearance of whatever you have on, but like - me and my partner are like two sides of the same coin. it can be way out there or Dre can be as slum and as hood as the most hood person period. It's like, we take that, cause that's we came from. But it's all about what you want to project.
I mean, people probably assumed a lot because I think the label started running with the whole "the playa and the poet," trying to brand it a certain way.
FRANNIE: Oh, yeah yeah yeah.
BIG BOI: And it wasn't so much that, because really I was really the guy with a family.
FRANNIE: Yeah, you were at home.
BIG BOI: Like Dre said, "Twon was forced to mature before the first tour." I had a daughter, and, who is now my wife, been together 20-something years. So I was trying to maintain a family unit, and they were trying to, I guess, push me out to be some type of pimp or something like that. But it was all about personality, and I guess it was a marketing thing for them.
But to now, after Speakerboxxx and then Leftfoot and Vicious Lies up to now Boomiverse, people can appreciate my music and talents for what it is. And they know. They know.
FRANNIE: But yeah, I'm actually thinking about Boomiverse in particular and also "All Night" and the way that that kind of blew up. You have a connection to pop radio that people seem to be surprised by, but it seems to me that it's actually probably ahead of its time.
BIG BOI: I could agree with that. If I like a track or a beat or a specific vibe, I can kind of adjust to what that entails, and try to, I guess, comb through it, to kind of sift through to find out, OK, how do you attack this in a way that nobody has ever heard? And I try to – I think sometimes when I rhyme, it's like lyrical tap dancing. It's more so how you ride the beat along with what you're saying, to keep it slick and hip, and still have your personality in there.
But I don't just rhyme just one way in a verse. Like, I might switch it up so many different ways, because I'll get bored if it's just, "Duh duh duh duh duhduhduh." That would – I wouldn't want to hear myself doing that. So it breaks off into something else, and that's find when you find those special elements to it. And it don't always have to be just rhyming, it can be – you can sing it or whatever, how you want to do it.
FRANNIE: Have you ever been stymied from making something or putting something out there? Like, you had an idea and just we as fans have not heard it yet and maybe never will?
BIG BOI: If I put it down, some songs may – like "The Way You Move" for instance, I had the track for like five years before I even put any lyrics on it. So I have songs right now that I just call it – it's a marination period. They're in the vault right now. They might sound some way in 2018, but in 2020, the vision might be clearer to where, "Oh my god. I've been sitting on this for this long?"
FRANNIE: Your vision or like the audience's vision?
BIG BOI: Mine. Cause I figure the audience is – if it's dope, they're going to come along. Of course, when you record or you make music, you have the audience in mind, but first it has to be your expression of how you feel, and that the particular piece fits certain cue points of, "OK. Cool. I think they'll dig it," or "This might be too left. They might not get it. I might have to put that in the vault for a minute and just let it sit." Cause some stuff might be – like you said, sometimes it's way ahead of where it's supposed to be.
Like the Vicious Lies album, that was a very experimental record, and it was more personal to me where it was a mourning period for me. Cause I had just lost my father and my grandmother, and the only way I could kind of mourn or take to that was to record. So along with some of the on-top jams, you had these songs that was just strictly therapy for me. "Tremendous Damage," "Descending," records like that. So I just had to get it out. And I just shared it with the world though, because that's just where I was.
ALI: My question is kind of similar to what Frannie was talking about with regards to the esoteric aspect of you, because of your partner. And he seems so obviously esoteric. You both had this grounded sense, but he kind of had that standout where people might not see your, I'm going to say, futuristic kind of feel, and also to me what seemed like a real spiritual, connected something-ness – and probably part fortune-teller.
BIG BOI: Yeah.
ALI: That's what comes across to me, from you.
BIG BOI: I dig that.
ALI: How conscious are you of that when you're making the music? Because if you have that deep connectedness – people call it to the universe, whatever you want to call it – some have it super concentrated, and it's hard to really share that with everyone. Because people might not really wholly understand.
BIG BOI: Not understand what they're saying, yeah.
ALI: How cognizant are you of that aspect of your persona when you making music?
BIG BOI: It's really – it's all a part of me. I'm a conscious over-thinker. I have to stop myself. I can kind of look at something and analyze it. I go all the way around and look at the good, the bad, and the other of whatever the situation is. So I'm very analytical about life, and I think a lot. Sometimes – a lot of times, it's to a fault, if you ask my wife.
So I'm aware, fully, of what's going on in the world, and I'm just a firm believer in good over evil, and I kind of just want to emit positive vibrations and spread positivity to people. And how you do that is you can enlighten them by kind of educating as well as entertaining at the same time. KRS-One taught me that. Edu-tainment. So if I speak on anything that's political or something that's personal with me, it's a whole each-one-teach-one mentality. To where, if you're going through something, and you make it through it, you can kind of tell people how you did it. Cause somebody else might be going through something.
Songs like "Git Up, Git Out, And Git Something," that was the first time touring and going on the road, and people coming up to you like, "Oh man, that song y'all had, 'Git Up, Git Out,' I went back to school and got my degree," or, "I got off drugs and got custody of my kids back." And being teenager and somebody telling you that you affected their life in that way, you start taking the microphone kind of serious.
And going to Europe and Japan and things like that, you just see different cultures, and you just see how small your block is in the whole aspect of the world. So it kind of broadens your horizons in a big way, in a good way too, to where you don't just think just about your street. So yeah, I just kind of share it with people.
ALI: Have you ever gotten to a point where you felt like maybe you had to stop making music? Like, it was just enough. You were done.
BIG BOI: Never.
BIG BOI: Nope. Never. I think with music, it's a gift, actually. This is God's gift to me, and I cherish it. I take it serious, and some people can apply themselves and make music, but I'ma be honest, when you feel like this is what you were born to do – and you know that, through your mom and your dad and your grandparents, this was passed down to you as a gift – you're supposed to share it with the world. And that's what I do.
I love making music, and it's like, the best parts of it is when you got writer's block. Maybe it's for a week. Maybe it's for a month. Maybe it's for a couple of months, but you're still – on the production side, you just got some heavy-ass shit that's like, "Oh my god, I can't wait to hear what I sound like on this." So to be a producer and a writer is like – you can kind of go back and forth between the two. And when you got a team of producers like Organized Noize, I mean, you could still get your ideas out through sound as well.
So when you discover or get past that writer's block, and that first three, four bars on the song, it's just like, a gold miner looking for gold. The reward of that is just like, "Damn. This what the new me sound like." So you always in search of what the new you is going to be.
ALI: With that gift – as you acknowledge, it's a gift, and it's meant to be shared. And obviously you can look over decades of success and touching the world and melting hearts, and I'm pretty sure people have come up to you and told you what your music has done for them.
For other people who also have that gift, but they forget how, in you giving, you receive, and you're able to give back, and it just keeps going, can you talk to maybe that particular soul who's forgotten about that giving aspect of it, of sharing that gift, of helping that person that may be a little bit too caught up into their own head and forgetting the bigger beauty of the gift?
BIG BOI: You never know what people are going through. So the way some take on making it, some people might think they giving enough, or just not in the space to where they want to actually share with others yet. So I mean, it all goes down to the individual, no matter who it is. It's like, you have to know where a person's heart is or mentally where they at.
But I've just been blessed – I can speak on me – to kind of – just been living and creating and being rewarded spiritually and mentally, just through triumphs and personal tragedy, me coming through deaths in the family and the whole nine yards, and still being able to make something that is going to be immortal. And that's the music. And that's going to touch people from here to whenever the world ends.
It's all about your mindset. I try to be supportive of everybody, and just if you can pass any type of positive strategy or any kind of tips to somebody, they can acknowledge you, or they can go out and about and try to do things their own way. It just depends on the person though.
But everybody – people know me; like, I'm a people person. I love people, and I love to help people. And I think that's why God keep blessing me, cause my intentions are pure. For sure.
ALI: Yeah. That really comes across in your performance.
BIG BOI: Appreciate it, man.
ALI: What is it like to be on stage for you, from your eyes, your perspective?
BIG BOI: The stage is the best part of – asides from getting that verse to fit perfectly on that track and that whole song coming together as a whole, touring to me is the best part of it. You get to travel. You get to meet people.
Then, when you're making new material, after a song is done, you can be like, "Oh, man. I want to perform it. On the screen, I want it to look like otherworldly planets, and like I'm going through a time warp. And give me some low line fog, and I want a neon light by the drum set. And maybe I want a mist of water blowing on the trumpets and just dripping from the horns while they playing." You know what I mean? So you can kind of design the aesthetic of what you want it to look like in presentation. So that's all fun.
And then you get to travel, and it's like a circus. You pitch tent at night, set the stage up, and it's different set of people that are out there waiting to hear what you've created and accept that shit. And one of the things I started doing, cause I kind of do – no venue is too small or too big. I mean, I'll do from festivals that's got like 50 to 100 thousand people to venues that'll hold 2500, 3000 people.
And to me, those are my favorite ones, because I do meet and greets after the show. And I would hear – people come up, and I talk to people, and they tell the story of how this song affected them or which album was the best and how it was motivational for high school. And we just see that impact. That made touring so much fun for me. The meet and greet.
Like, I don't even like to go on the road unless I can – I want to talk to the people. So we'll sit at the table and take pictures. They'll bring their kids, and you get to kind of bond with your fans. And you know, every time you go through a Raleigh, North Carolina or Florida, anywhere in Florida, Texas, and Portland, or wherever you going, that face is going to be there. They come through, and them people appreciate that. And you just don't know how you can touch somebody's lives.
I can remember being a young boy, and I was in Savannah, and it was the tour – it was with Salt N Pepa, Fat Boys, I think Kid 'n Play. And they had an autograph signing at like a Turtle's Records & Tapes or something, in the mall. And it was my first time ever in my life meeting a celebrity, and I met Salt N Pepa who was one of my favorite favorites in hip-hop. I had the Fat Boys tape. I had the Hot Cool – I had the Salt N Pepa tape, and they were signing autographs.
And I was just so in awe when I met them, and they took the time out to talk to me and answer just two or three questions that I asked them, to where –
FRANNIE: What did you ask them?
BIG BOI: I was just like, "How does it feel to do what you're doing? How does it feel to be on stage?" And I was like, "What made y'all come to Savannah, Georgia?" And they was like, "We don't leave no stone overturned. It's fans everywhere." And that shit always stuck with me. You got fans in the smallest towns that don't never get to see nobody. And I was one of those kids, and it just made me dream. Like, "Wow."
So when people meet me and do the same thing to me, I could just be like, "I know how that feels." I don't care where I'm at, airport, grocery store, might have a durag on, some flip flops, getting some apples or some vegetables for my kids, or some cereal, milk. And you might – atrocious, beat-up t-shirt, gym shorts. "Can I get a picture?" You be like, "Mmmm." But you – it's not like they gon' see you tomorrow.
So, man, you might catch me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, boy, looking like I'm playing in different movies all the time, cause I never say no. Cause the fans are – they're the people that make you who you are.
ALI: Yeah, indeed.
BIG BOI: Besides from the creator, like, their interest in what you do, it should be an honor for you to be admired like that. And I don't take that lightly. Yeah.
FRANNIE: Can you we talk about A Tribe Called Kast?
BIG BOI: My god. Oh my god.
ALI: I wasn't going to bring that up.
BIG BOI: No. Oh, man.
FRANNIE: I mean, I want to talk the beginning, the best feeling time of it, when you guys had the idea, when you were talking about it, when it was in motion. Like, what was the intent and what was the dream?
BIG BOI: Boy, it was a dream come true for us. I know that. And when we first talked about it, it just moved so quick. It went from in the studio to Dre be like, "Hey, man, I think we should talk to Tip and Shaheed and, man, what if you think about if we did" – I was like, "Boy. It would a wrap." So I think it was in – what? Within a couple of –
ALI: It was like 2013 or something?
BIG BOI: Yeah, yeah. But from the time we had the conversation –
ALI: Oh. From the time of conversation.
BIG BOI: – it was like a couple of days or weeks or something.
ALI: Next thing I know I was in Atlanta.
BIG BOI: He was on the flight. We was all at Dre house.
FRANNIE: So amazing.
BIG BOI: Going through beats, which – matter of fact, it was a beat that came up in the studio. I was just going through stuff, and I forgot what it was. It was – oh, man, it was jamming so hard. I called Tip about it. I think he say he used it for the New York Knicks or something. But this shit is so – it's so – this shit is so crazy. I'm like, "If it ain't been put out, I want it. I want it." I said, "Man, we gotta do something."
I mean, what Tribe meant to us was just like – that's what made us want to be MCs, watching Yo! MTV Raps and was like, "Man." We would be like, "Damn. That's the sound." We were into everything, and we stuck to it, stuck to it, from People's Instinctive Travels – and then y'all went to "Buggin Out." And it was just like, from the production to the rhymes, the whole vibe of it, it was just like y'all our heroes. And I know we didn't get a chance to meet y'all until later on down the line, but when everybody finally clicked up, it was like, everybody was cool.
ALI: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It's funny. Just when you were talking about your relationship with the fans and how you value all of that, and it was just so much you were saying – you were reminding me of Phife so much, man. I'm just sitting here tripping over it. And it's funny, cause Phife and I used to talk about it all the time. Like, "Yo, he always remind of – Big remind me of you." And he's like, "Yeah, I know," and he would get excited.
You know, we – you guys definitely inspired us. When y'all dropped, it was – you can feel the shift of the Southernca – what is it?
BIG BOI: Southernplayalistic.
ALI: Yeah, and it was just – cause, one, I didn't know where y'all from. Oakland, whatever. At the time, the person I was – it was my partner, was from Oakland, and she used to just play it all the time. And then learning y'all from the South, it was crazy. And just every joint y'all dropped, the production was just ill. And I would get charged and could not wait for y'all to drop a next album.
BIG BOI: Yes, man.
ALI: And even, I think, when y'all dropped ATLiens, it made me go, "Man, we not working hard enough.
BIG BOI: Oh shit. That's hard. Wow.
ALI: You know? Cause it was just – that album was just – It's really hard to put it into words. I'd just sitting there listening to it, and it's just like, "Yo. I'm not working hard." In a good way though!
BIG BOI: Yeah. No.
ALI: Because it would make you go, "Yo, I gotta step it up."
BIG BOI: You know what's crazy about that? We were at the Jack The Rapper in Atlanta when y'all had the party and y'all played the Midnight Marauders album. We was working on Southernplayalistic, and we was like, "We need to step it up."
ALI: That's crazy.
BIG BOI: So to hear you say that, y'all inspired us to go harder. We was inside that jam packed little room when y'all was playing that album. We was like, "Holy shit." We went back to the drawing board and was like, "Boy." We had to get it. So to hear you say that, that's dope. So it was like, you know, push push, man.
ALI: There wasn't that much, especially at that time, that really made you feel – get that feeling, because I think hip-hop was really shifting and changing. And I think people were really trying to find their own identity outside of what had already been established before us, and when we came into the game and Pete Rock and Gang Starr and all that. So you guys just came and just gave it another print.
And so – I don't know, man. I just was a fan from day one.
BIG BOI: Likewise.
ALI: And so when the idea, the conversation of us coming together, came out Tip's mouth, it was – how do I say it? I'm a very optimistic person.
BIG BOI: Yes. Me too.
ALI: And I could tell that.
BIG BOI: Me too.
ALI: Understanding all the personalities involved in it, I was just like –
BIG BOI: It was a long shot.
ALI: It was a long shot.
BIG BOI: But I was willing to take that chance, whatever it is, to make it happen. Cause, like, when my partner get excited about something, you gotta harness that right then. That's why we was on the phone on a Monday, the next following Monday – it might've been the Tuesday or it might've been that same week –
ALI: It was the same week.
BIG BOI: – we was all at Dre – me, Dre, Q-Tip was all at Dre's house playing beats like, "OK." Putting bones to a skeleton.
FRANNIE: I just want to cry.
BIG BOI: Ah, shit, man.
ALI: Yeah, it's just – it was definitely one of those heartbreaking things. And understanding though – and I was surprised that Dre spoke about it at Phife's memorial.
BIG BOI: Yeah, me too.
ALI: I was just like – my mouth dropped. I was like, "Yo, I can't believe he's saying this right now." But I understood, because we all have – every day we wake up, we got opportunity – a world of opportunity before us, every day. And we don't know when that is going to close, and death being the final, of what we know of, of what we're capable of doing. So I can totally understand why he said that, but then it just made me go, "Ah, man. Now I really want to talk about it."
BIG BOI: Yeah. Right, right, right.
ALI: Cause I remember some things that were said, and I was just like – but also to bring it back to – I remember where the conversation kind of – it halted, because of the passing of his mom and his dad.
BIG BOI: Right. Yup.
ALI: It was like back to back. And I don't know what that feels like. My father passed. I know what that feels like. But just in the sequence of events and how unfolds in front of you, and you think you know something, and something unfolds that's brand new. And so I respect it, where he was, and where everyone was at that juncture, and the possibility of what it would've been. Man.
FRANNIE: So, the possibility of what it could've been. Like, because there's the artistic, the creative, the musical potential of it, but it also, especially in those years, it felt it could've changed the world.
ALI: That's what artists do. We strive to. When you take the gift, you respect the gift that's been given to you from the creator, and you respect mankind, and understand what love is.
BIG BOI: Absolutely.
ALI: Man, that's what we strive to do, from a selfless perspective. Yeah, we come in these studios and we kind of put our egos and aspects of our interpretation, our life experience, into the music, but there's such another dynamic, which is spiritual. I remember Stevie Wonder saying, "You gotta leave space for god in the room."
BIG BOI: True that.
ALI: And so that's what we strive to do, and there's no question that a record of that caliber would've done something special. I don't know what it would – I'm not, you know –
BIG BOI: Even if it was just a sense of unity, of, OK, look how they came together. Two different parts of space, time, and regions of the country, two groups that mean so much to so many people, and then you unite. Like, they say there's power in numbers. Just to see what all that creative thought and just the temperament and just to see about the bouncing off of the, "You go and I go and he go and bounce this off and what about this," you know? It would've just been exciting. That's what I'm saying. It would have been a great gold mining expedition.
ALI: Yeah, for real. And not just us as principles, but you talking about the whole Dungeon Family. When you talking about everybody, like, everybody sleeves rolled up, just ready to go.
BIG BOI: Ready to go. It was one of them things. I mean, what's cool is I actually – Phife came a couple times, and I got some jams with Phife, some jams, that's hard, that Ray from Organized Noize is holding. So I mean –
ALI: Yeah, he was really excited about linking up with you.
BIG BOI: Yeah, yeah. Phife was just super cool, so – it's – we could – we gon' work. We going to work. You know what I mean? Still got it.
ALI: I remember when the dropbox folder went up.
BIG BOI: Bam.
ALI: And all the beats was in there. And then I remember seeing it come down, I remember, and I was like, "Ah. Damn." I mean, like years later too. The folder just stayed somewhere in the cloud, somebody's server. But I remember, and I was like, "Ah." I had already known this was not going to happen, but it's just, when you saw that folder just disappear, I was like, "Yooo."
But speaking of unity, you definitely make sure you link up with other great, notable artists from the A, and why is that really important in this stage?
BIG BOI: I think, to me, from being a group, I play well with others. I like to kind of see what somebody else can bring to what I'm doing. Like I said, I couldn't listen to a whole album of just my voice. I would get tired of hearing my own voice. So to bring anybody in, whether it's from Atlanta or from the West Coast or whether it's Jai Paul in Europe or Little Dragon –
FRANNIE: I'm so glad you mentioned Jai Paul, cause I just don't think you get enough credit – he has – what? – like five songs in the world, and you own one of them?
BIG BOI: Yeah.
FRANNIE: How did you make that happen?
BIG BOI: Just called him. Just called him and was like, "Man, I'm working on this album, and I got this song, 'Higher Res.'" And he was just like, "Man, send it." And so we just sent things back and forth, and vibed and vibed, and man, I got it. Everybody always says that. I didn't know how difficult it was to kind of work with him. I know I dug his music, and from talking to him, it was a mutual love and respect, and so it wasn't hard at all to get him to do it.
But things like that, if I dig your music, I might want to jam with you. Like Phantogram, we did the Big Grams project, and that all came from me Shazaming one of their records off of a pop-up ad off the computer. It was "Mouthful Of Diamonds." And I think might've been watching YouPorn or PornHub or something and closed out some shit quick and then their song popped up and I Shazamed it. And I put it up –
FRANNIE: Oh, universe.
BIG BOI: Right, right. So I put it up as a jam of the week on BigBoi.com, and Sarah from Phantogram reached out to me. And they were fans of what we were doing, and she sent me some vinyl. Then we did the Outside Lands festival together and had a great chemistry backstage. I invited them to Stankonia, and we camped out for like a week and just made some jams.
It's all the quest to find that new groove, that something that's going to strike you. Cause the best grooves are the ones that you haven't heard before. I mean, being I've done it – thousands of verses maybe, beats, and patterns and melodies and ways to write, when you find that new shit –
Like "All Night" was something totally new for me, with Dr. Luke. Never worked with him before. L.A. sent me the beat. I was like, "Oh my god." I mean, I have a way of taking things and can make them my own, just try to pull the nasty out of it, cause it was – it was holly-jolly, and I was like, "Man, this is very happy." But I'm a happy person, so I took the happy vibe and just kind of put my own twist on it. So I like that.
ALI: Can you talk a little bit about – your situation now is on Hitco?
BIG BOI: Yeah.
ALI: You maintain that relationship with LA Reid. How important is he to you still?
BIG BOI: That is – he's one of the main reasons why I'm still in this business, because I like being in business with my big brother.
From LaFace to him signing us, giving us our first record deal, to me following him from Jive to Def Jam – I went to Def Jam because of L.A. Then he left Def Jam, went to Epic. I got out of my deal at Def Jam and went to Epic, and it was like, "OK. We here." And soon as we get this project that's like, "Oh my god." It was like an orchestrated hit or something. I was like, "Damn. They breaking us up again." So I was like, "OK. Cool." I was going to try to ride it out, but it just didn't feel right without him.
One thing about Reid is he lets me make the music that I want to make, because he trusts me, and he knows that I'm going to bring him some A1 shit all the time. Like he said, "Long as I'm in this business, you got power. And long as you in this business, I know I got power." So for him to start Hitco, I left Epic. I got my masters to Boomiverse now. So it's really like high-level free agency, and I partnered up with somebody who believes in me, which couldn't be a better situation.
ALI: That's beautiful.
BIG BOI: Yeah, nah, man. It's like the divine order. I'm definitely blessed. And so to have somebody in your corner that long, and you being proven and he can really put the house on you if you want to. The first artist on Hitco to come out the gate with a top 40 hit single on an album that's been out for like a year and still got drive on it, it's something to say. So I'm just glad that I'm with big bruh, and we appreciate each other wholeheartedly.
FRANNIE: We had interviewed Masta Ace a while ago, and we were talking about – I think Drake had just put out a project, and it was something about who gets material, who gets the material that the whole world is going to get addicted to basically. And I think about that all the time, the fact that 40 sells all of his shit to Drake of all people. I think it's a crime.
But when you get this material essentially that has in the past gone to pop artists or white artists or white girl artists or whatever, does that represent sort of an opportunity to, yeah, have a top 40 record off an album that's been out for a year? Is that progress?
BIG BOI: It's progress, because I take that whole vibe, and I mash and make it mine. The label, it's certain elements or certain aesthetic they need to go to quote-unquote radio. Like when I put out Boomiverse, I was the main one saying that "All Night" should've been the very first single, if they wanted to go to radio, if they wanted to get people's attention and then come back and splash them with "Kill Jill" or "Order Of Operations." Cause it's some real raw rap shit on there. But at this day and age, they play the radio game, so I'ma play it, but I'm play it my way. I'll never do something that's – if I didn't like the track or the song, I wouldn't do it.
FRANNIE: Right. Of course.
BIG BOI: But because he put the 808s on there, and that ragtime piano just reminded me of Little Rascals – and then it gave me a chance to flex my melodious voice. You know, since the days of "Elevators," we've been singing like crazy, so even my wife, my mom was like, "You need to sing more." So it gave me a chance to kind of expound on that.
As long as it's true to what I'm doing, and I make the song mean what I want it to mean, it can come from whoever. I work with – on my last record, I worked with Organized Noize. I worked with Mannie Fresh, Scott Storch, Dr. Luke.
BIG BOI: So the whole – I went to each producer for something different. So as long as the thing can flow together as a cohesive body of work, and you can really have that one vibe for them 12 or 13 songs that make an album, then that's mission accomplished.
ALI: How did you make it all connect? Because musically, it sounded like it could've all just been you guys just sitting in a room together.
BIG BOI: Yeah. It's certain things that I look for. Like with Scott Storch, I would play what I had. And a lot of the times though, with different producers, I would just want to hear what they had before I even said, "OK. Give me x, y, and z." So when I played what I had, I know what I'm looking for, which pieces are missing.
Some of the songs – for instance, Mannie Fresh did "Follow Deez" with me, Curren$y, and Killer Mike, and we were all in the studio. That was one instance where I might have let him hear a couple of songs from the album, and then we just went through records. I actually did with Mannie Fresh about three songs. So I got ideas.
And Boomiverse could've been a triple CD actually. So I got those songs that's been marinating for like 14 months, and I just started kind of writing and putting together songs for – I think we're going to re-release Boomiverse with maybe three songs, couple of remixes, just because of the gap that – when L.A. left, how they dropped the ball, so people didn't get a chance to kind of absorb the whole thing. But I got a lot of new music coming.
ALI: You mention on – I don't remember which song it was. You mention something about your publishing situation.
BIG BOI: I think that was "Follow Deez." Maybe "Follow Deez." Yeah.
ALI: What was going on with your – if you want to talk about it. We don't have to.
BIG BOI: Oh, no no no. They wanted – they try to James Brown you. They want to buy you out. That's one thing that I'm really not into. Like I said, if I got the sheets of paper that I wrote these lyrics on, it's near and dear to my heart. So some people cash out. Like, "OK. I'll give you millions and millions of dollars of I can buy the rights to your music." And my response is like, "No. This is for my kids, their kids' kids. This is the start of a generation of wealth in my family."
The game, the way the music industry is set up now, if you're not a writer or you don't have a catalog or a producer, or if you're not getting them points, them publishing, or you don't have a touring history or you can't tour, you're not really going to eat off no record sales. So one thing people don't know, this publishing, these checks come in perpetuity. This is forever. So what I do, smart guy like me, I take the publishing and put it in an irrevocable trust, so my kids can eat off that shit forever.
My family will maintain generational wealth for as long as somebody can't fuck up a contract. So along with being a psychologist and an architect and maybe a pro football player, my kids have daddy's publishing to take care of their families for generations to come. So you must be a writer. I'm – you can't buy me out. Like an admin deal, you can do a 90-10 deal. Somebody can administer it and go collect on it, but mm-mm.
I think – same thing when Michael Jackson bought the Beatles, he bought them out. Sometimes 50 million dollars might sound really good to you if you just on that last leg, but if you kind of been making right decisions throughout your career, then you won't have to sell out your publishing to just get a big check and kind of blow it.
ALI: Yeah, cause a lot of people blow it, and that's why I brought it up. I heard you mention it, and I didn't know about your business, but I just think it's valuable information for those that are out there. Cause often people are throwing – they throwing a lot zeroes in your face, and it sounds for the moment like where your life is – like, "I hit it. This is it. This is the jackpot" – but maybe not wholly understanding the full value of it.
And you just even dropped another – subtly, a nice little jewel there, on some Getty – Getty set up all of his money in a trust, so all that oil money continued to go on and on and on –
BIG BOI: To his family.
ALI: – to his family. So a lot of people don't even know about doing things like that with their publishing or –
BIG BOI: Yeah, it's a good thing to do. You can live off of it, and at the same time, you maintain control of it. I mean, those are assets that your family's going to have. So aside from doing music, I do a little bit of everything else too. I was taught to invest in what I know as well as investing in yourself. So I've been pretty smart.
That's why I can kind of make music at my leisure, and I can release things. I don't have to rush. When it's right, it's right, and then you put it out. I don't have to be like, "OK. It's a deadline here, and it's a deadline here. You have to have this or you won't get the backend on this and backend on" – like, fuck all that. When it's time, it's time. And that's something that I worked for.
ALI: What's good with your bowling league, man?
BIG BOI: Bowling league! Tonight is bowling night. I'm missing tonight, cause I'm here.
FRANNIE: Oh man.
BIG BOI: Lane Chasers in Atlanta. We are – we won the championship last season, so it's a whole new season that's going on now. When I'm not on tour –
FRANNIE: You're defending champs?
BIG BOI: Yeah. Yeah. Every year. So every Wednesday night, they do it. I think it goes on like three times a year, so if I'm not on the road, I'm there. If I'm not at kid's football game, I'm bowling. So it's been good, man. It's like one of the things I do on the side that's kind of – it's fun to me. That, of course, I breed dogs. Me and my brother been breeding dogs for like 20 years. I'm super into my kid's football, because it's a dream. And just having three kids that I raised from infants to them being productive, loving, cool-ass citizens, I'm so proud of that. I'm just living life, and I'm blessed, and I appreciate it.
ALI: Thank you so much for sharing your gift with the world, man.
BIG BOI: Thank you for sharing your gift with us. For sure. Believe that, man.
ALI: Thank you for hanging out with us. Whenever the next project comes out, man – like, we could sit and talk with you for hours, and I don't want to do that to you. But hopefully you'll come back.
BIG BOI: We definitely gotta get it in.
ALI: Yeah. I'm –
BIG BOI: We definitely gotta get it in. We need to find –
ALI: Wherever. This room, or you got another room. I don't think I've ever been to Stankonia Studios.
BIG BOI: Oh my god.
FRANNIE: What is wrong with you?
ALI: I know.
FRANNIE: I've been to Stankonia, like, many times.
ALI: I've never been in there.
BIG BOI: Yeah, man.
ALI: I mean, I've been in a lot of places, but I've never been in your room, so I gotta – yeah, I would love to.
BIG BOI: You gotta come on, man. Come on for like a week, man.
FRANNIE: You can feel the history. It's in the aroma.
BIG BOI: It definitely will be some fun.
ALI: What? The aroma? Sorry.
FRANNIE: I'm just saying you can feel the history.
ALI: Feel the history?
BIG BOI: Yes. It's kind of like – people say Electric Ladyland. When I go in there, I'm like, "Oh my god." And then when people came to Stankonia, you can kind of feel it's a lot of history in there. It's for the vibe definitely.
FRANNIE: You just run into Ray.
ALI: Yeah, I just – if I could just go in and just touch one of the MPs or whatever, you know.
BIG BOI: Oh yeah, we got it. We got it. We got three rooms, working on the fourth.
BIG BOI: Really good too.
ALI: Man, thank you so much, man.
BIG BOI: Thanks, bruh. Appreciate it. It's been nice talking to you.
FRANNIE: Thank you so much. You too.
BIG BOI: Alright.