Big Boi’s artistic aim is front-to-back listenability
Music videos don’t get more straightforward and low-budget than the one for Big Boi’s “General Patton”, from his recent solo album, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. The clip features the OutKast rapper clowning around in an Atlanta bowling alley, the visuals a lighthearted counterpoint to the song itself, a symphonic thing with regal horns, midnight-mass choral singing, and Big Boi’s vicious putdowns of unnamed enemies. The clip won’t win any awards, nor has it garnered much television airplay, but it’s intimate in a way that few rap videos are, showing us some of the things the MC holds dearest—his friends, his family, and bowling.
“My grandfather was in the service, so we used to spend a lot of time on base and we’d go bowling a lot with my parents,” says Big Boi, calling the Straight from Dallas. “I’m still in a league now. It’s important to have those things you can do with your kids and your whole family.”
While he’s never been regarded as a particularly introspective MC, Big Boi’s music exudes a matter-of-factness that makes him a lot more palpably “real” than, say, a wrenchingly tortured artist like Eminem. Sir Lucious Left Foot is one of the most effortlessly personal rap albums in recent memory, the Georgia native proclaiming his own general awesomeness over beats that pull OutKast’s signature future-funk into the here and now. The album shares with that group’s best discs—1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and 1998’s Aquemini—a front-to-back listenability rare in today’s industry. Big Boi traces that album-centric focus to the Dungeon Family, the legendary Atlanta crew that incubated groups like OutKast and the Goodie Mob, which in turn yielded solo careers for André 3000 and Cee Lo Green.
“Our thing was to make albums that were great from beginning to ending, something where you can push ”˜play’ and just ride out with,” he says. “It’s not just about selling just one song. It’s about giving people the chance to hear something different every time they listen to it—new sounds, new lyrics, new rhythms they didn’t get the last time.”
The rapper goes on to note that Jive Records rejected an early version of Sir Lucious Left Foot on the grounds that it was an “art project”, which leaves one to wonder just what the label thinks it’s in the business of selling. The album finally found a home on Def Jam, for whom Big Boi will produce at least two more LPs, sometime after OutKast gets around to making another record for Jive.
No matter the indignities he suffered in bringing his solo album to market, the nearly 20-year veteran counts himself lucky to still be making, as he puts it, “some of the coldest music on the planet”.
“I think back to the early days of the Dungeon Family, 12 or 13 guys living in a house,” he recalls. “We had a dream about where our music would go. We stayed on it night and day for years. We didn’t know it then, but to see how it’s turned out now, it’s an incredible blessing.”
Big Boi plays the Vogue Theatre on Friday (October 22).