Big Boi: A Family Affair

by Yasmine Shemesh

Published in print and online in the January 2018 issue of BeatRoute Magazine

It’s just a few days before Christmas and Big Boi, speaking over the telephone, is beaming audibly at the thought.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year, they say,” the seminal rapper, born Antwan André Patton, enthuses. Patton’s prolific career, of course, was launched off a Christmas record. “Player’s Ball,” the debut single from OutKast, the trailblazing Atlanta hip hop duo comprised of Patton and André “André 3000” Benjamin, was first released on A LaFace Family Christmas — a 1993 compilation from production team and Dirty South sound pioneers Organized Noize — before appearing on the group’s 1994 debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The funky gem climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks charts and stamped OutKast, and their city, firmly on the musical map.

This Christmas, though? The Pattons are spending time in Atlanta before heading off to Jamaica for the new year. Because family is, in fact, what it’s all about for Patton. His wife and three children are first and foremost the core of his heart, but those values of deep connectivity, respect, and love also extend to the root of his music. On his latest solo record, the critically acclaimed Boomiverse, Patton worked again with his longtime collaborators Organized Noize. Organized Noize — Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown — along with OutKast, Goodie Mob, and Killer Mike, made up the legendary Dungeon Family, a tightly-knit crew named for Wade’s studio, “The Dungeon,” which was located in the basement of his mother’s house. Having produced five out of OutKast’s six records, Organized Noize went on to work on all three of Patton’s singular efforts: 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, and, now, 2017’s Boomiverse.

“I think it’s the history, the professionalism, and the curiosity of making new things, you know? That’s what kind of brings us together,” Patton explains. “We’re like coal miners or gold miners or diamond miners, always looking for a sound, looking for a word, looking for something new to add to the music. It’s all about discovery.”

On Boomiverse (its concept inspired by the Big Bang Theory, the beginning of the universe), Patton is as innovative as ever. “All Night,” for example, is a jaunty piano rag that feels almost reminiscent of Idlewild, OutKast’s nod to 1930s Georgia juke joints, and has Patton taking his usual smooth, lickety-split delivery and rising it up into a cheerful croon.

“It was a chance to show off something different and flex my vocal ability,” he says. The futuristic sax of “Freakanomics,” the infectious, bass-heavy bounce “Chocolate,” and an eclectic assortment of cameos ranging from Adam Levine (“Mic Jack”) to virtual Japanese pop singer Hatsune Miku (“Kill Jill,” which also features Jeezy and Killer Mike) — the latter, a brilliant album highlight — display the kind of forward-thinking artistic vision that continues to cement Patton’s place as one of the best in the game. Then, “In the South,” with fellow Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane and the late Pimp C, is classic Big Boi — all slick swagger. Patton first traded bars with Gucci on Sir Lucious Left Foot’s “Shine Blockas.”

“Gucci Mane, man, he’s one of my favourites,” Patton adds. “We have an amazing chemistry. This is the third record we’ve done together. We did “Shine Blockas” for me, then I did a song with him and Juelz Santana called “She Got A Friend,” and he came back and did “In The South.” It’s an Aquarius energy, I think, man. We get together and we jam.”

When it comes to chemistry, there’s an undeniably special spark between Patton and Killer Mike. The two go way back, from days in the Dungeon, to Patton signing Mike to his Purple Ribbon label and joining forces in the supergroup Purple Ribbon All Stars, to numerous collaborations over the years. Patton calls Mike his brother.

“We’re family to this day,” he asserts, “so, it’s always an out-of-this-world connection when we get in the studio, ‘cause we feed off each other’s energy, you know? He’s on Boomiverse maybe three or four times, like, he would come into town when I would be working on the record and be like, ‘Bro, let me get on this! Let me get on this!’ and he actually brought me the “Kill Jill” record, with the [promise] that he had to be on it if I took it.”

In another recent team-up, Killer Mike and his Run the Jewels partner, El-P, requested Patton do a spot on their track “Chase Me” for the film Baby Driver.

“I flew to Atlanta and I just jumped on it,” Patton says, adding that he jotted some lines down on the flight over, but most of it just flowed out of his head from really digging the Danger Mouse-produced beat. “And Killer Mike came later on that night after my verse was done and was like, ‘Bruh. It’s outta here.’ We had to turn it in, I only had 24 hours to do it.”

“Chase Me” has been nominated for Best Rap Song at the 2018 Grammy Awards. And, even at this point in his career, with so many awards, including multiple Grammys, on his mantle, Patton says it still feels admirable to be recognized by his peers. After all, it’s about that connection. That reciprocated love and respect. Family.

“When you’re making music, especially after 20 years, and still getting Grammy nominations, and people still love the music, and are still coming to shows, and still loving you, man — I mean, that’s motivation to go back in and make more, you know what I mean? We ain’t gonna never stop.”