June 2009: In Tune

Boi Polloi

Just because Big Boi is a man of the people doesn't mean he trusts them.
Interview by Steve Fennessy

In a ten-minute conversation with Big Boi, you can learn a lot, such as the perils of robbing his wife’s boutique, the ways in which Shirley Franklin has let down Atlanta, and how he wishes his financial advisers had told him to invest in gold. Big Boi, whose Christian name is Antwan Patton, is one-half of Outkast and one hundred percent his own man. We sat down with him in Austin, Texas, minutes before he took the stage for a 12:40 a.m. set at the annual South-by-Southwest music conference. His new CD, Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, has been delayed and delayed, although Big says all it’s waiting on is a release date from a label he can’t stand.

What’s the deal with Luscious Left Foot? When’s it coming out?

It’s coming in a couple months, man. I’m dealing with Jive Records. You know how that goes. They’re jivin.’ I’m waiting for them to get their shit together. I’ve worked hard on this record. Two years, non-stop. I’m proud of it.

What’s the economy doing to the hip-hop scene?

It’s hard everywhere. Right now everybody’s just waiting on the jumpback. The name of the game right now is buyin’ bars of gold. The price of gold just went up so crazy. I was talkin’ to a couple of my financial planners and they told me a lie. They told me don’t get into gold. I would have been killin’ right now. You can’t listen to everything your brokers say.

What does it mean for you that President Bush, who inspired a lot of your music, is gone, and Obama is in the White House?

You hope for the best but you never really know. You got people out there sayin’ Obama’s basically a face card and he and Bush are playin’ on the same team. I don’t know. You can’t trust nobody. You don’t know who’s playin’ on which team. The only thing you can trust in is God. Keep your faith in the most high, you don’t put your faith in no man.

I’m curious about your writing style. Phrases like “cooler than a polar bear’s toenails”—does that come naturally to you or is it something you struggle over?

Sometimes you have to sit there with a blank piece of paper for six or seven hours and nothing comes out, and some days it just grabs you, like you go into a trance. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s not. It’s all about being there and losing yourself in the music.

We’re electing a new mayor in Atlanta soon. What do they need to do?

They need to do something. What’d Shirley Franklin do? She fixed the water pipes and got rid of the fire stations. The next mayor needs to address the issue of the police force. The crime rate in this city has been goin’ up like crazy, you know what I mean? When you got police on furlough and you’re shuttin’ down firehouses, it’s bad for the community. Houses getting robbed, people getting killed. I just don’t see what she’s done so far.

Is there anybody you like for mayor?

That new guy, what’s his name? Young cat.

Kasim Reed?

Yeah, exactly.

You ever want do anything political?

Mmmm, maybe after all this stuff is done.

What about this stuff? Did you ever think it would go this far?

Yeah, I did! We’ve been doing this for fifteen years. We had a chance to move masses of people into thinking differently, having people not just wanna go with the norm. So you got people questioning things they’ve been taught all their lives. We pose different questions throughout different albums. It’s all about turning on their brain a little bit.

What’s the most important question you’ve posed?

The most important question…is, uh…The basis of our group is individualism. It’s all about being yourself.

How did you find Janelle Monáe?

She was a back-up singer for one of my artists called Scar. My A&R person gave me a CD of her stuff and I just thought it was cool. But what really sold it for me was I caught her at an open mic night at Justin’s, P. Diddy’s restaurant in Atlanta. From there I said okay I’m gonna sign her. She’s definitely the future of music and funk and strivin’ to be something that’s not like the normal. And she can sing like a motherfucker. That’s the weirdest thing about it. She’s incredible.

Anyone else you’re nurturing?

I have a new group, Vonnegutt, young guys from Atlanta. They rap, play guitar, the whole nine yards. And I got Janelle. So I’m good.

How’s your wife’s boutique doing?

She’s goin’ online with it. You know, the whole recession thing.

Her place got robbed, didn’t it?

Yes, a couple times, man. That’s why I was saying, the mayor of Atlanta she’s closing down fire departments and furloughing police, she’s getting people fucked up out there, man.

Didn’t you offer a reward?

I did. But it got handled. We found out who was at the bottom of it.

You did? How’d it get handled?

I can’t tell you. (Laughs)

Oh come on. Did she get her stuff back?

Some of it, yeah.

You found out, huh?

Yeah. We got a lot of friends in Atlanta, you know?

How’d you come to name your son Bamboo?

Ah, Bamboo! It’s strength. It’s unbreakable. When it’s young and green you can’t snap it. You can bend it but it won’t break. He’s an animal right now. I call him Bub right now, after my granddaddy.

You own a kennel that specializes in pit bulls. What’s it been like in the wake of the Michael Vick scandal?

It’s good! What people don’t realize is the Michael Vick thing was an isolated incident. We breed dogs for different reasons. I don’t fight dogs. I don’t condone dog-fighting. We sold dogs to Usher, Fifty Cent, Serena Williams.

What got you into it in the first place?

Just love for animals. When we were young, we’d have 30 people living in a two-bedroom house. My granddaddy used to have a German Shepherd that had puppies all the time. When we got old enough to get some money to get some dogs, we got some purebreds. Me and my brother started it. We got a ranch, twenty-two acres, indoor-outdoor. It’s the Ritz-Carlton for dogs!

It’s been years since the last OutKast album.

It’s been some time since the last album. There’s been a lot of songs in between though.

You feeling pressure?

For what? I got nothing to prove. Everybody else playin’ catch-up, baby. We know how high the bar’s set. As long as you’re stayin’ true to the music and doing’ what you believe in. No, there’s no pressure at all. Cuz if you heard what I got in my motherfuckin’ suitcase, boy, I’m tellin’ you! It’s at the hotel. The whole album. Sir Luscious Left Foot. It’s comin', man!

Two months? Three months?

As soon as Jive stop bullshittin’.

So it’s their bullshit?

Different record company. Different animal. As far as when it comes to real organic music, it’s kinda hard to try to get that across to them. They want more Kool-Aid, watered down, do anything stuff. We don’t do that. We sorta butted heads with them. But I played them the whole record a couple weeks ago and they pretty much get what we’re doin’ now.

Are you looking for a new label?

Yes. Definitely. I really wish I was still under LA Reid cuz he really knows how to do it. He knows it from an arts perspective as well as it being a label. It’s chemistry. We’re real musicians.