When Big Boi steps inside Stankonia Studios, he surrounds himself with reminders of what OutKast accomplished: the gold, platinum and diamond-certified records, plus official Idlewild portraits. So even on November 27, before the Atlanta rap veteran previewed his second solo album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, his peers couldn’t help but to draw comparisons to his past. “It’s like Stankonia without ’Dre,” said Go Dreamer, one half of production duo the Flush. Big Boi’s lawyer nodded in agreement. But as the album’s tracklist indicates, Big Boi felt inspired to look beyond Stankonia and his past with Andre 3000 for new possibilities — to people he stumbled across at festivals, radio station headquarters and even via a pop-up ad. Immediately before he previewed Vicious Lies, Big Boi spoke with Hive about his major-label relations, Twitter and how such connections helped create his second solo album.
“My Twitter timeline — it’s like when motherfuckers be putting flyers on your car when you’re at the club, in the parking lot. It’s just ridiculous. I have to mute so many people, because they keep sending me their song.”
Do you remember the first song that you wrote for this record?
The first song I wrote for this record was “Mama Told Me.” Actually, it was on the night that the tsunami hit Japan. That’s why it starts: “As the world shakes/ Unharmed, ’Twan calm in the middle of the storm, flow tsunami, ring the alarm …” We were just over here, safe and watching it happen in Japan, and it was like, “Damn.” It’s just about being grateful, to be somewhere where you’re not in that much destruction. It’s a reminder that you’re just a small part of this planet, and anytime your ass could be out of here.
It’s funny, because now Hurricane Sandy also comes to mind.
Exactly. You just gotta be thankful for your family and the fact that you are still able to move and maneuver through life, without being interrupted in a major way like that.
What’s your relationship like between you and your mom?
That’s my buddy. That’s my girl. I’m the oldest out of five kids, and my mom’s an Aquarius just like me. So she’s cool. She’s here, actually. She’s supportive, and she’s worked hard to sustain us and instill values in us, to be productive citizens and to love one another. To put family and God first, that’s my motto.
Because I’m a fan of music that makes your face frown up, and I love it. If the music is funky, it’s music that you can feel. And, as long as you can feel it in your core, that’s what it’s all about. I hate bland music. Funk music is not necessarily [imitates a bass] “Jigga bow, jigga bow, jigga bow wow,” but it’s music that makes your face frown up, when it’s like, “Whoo, shit — that’s my jam!” It could be a slow song, doesn’t matter.
You have said that the album title speaks to how the internet can used to seek the truth, but can also be used a rumor mill. To you, what’s the biggest pro and con to creating music with this much connectivity?
The biggest pro is, you can get music out faster. The biggest con is, you got these thug, thug, thug motherfuckers. Someone could slander you and just say something about your music, just because they don’t like you. But that doesn’t really mean anything to me, you know. Just as long as it’s jamming, people are gonna get it, no matter how hard somebody trying to hate on it or whatever. There’s a lot of suckers in the world though — a lot of suckers.
Do you think the internet’s done more good or harm to the quality of music?
It’s definitely done good, but it’s kind of crazy because everyone think they and their mama can do it. It’s like things in the car side mirrors — “are closer than they appear.” It’s not really what it seems like. My Twitter timeline — it’s like when motherfuckers be putting flyers on your car when you’re at the club, in the parking lot. It’s just ridiculous. I have to mute so many people, because they keep sending me their song. I’m not going to listen to your song that way, definitely not.
In one of your weblogs, you’re singing “Adorn” by Miguel — another artist who’s dealt with major-label constraints. How has your relationship with major labels changed, from Sir Lucious Left Foot to Vicious Lies?
I guess after the first record came out, it was critically acclaimed and I toured for 18 months. It was a success, so it was almost like you have to prove them wrong. Now there’s no qualms, no hangups, no hiccups, no nothing. It’s like, “Big, you want to do that? You sure you want to do that? Let’s go.” You know what I’m saying? It’s cool to have them trust your judgment, of what you want to put out.
So the only real hiccup was with Little Dragon, right?
That was with them, not with our side. Their old label Peacefrog and Universal Republic were beefing, and the old label thought they were going to motherfucking hijack my song and punk me — and they didn’t.
Did you reach out to any of the acts appearing on Vicious Lies, or was it like with A$AP Rocky, when he came to you?
It was just by coincidence. Sometimes I would reach out, or I would just see Phantogram at Outside Lands. The only people I reached out to, actually, was Ludacris to get on “In the A.” T.I. came in the night that I did the A$AP Rocky record, and so we were vibing that night. And actually, we reached out to Jai Paul, because we wanted to work with him. He’s from over in the U.K., and he ain’t worked with nobody, never ever.
What would you say is the most important thing to keep in mind for a good collaboration?
A good collaboration is when you can get an artist and shed them in a different light than they would be seen in their own material. Like, A$AP Rocky and Phantogram — who would do that? So with A$AP Rocky, Big Boi and Phantogram, I just wanted to put the ingredients in a pot and have it sound totally different from what they’re doing. I didn’t want their sound. I wanted them to come with me and recreate that Frankenfunk. We stitched it together, put the bolts on his head, got the lightening rod and then gave life to it, definitely.
“I like people that love music to be around, so I can’t lock myself in a room alone. That’s no fun. I’d jack off all day if I did that.”
What about you? Did you want to shed a different light on yourself?
I’m always having a different light shed on me. I just always want to do different types of music, so when I work on [an album], it takes a lot for me to get inspired. I might go through five songs maybe, and then I ride with it for years. Now I have maybe nine, 10 records picked out for my next album, because they’re songs I’ve already been sitting to and riding with. I put them together like a pearl necklace, just stringing them together, and then when they start to sound a certain way, I just get to banging the rest out.
Based on what I’ve heard of Vicious Lies, this album gives off a much different vibe than Sir Lucious Left Foot. How would you describe the differences between the two?
Sir Lucious is more laid back, a little more lackadaisical. To me, it’s more of a daytime record, while Vicious Lies is is more of a nighttime freefall. You don’t know where the night’s gonna take you, and it’s so adventurous because it turns so quick from song to song. That contrast I see is definitely like night and day. So I would say Vicious Lies is like the nighttime-until-the-morning-up record, and Sir Lucious Left Foot’s like a lunchtime-to-dinnertime record.
Even while working solo, you’ve collaborated with a lot of artists. Why do you think it’s important to surround yourself with people? Other artists can somehow shut themselves off and create a record alone in their bedroom.
I feed off of other people’s energy because, you know, I’m used to being in a group. So I like to have people around, especially people that are talented. Just shutting yourself off — to me, that would just be, “Ughhhhhhh.” [slumps] I like people to be around, to build off and bounce ideas off and whatever, and I’m always accepting input on everything. I like people that love music to be around, so I can’t lock myself in a room alone. That’s no fun. I’d jack off all day if I did that.
Of all the featured artists in Vicious Lies, who surprised you the most in the studio?
Sarah [Barthel] and Josh [Carter] from Phantogram. This shit is so monumental. We came and camped out here for seven days, and there are so many records that we did, so many beats and ideas that we worked on. We only used three or four of them for this record, but we’re going to do some stuff for their stuff, and then we’re gonna do that Big Grams project, a one-off EP type of thing. So I have to say Phantogram, my extended Phantogram family.
You said you met Phantogram at Outside Lands, right?
Actually, I found out about Phantogram while I was on my computer. You know how you close some screens out? I was closing a pop-up ad that came up, and it was playing “Mouthful of Diamonds,” the single that they had out at the time. I pulled out my phone and I Shazam’ed it. This is what I’m talking about, social media at work. I Shazam’ed it, and I saw what it was, and I made it the jam of the week over at BigBoi.com. Sarah saw it, and she direct-messaged me on Twitter and said, “Oh my God, We’ve been big fans, so I want to send you some autographed vinyl.” So she sent it to Stankonia, and then we met them at Outside Lands. We talked and invited them down to Stankonia a couple of weeks later, and we came down here and jammed out. Organically created, never genetically modified.
So, if you weren’t online –
I was just closing screens out, and that shit popped up online, in a pop-up ad. That shit really works, you know what I mean? Social media, it really works.
Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is out December 11 via Def Jam. Pre-order it here.