My guest today goes by several names, Daddy Fat Sax, Sir Lucious Left Foot, General Patton. Each one fairly iconic, but let's be honest, none makes us feel as warm and fuzzy inside quite like Big Boi, the name we first knew him by when he burst on the scene as one half of OutKast, one of the most beloved groups in all of musical history... Actually, fuck it. Let's just call it the most beloved group in music history. Sure, The Beatles might cast a much wider net, but we all know some asshole from our high school or middle school or something who used to say, "The Beatles suck, bro." Nobody ever says OutKast sucks. Ever. When you have that exceptional talent to back up the bravest of evolutions from album to album without ever losing your fans, but actually gaining fans, that's how you achieve that God level status. During OutKast's run, they changed the face of rap and pop music. First, by putting the south properly on the map with their brilliant debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. That album earned them Best New Artist at the '95 Source Awards in New York City.
It's the infamous Suge versus Puff East versus West Coast Source Awards, where tensions were crazy high. And when OutKast get up to accept the award, they're booed by the New York crowd. But watching Andre, a teenage, defiant, Andre, grab the mic and go, "The South got something to say. The South got something to say." And silence the crowd, it gives me chills. By the time they hit their run of ATLiens into Aquemini into Stankonia, it was an album-to-album evolution that rivaled Stevie or Radiohead in their prime. And, of course, there's The Love Below/Speakerboxxx, the double album that spawned, "Hey Ya!," "The Way You Move," swept the Grammys and sold over 10 million copies. Big Boi and Andre made it okay to be so many things. To be weird, to smash genres, to switch tempos, to be political, to be musical, to be daring, even if you could never dream of aspiring to their genius, you knew you had to shoot for it, and that pushed everyone forward.
There's often a maddeningly simplified dichotomy that arises, RE Andre and Big Boi's contribution within the group, the poet versus the player, so to speak. But real fans all know Big Boi was very much a visionary and his insane lyrical skills, ear for the great hooks, all those things drove that engine. Plus, he's the Aquarius in Aquemini, the dependable fella that also keeps the Gemini from blasting too far off into space, and one need look no further than Big Boi's fantastic and critically-acclaimed solo work to see this. Albums like Sir Lucious Left Foot and Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Plus, he kept the clubs tore up with staples like "Kryptonite" and my personal fave, "Shutterbugg."
As for vision, when he formed his label in 2005, he put Killer Mike and Janelle Monáe on very early, probably a little too early, but he still takes a lot of pride in looking at them now, two of the most exciting, important figures in contemporary music. His importance to modern music and the cutting edge is also evidenced in the fact that he's graced the cover of The FADER three... Count them. Three times. Twice with Andre and once as a solo star in 2005 with Killer Mike. Like millions of us, Big Boi has soundtracked my life and helped pave the way for us all to make better music, to be more daring. But he's still so damn excited to make new music, get it out there and play it for the people.
Mark Ronson: Thank you so much for doing this.
Big Boi: It's all good, man.
Where are you right now? That looks very pretty and much nicer than rainy New York, where I am.
I'm in my backyard.
I take it this house, you will not be putting on Airbnb? Because I just read that you bought the old Dungeon family home and you could stay on it for Airbnb?
That sounds fresh. I would honestly go there. It's obviously such a place that whether you make music, whether you're fan of music, it's like a Abbey Road or John Lennon's house or something like that. Have you had a lot of music fans come and stay there so far?
Yeah, I actually did contests when Airbnb came in, and they had three guests come in, I got the studio in there that's in a different part of the house, where they came and they recorded music and it sounded pretty dope. So-
... After that first little stretch, I'm about to put it back up, probably in another week or so, and musicians and people will be able to come there and feel the vibes and record in it.
Yeah. Do you have equipment in there or do you just bring your own equipment if you're coming down?
Yeah. Yeah, no, I got equipment in there.
Yeah. Yeah, everything's in there.
When was the last time you guys actually made music in there? Because I just saw all that incredible footage that I never knew before. I guess it was from an old Yo! MTV Raps when it was really the peak time of probably around the first record. When were you guys making records up in there until?
The first OutKast album, and the second album, we started recording at a hotel, the Biltmore Hotel. We just took the whole top floor we started like recording ATLiens at the Biltmore.
What was the idea? Because I've heard stories like Duran Duran and crazy bands, and Chuck Berry will take over the whole floor of some amazing hotel. Was it just because it sounded so against the norm, or just the idea that you could do it? Why did you take over the hotel?
That was an Organized Noize thing. We kind of wanted a little bit of seclusion because when we were at the house, people were just coming by the house and it was kind of disrupting what we were doing. So we wanted to get in one space and kind of block all the noise out and just kind of focus.
Yeah. What about the noise? The people downstairs and stuff, I guess you must have just had to take the whole floor under it, just to keep the sound proof, to keep a layer?
Yeah. I don't think we turned it up that loud. Because we were pre-production in there, then we would go to the studio. It used to be called Bosstown Studios, which is Stankonia now, the studio that I owned after the studio. So there's a lot of writing sessions in there.
Where do you work now? Because there have been so many storied studios in your history. There's obviously Stankonia and stuff, and then there's where you had Purple Ribbon. Was that all the same place?
Stankonia was like the motherland, you know? We actually got the studio from Bobby Brown. We saw Bobby Brown... It was Bosstown, we recorded Southernplayalistic in there. The studio's now Bosstown, Bobby Brown owned it. And we were at a show, I think in North Carolina or something, and the studio had been shut down for a minute and we was asking Bobby Brown like, "Hey man, let us get the studio." He was like, "Man, y'all can have the studio." And so we did a deal with Electro Records when we did our deal for Aquemini, and a part of that deal... We looked up the studio, it was in foreclosure. So Sylvia Rhone bought the studio for us as a part of our... When we did our Aquemini records.
There must have been some crazy shit behind the couch where things were left behind? I used to work in this studio on 54th street and someone who would just be always like, "Oh, yeah. That's where Puff always used to have sex on that couch." Those stories like that, they have to have this folklore. I mean, Bobby Brown was, like we know, legend and quite wild.
Yeah... Well, actually, there is a spot in the studio, I like to call it the Meatloaf Loft. There's a loft upstairs with a bedroom, a bathroom. It's like a studio apartment. And so I started living at the studio, you know what I mean? Because my house, the one that was on MTV Cribs, was an hour away from the studio. So I would just stay at the studio. So it was made it very convenient. So it's probably a lot of wild took place up there.
And then it stayed Stankonia and then... Is that the studio that you still have? Did you rename it or is that-
It's still Stankonia, as well-
Oh, it's still Stankonia? And that's where everything gets done?
Yep, yep. Everybody recorded there, I mean-
Yeah. Just did a little remodeling.
It's funny because you say Southernplayalistic, and I remember first hearing that song and the wah guitars and the thing... It spoke to me on such a level that I didn't know that... I liked hip-hop, I was just getting into hip-hop, I was mostly listening to east coast stuff, Tribe and Pharcyde, things like that. And for a lot of people, yours was the introduction to the south, and Dr. Dre was incredible, obviously, and was doing a very live thing on the west coast, but it was more polished or something. I don't know what it was, but when I heard Southernplayalistic, I just remember it smacked me in the fucking head the head.
I don't know what it was, and it spoke to me on so many levels because I love The Meters and I love funk and things like that. But the way you guys put it all together. I know whenever you talk to somebody who's at the beginning of doing something that's going to change the world, no one ever feels like they're there changing the world at the moment, you're just all excited. But it must have felt like, "We are doing something no one else is doing."?
Yeah. We were just down in The Dungeon, man. And you said it, it was all funk base. We were real heavy into all that P-Funk All Stars, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, The Meters, James Brown. So the live instrumentation was definitely key because when you venture off into those things, you're not stuck in the one pattern, you know what I mean? And then it just creates more feeling in the music and that, I think, that's one thing about our music, is always got feeling, it's not just in one stale pace. Even from the lyrics, the cadences, it's never the same. You just have to evolve with it. And when you're using horns and guitars and live drums and... It just gives you the freedom to express yourself more.
Yeah. Obviously by the second album... I have to say something so embarrassing. I've listened to that album so much, but I literally..., Three days ago I was in the studio working with Lizzo and I was talking about you and we were talking about "Elevators." And I said, "ATLiens." and I said, "What did you say?" She goes, "ATLiens. It's the name of the album." I've been saying ATLiens for 25 years. I will never be afraid to embarrass myself for amusing anecdote. But by that record and "Elevators," obviously started to produce stuff but on the first record, did you like to be involved with the creative process? Like while they were laying down the guitars and stuff? Or were they bringing you like, "Hey, we did this track last night. Do you want to jump on it?" Or how did that process work?
No, we'd all be in the room. And a certain lick or a something and everybody would be like, "Oh! That's it." You know what I'm saying? It just kind of motivated us. So what we did after the first record, Player's Ball, of course, went number one and was six weeks on the top of the rap charts and so they came to us like, "Do you want to do a publishing deal?" We were like, "Oh, shit. Okay, cool." So young teenagers, we were given a 100,000 dollars a piece. So that was like a million dollars to us, was like, "Oh, shit."
So first thing we did was, we bought cars because we didn't have a car and then we invested in drum machines and music equipment. And we had apartments and we would set up our little pre-production studio and then we start tinkering with the music. So by the time the second album came, we were creating our soundscapes to the lyrics. Songs like "ATLiens" and "Elevators," being some of the first stuff that we played for Organized Noize. I was like, "Oh, y'all boys producing now." And it just got better and better from there.
Did you feel like on the second album you had enough ideas to do it by yourself, did you realize that you were just becoming producers and you needed to leave the nest somewhat? Or were you just kind of making your own shit? That was like, "Okay. We like what they have over there, but we also really like our stuff here."?
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. When you're creative, you got to be all you can be, you know? Since we were spending so much time together and then we were on the road and we have these ideas, so we just started laying stuff down. Just doing scratch versions of stuff. From writing the hooks and just having fun with the music and became really good at it.
And then when did you actually get the studio? When did you guys get your own and build your own studio, Stankonia? Was it around the time of making Stankonia?
No, it was after... We've been there now since '99. I'm not sure, the time's just flew by so fast, but took over Stankonia, it was probably after Stankonia.
Yeah. It's funny because the wealth in the creative output has not only been huge, but so giant steps in evolution each time, I think of you more like The Beatles. The Beatles famously were excited not to tour the minute they could stop touring because they're like, "Actually being in the studios where we like being the most." And they were competing in this arms race with The Beach Boys and Hendrix and trying to outdo each other with the creativity. But I was surprised to read in a interview recently that you just did, where you said, actually your favorite part is going out and playing live as opposed to the studio process.
Yes. It's to see your creation come to life in a sea of people, singing words that just started in your mind, is an incredible feeling. And just the energy, just to see, to bring that much joy to people, is what it's all about. I love the studio, I love the creative process. The creative process to me... Making an album is like taking the SAT. For like a year or two straight. Because it's like... Okay, you're re-thinking and overthinking and you're going back and you're fiddling with things and... You know?
It's never done until they give it to me, up until the last minute. So we're just kind of tinkering with it the whole time. Just like the album now, The Big Sleepover with me and Sleepy Brown, the album has been done for like two years. And so we've just been kind of just leaking songs out, just getting to set an appetite for what's going on. And I think my whole outlook on it is, if you can work on something for a year or a year and a half, two years, and it still sounds fresh to you, then it's going to have that much playback power when it gets to the consumer.
Yes. Definitely. I find that... You've told this story many times, but about sitting on the beat for "The Way You Move" for five years? Or was it three years? Because what was the story, you wanted to wait until you had the right thing or the right time to release it?
Sometimes it just happens. I have a playlist full of music that is incorporated on my phone and I put a lot of my favorite songs from all genres for any artist. And they might have these demo beats pop up ever so often. You know what I mean? And it might be stuff that you might hear it every day or you might hear it every couple of months, but days it'll speak to you. And it's just like, 'okay, I'm fucking with that today. I'm going to go to the studio and I'm going to put something on it.' You know what I mean? Or when it's time to, I call it beat harvesting. You just get a whole bunch of stuff you like and try to piece it together, streamline, and then you just start attacking it piece by piece. And I don't work on just one song at a time, I work on the whole album at the same time. You know what I mean? I might put guitar on this record, put a hook on this other record, put some horns on this, come back, change the beat, put some 808s on this, bring the keyboard player, and put some synthesizers on this other record. Then I might have a verse. You know what I mean? So, it just keeps it exciting for me as a writer.
It's true. Something you said really resonated because right now, especially in the pandemic basically, a lot of people who had a record ready to drop in spring 2020 have sat on records for a year, a year and a half. And it's like, at first, whether it was a record I was involved with or just a friend, you want to think if it's great, if it's classic, it'll stand the test of time. But there's also this saying, well, the style of drums, people's shit changes. Is this snare going to be hot in like a year and a half from now, or whatever. But I think you're right. I think that if it's a classic and it sits with you through the whole course of making a record, it's going to maybe transcend those little things that we have.
Right. Absolutely. And no matter what comes out, because we're not trying to follow those trends either.
One of the most unexpected and insightful things about doing this podcast has been hearing how lot of the people I've looked up to most of my life, how they make music and being gobsmacked by some of their processes. When DJ Premier told us he would always make the singles last when producing an album for Gang Starr or Jeru or whoever, I'm not going to lie, my mind was blown. I love that idea in theory, because Premier is saying, when he's making the albums, he makes sure he's making music for music's sake. Not thinking about the pop charts or the radio, et cetera. I.e. we make what feels right to us. And at the very end, we make the slightly more commercial joints, the crossover records.
I can't imagine how you could do this. For me, the best records just come when they come. I've never had much control about when, in the process they appear. Sometimes you're just lucky to even get one single. But the history of music is littered with these amazing stories of artists handing in their albums and the label, or a manager, goes, "Damn the album's awesome. But we just don't have that first single. That thing that can set off the whole project."
Apparently Springsteen was even told this when he handed in Born in the U.S.A., an album that we all know had singles up the wazoo. But the first single is really unique in the way it has to encapsulate the spirit of the whole project. It has to do this weird voodoo. Anyway, Springsteen went back to the crib and penned "Dancing in the Dark." The Beasties apparently were told something similar when they handed in Ill Communication and Ad-Rock went back and wrote "Sabotage." I guess there's something great about writing that single with the perspective of the whole album already in hand.
Big Boi, as he talks about it, it's obvious that he's driven conceptually when making the album. He needs to be working on the whole album at the same time. Well, Stankonia, ATLiens, Aquemini. These album titles don't just conjure music, they conjure entire worlds. So it is no surprise this man works the way that he does. And now a quick break.
So when you're making a record then in that way, when you're coming back to it and working on different sounds at the same time, do you know a little bit what the 14 songs are? What the track listing is? Do you have to have the concept of the record first as you go into it? How does it work?
Sometimes. Sometimes you can know what it's going to be about, you know what I mean? But when the lyrics are based on what's happening in real world and real time, shit can change. You know what I mean? So there has to be some kind of thought put into it that's going to make the listener think. You know what I mean? So it has to be relevant for the time. You're going to have your braggadocio show or whatever you want to do. You can just do that shit all day. But when you're going to try to make something that's meaningful, then that comes from experiencing and living and doing different things. And that's where the inspiration comes from.
Yeah. I'm really excited for the Sleepy record, because I DJ a lot and every now and then I'll break out one of the deeper cuts from your catalog or something, and just start playing it. The one the last year, I guess before pandemic started, I was playing all the time, especially on tour, was "I Can't Wait." I think "I Can't Wait" was this deep cut. Something happens when that song plays. It changes the molecules in the room. It's wild. It's a little bit of like, I remember this. And it has this melancholy and this joy at the same time.
Yes. Positive vibrations. That was from the Barbershop 2 soundtrack or something.
Yeah man. So we was just in the groove, man. And we perform that to this day.
Yeah, you do.
Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with how far go back with Sleepy? I know he was on the first record, was he an original Dungeon Family?
Yes. Sleepy Brown is one third of Organized Noise, the production team. And he was on the very first Outkast song, "Player's Ball," you know what I mean? On the title track, "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik," "So Clean," "The Way You Move." He's like my big brother, you know what I mean? When I started touring and stuff, he was like, "Hey man, I want to go out with you." So for the past five years or so, maybe even longer, he's been on the road with me. And being on the road and doing these classics.
And then we have so many records together, it came a time he was like, "Hey man, let's do some new shit, just me and you. Let's do a whole album, man." And yeah, we were in Austin, Texas, and this beat came on. It was the beat of "Can't Sleep," it was like one of the first songs we dropped from this project. And I never forget the beat came on and it was like, "I didn't get to sleep. Didn't didn't didn't get to sleep." Crazy. Yeah. And my assistant Shay was on the bus with us and she was like, "Oh my God, what's that?" I had this beat, mind you, for years. And it was like, big sleepover. And it was like, bam. From there we just started recording.
Organically created. Never genetically modified.
Excellent. Shit, there are so many things, and every time you say something I'm like, "I want to ask about that." the one thing that I did remember though, because you did say "Player's Ball." "Player's Ball" has this crazy story. I know you probably told it 1000 times, so I won't make you retell it if you don't want. But it started as a Christmas record. Then by the time it became the first Outkast single, I think you took out some of the Christmas stuff. It had the bells.
Yeah. We took the sleigh bells out and changed "Christmas day" to "all day" and did a reprise, Sleepy sung remixed it. And it was at the top of the charts for the longest.
So that's the one, the remix. The chords in the remix are some of my favorite chords of all time. And I used to play that version. I don't know if that's because maybe in New York, because I was DJing clubs, I feel like that was the one that maybe even jumped off a little more in New York at that moment. But what the fuck was the story? How did that remix come together?
That's Sleepy Brown playing them chords on there. See Sleepy brown was the man with the melody. Rico was the 808 guy and Ray was a drum programmer. And three together is a monster. You know what I mean? So yeah, definitely. It's all full circle, man. We just evolved as men and they started as mentors to us and big brothers and that's how we're all still family to this day, man. We all one unit. And be able to do this and just get out here and take care of our families and make people happy. That's what it's all about, spreading positivity in this wicked ass world.
Yeah. Actually honestly, I'm not blowing smoke, my favorite content, I tell people this all the time, of all time was Outkast the night before the Super Bowl when the Falcons were in the Super Bowl. It was Super Bowl 33 in Miami and you guys played a tiny club show. The thing was so crazy is you were already playing arenas. And if it wasn't Super Bowl, I don't think, and I don't think if the Falcons weren't down there, it was all dirty birds in Miami, I'm sure you wouldn't have played it. But do you have any recollection of that show?
Vaguely. There are some things I remember, man. But we smoked so much, man. My boy. That's crazy.
Take it from me. It was incredible. And I think everybody felt so lucky because we were all new. It was probably a 1200 person club, this club called the Cameo. I actually used to DJ down there.
Oh I remember the Cameo.
You remember the Cameo?
Yeah. I played there several times. We played there a few times. Yep.
The whole show, but the most elated... Because you said the word, bringing joy to people. The word joy, is the only thing I could think of the way that when either "Rosa Parks" or "Skew It on the Bar‐B" or something came in, because Aquemini had only been out for two months. It was the biggest shit in the world. I don't think I've ever felt that much pure joy to show. Because we you make music, you go to shows, I don't need to pretend to be cool. But I've been to a lot of shows in my day. That was like the spirit. I don't know what came over me for fucking two hours during that show.
Yes. And that's why I still perform and still rock shit to this day. That shit is the best feeling in the world, man. It's better than any fucking drug.
I really wasn't blowing smoke. I can still conjure the visceral joy of that show nearly 22 years ago. The energy when the beat from "Rosa Parks" dropped. I was jumping up and down pogoing like a kid. Part of it was the fact that everyone in that crowd knew they were privileged to be seeing Outkast in this small club because they were already playing arenas at this point. Plus it was Super Bowl weekend, the Falcons were playing and it felt like half of Atlanta was in Miami. And then probably the main part was just seeing one of the greatest groups of all time perform at their peak. I don't actually know if I remember anything else specifically from 1999. But I remember that show. Being on a full high when it was over walking out of the Cameo into the night.
The only other show I think I felt that at was D'Angelo at Radio City on The Voodoo Tour. I remember taking the train home after the show, my girlfriend at the time was very sad and I asked her what was wrong, and she said to me, "Well in the year we've been together, I don't think I've ever seen you happy like you were at that show." And I had no reply because she was right. It's crazy what an incredible show can do to you. It's truly transformative. Your favorite songs coming out the mouths of the people who wrote them, with the collective energy of all those other people around you having the same experience. It truly is the best. And for many musicians and performers, feeling that energy back from their crowd is the lifeblood.
I'm certainly not comparing one of my DJ gigs to an Outkast show, but that feeling I get when I build the crowd up into this euphoric joy, it is the best. It's not an ego thing like, "Hey, look at me, look what I'm doing. You guys love me." But it's just seeing the joy on people's faces. The sweat, the collective swaying of a dance floor back and forth in rhapsody. Anytime I think I might actually be done with DJing, I have one of those nights and I'm like, I love this too much. There's no way I'm giving this up. Big Boi, well you could tell there's absolutely no way he will be giving this up anytime soon either.
Are you back touring again now?
Yes. I never stopped.
I just meant the slowing down because of the pandemic and just all the shows stopping for a minute.
You know what? During the pandemic actually I was doing corporate livestream gigs. I have a whole stage and a whole setup at Stankonia. But it was weird though because it was just cameramen with masks on and no crowd. It was like doing late night talk shows with no crowds. It was cool. The paper was astronomical, you know what I mean? But I had to go from my house to Stankonia and back. So it was on some cool stuff like that. As soon as the shit opened up, boom, I was gone.
Now do you remember the first show back in front of crowds? Was that feeling just incredible? Do you remember what the first one was?
The first one I did in front of crowds was actually here in Atlanta, in Centennial Park. It was called The Big Night Out. I had Killer Mike and everybody with me, it was the first show here and no problem. It wasn't no super spreader event. Nothing. It was weird because they had people sectioned off in little cages and shit. It was weird, but they still felt what we were doing in the middle of downtown. They didn't talk about it I guess because it was positive. You know what I mean?
Yeah, of course. And just seeing the joy and all that shit on everybody's face and having that connection, were you aware how much you missed it?
Yes. It was weird because everybody had the mask on so you couldn't see their facial expressions. But when they applause and scream you could hear them, but they had to keep the mask on. You know what I mean? Outside. So, that was weird. But the first one without the mask was I did a show for first responders in Texas. A couple of gigs in Texas. And then it was all first responders and things and it was without the mask and it just felt good to be back out there because the people were just smiling and having a good time.
Yeah. I DJed in Abu Dhabi. Have you played too much shows in the Middle East and over there, Dubai and stuff like that?
I went to Dubai, but I didn't have a show there. I went just to go. And then I had a show in Lebanon after my Dubai trip, which was weird because I got to Lebanon and then you see Ritz-Carlton with a tank or cannon ball or something was, shrapnel along the side of the building. And all the barbed wire around these five star hotels and shit like that. And we played, it was the coolest fucking venue, the stage came out of the ground on the beach. They got some of the best architecture over there in the world, man. But too many bullets.
Yeah. Was it a festival, or was it a solo show?
It was me. Solo dolo, babe, solo dolo.
I was going to say, that Abu Dhabi thing was sort of like what you said. It was a little weird because you had to be in your group, like how you said there were cages at the Atlanta show. You had to stay at your table. And I was like, "Oh fuck. Am I DJing a lounge essentially tonight?" But then the minute I started, everybody just jumped up. From where I was standing, if you were just looking at the people from their shoulders up, it just looked like a dance floor actually. But people just had to stay in their zones because we're a little further down the road, you didn't have to wear the mask and stuff, which was kind of nice.
I guess the other thing is, because you love shows and connecting with people, and sometimes the further you go away from home, the more people appreciate you being there because they know that a you don't have to be there. People appreciate you being there because they know that A, you don't have to be there. You've come out of your way, you've taken some 12 hour flight. I'm sure there have been so many highlights, but do you remember a couple shows or someplace where you didn't even know what to expect and you're like this is just the most wonderful experience, this is why I do this?
The Gold Coast, Australia. Crazy. It's beautiful, man. I mean it's fucked up over there now, but back before the COVIDs I was thinking about getting a house in Australia. That shit was so nice, man. Black sand beaches. Crazy stuff, man. The Opera House, just seeing different monuments and things like that, it's just dope to go down there. The flight is a killer.
It's a killer.
I mean one time I flew and I had to do something for MTV, I flew there, was on the ground. I was in the air for that many hours and then on the ground for five hours, got back on the flight to fly back to come do some more shit.
Australia is an incredible place. When I was asking that question, in my mind, that popped in because it is so far away and they're such great crowds anyway, because they like good music, they like weird shit. I think that they've got that station, triple j, that's alternative but it's the most popular thing. It would be like if Clear Channel that was an alternative station or something, you know what I mean?
And then the people there, that's definitely some of my favorite places to play as well. When was the last time you were over there?
It's been about six years, maybe. Six, seven years.
Yeah. So because I've been doing this interview series for The FADER and you've been on the cover quite a number of times, and at very interesting points in your career, and the last time was with Killer Mike, and it was really when you were becoming an entrepreneur, and it was really about, I mean you might have always been an entrepreneur, but about Purple Ribbon and building the label. And it's hard to think about it like this, we're the same age, but I've looked up to you for so long. You've obviously been so much farther ahead of what you've done. I'm literally saying what's on the same level, but it was exactly that same time, 2005, you were 30 years old and you say in it, you're like, "Yeah, I go to the office around 1:00, I stay until 9:00, and then we stay until 2:00 making music."
And even though I had a label that was nowhere near as successful, I was doing the exact same thing at that time, and it really reminded me of it. It's something that you really only have the energy to do at that point in your life. When you look back at that now, the fact that you would go to the office and make marketing decisions for eight hours, and then go to the fucking studio, and then have to access another part of your brain and make classics for the next seven hours. Does the thought of that be like 'holy shit, I can't believe I used to do that.'
Yeah, absolutely. One good thing about it is the record company was right across the street from the studio, so I could walk across the street to the studio. And then that's why I would stay in the loft because I'd be so tired from working on compilations, having Janelle Monáe and Killer Mike, and just working on my solo projects all at the same time. It was a lot, but if you want it, you got to go get it.
Yeah. How much were you sleeping during that time? Are you like Puff where you could do hours of sleep, you're just driven by the energy?
No, I got to get my sleep. No, that's how my face look so young with no wrinkles. You got to get your beauty rest. You know what I mean?
You got to do that. You got to get your rest. Got to, man.
I would do this crazy shit, I was running this little label. It wasn't super successful. I had a couple acts on there and we'd do the same shit until 6:00. Then I would literally just walk around the block once, literally around Broadway and Canal Street and be like okay, now I make music. And I think luckily that was right when I met Amy Winehouse and there were people around that were inspiring enough, but I was damn near about to have an anxiety attack every day during that point in my life because doing that label stuff, even if you're doing it for your friends and because you believe in it, is very stressful. How long did it take you before, not the honeymoon wore off, or did you just have a good team around you and it was fine.
No, I had a good team. First, it started out as Aquemini Records then Dre was like, "I don't want to do the label thing anymore," so I changed it from Aquemini to Purple Ribbon, and so it was all on me, but I had a dope team, but it takes a lot of commitment because at the time I'm still touring, I'm still recording, I'm still an artist myself. And that's why I could say from Killer Mike and Janelle, to sign those two and to see where they're at now, I didn't have to hold their hand like that. You know what I mean?
We all functioned as a family, and everybody had a vision of what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. And so I was there for, of course, creative and spiritual big brotherhood. And to see them spread their wings and fly now, I did that.
It's incredible, actually, when you think of the legacy of what you're doing there, and Janelle is where she is now, and Killer Mike, and Run The Jewels. And I just found out the other day that Future was an old school Dungeon Family head. I don't even know how the fuck I didn't know about that, but what was his deal?
Yeah, he was second generation Dungeon Family. It was a couple of them guys out of there, man. And he's actually Rico Wade's cousin too. You know what I mean? So that's when Bubba Sparxxx, and you had Konkrete, you had the group called The Connect Boulevard, a lot of the young guys that moved into the new Dungeon after we were already out flourishing. And so, like I said, whoever wanted it went and got it.
Yeah. What was the difference between Janelle back then? I mean, obviously, I remember that she was on Purple Ribbon, and when I started to do some research, when I knew we were about to talk, and I was like oh yeah, fuck. Of course, she did. She was always this really cool, eccentric, left field, obviously a very special artist. And what was the difference between someone like that and "Tightrope"? Are they finding their thing or is the world just catching up to them? How do you think it works?
I think the world just catching up to them because the music has always been very theatrical. Hers has always been cinematic. You know what I mean? It was a whole theme and a vision, the whole android movement and what they were doing, they were thinking way futuristic, you know what I mean?
So I think one of her big records is a Organized produced song called "I Like That," and it's pulled back a little bit, more sultry R&B, and it resonated with people more, but she's a dynamic singer and a great performer.
Perhaps no musical family in the '90s spawned more talent than the Dungeon Family, named for the basement studio of Organized Noize producer Rico Wade, the Dungeon, as it was called, the first wave of "family" included Outkast, Goodie Mob, Sleepy Brown, Joi, and, of course, all the incredible records produced by Organized Noize, like TLC's "Waterfalls" for starters. When you get into the second wave of extended Dungeon Family, well that it even gets crazier. You have Killer Mike, Janelle Monáe, Future, a solo member of Goodie Mob named CeeLo, who forms Gnarls Barkley and makes one of the biggest songs of all time. And that it would be over a decade until Killer Mike and Future found their peak stardom makes you realize just how ahead of the times it was. Sometimes an artist can be so special ahead of the times, it does take a while for the world to catch up to them or for them to figure out how to dumb it down for the world a little.
I highly recommend the excellent documentary, The Art of Organized Noize, as a chronicle of the magic energy going on at that time, how one place can be the hub of so much talent, young unknowns that burst out of nowhere and change music forever, and nurture and inspire the scene around them. The infectiousness that all these artists were fostering and then, of course, the inevitable sad demise that comes after success, the squabbling, the infighting, the egos, the demons, and the addiction. But as tragic as that part is, the musical legacy is staggering.
Also, I don't think any record actually drops harder than "Kryptonite." The intro, that was probably the last era when I was really a gigging DJ, I'm talking about going to Vegas three times a month and this shit, and this was before you could make money going to Vegas. This is the pre-EDM days. But you could play that acapella intro, I'd be up on it. I'm not going to do your own voice to you, but you could elongate that for a minute and a half before the beat drop because the excitement you could build the crowd up, build and build until that dropped on the one, and it was just the craziest shit. I don't know.
Yeah, I close my show with that to this day.
That's great, because you just want to hit them in the mouth right before you leave. I don't care if they been on 10, the whole hour and 30 minutes, when "Kryptonite" come on, it's like the show just started over again.
Yeah. So how did that one come about? Was that a beat that you had in the tank for a little while or was that really spontaneous? How was that song made?
It was one of my childhood friends, Nsilo Reddick. There's a part of a production team called The Beat Bullies, and they were in-house producers for Purple Ribbon. And I can't remember, the GM brought me the beat one day and I just was like holy shit. And they was like, "Man, you got to get on this record. And when they brought it to me, I went across the street, again went from the office across the street, and murdered it. And that shit was the truth.
No, that shit was incredible. When I hear it, I could picture this one night club in Vegas called Pure, and I just remember the walls would start sweating. It was so much fun. You made about a 100,000 DJs' life easy for three minutes during that song, or five minutes, depending on how long you want to drag it out. My experience, on a smaller level, with labels and stuff is that you essentially sign something because you love it and you know that you have this platform to help them get their shit out there, because you're already big and you believe in it. But what always happens is you're still the biggest star in the label, and I always tell my friends, I'm like, "Do you want to find the quickest way to fall out with your friends? Start a label and sign them." And I know you've talked, and you and Mike are great now and make great music, I know you've talked about your past and stuff like that. Would you do it again? Would you do the label again or is it just a thankless fucking task?
No, it's just got to be the right artist. It's got to be the right artist. You know what I mean? And I mean I got the facility for it. You know what I mean? I have the home, I mean where they can record all day, but they just got to be the right artist. And it's not a lot of artist development, you know what I mean? Sit around and suck up game. It's got to be somebody that got to want it. You know what I mean? They got to pretty much be self-contained. I mean I have a stable of producers, so there's no shortage of music, but they just got to be talking about something and have something to offer.
Yeah, what are you looking for? So I imagine Stankonia has a lot of rooms, you're in there probably all the time, but there's other artists, you're bringing in people. At this point, whether it's a singer, a band, rapper, what are you looking for? To be talking about something, to sound like no one else, to be original?
Yeah, it's got to sound like somebody else and somebody's going to add something to the world. I like world changes. You know what I mean? It's got to be left, all the way left, and sound like nothing that's out there. I mean because a lot of the stuff now is cut and paste.
And you've all always gone to different artists. Obviously, you did the great record with Phantogram, Little Dragon, eccentric artists. And you've talked about growing up, you love Kate Bush. Has that gotten any further, doing a record with Kate Bush? I know you've been putting it out into the ether for a minute.
I have a monster hit with Kate Bush that I'm just holding.
Are you serious?
I'm holding it. It's a fucking monster.
So you've made music together.
Yes, we have. Yes, we did.
That's fucking incredible.
Yeah, you get it here first, buddy. Yeah, it's a dream come true and the people are going to fucking love it. It's fucking incredible.
Oh my God. So how long did it take? Because you've been saying this for so long and you almost sound like you were trying to will it into the universe, just sending good energy. How long did it actually take for her to come back and be like, "Hey yeah, let's do something," or whatever? However Kate Bush talks.
Well, she's a very, very, very classy lady, and when we were on the Outkast 20 tour, I got tickets, me and my wife, and we went to go see her show that she had, played the live shows. And so from there, I get invited backstage, we have some wine and we talk. And her kid is there, he's about the same age as my kids, which is cool. And she signs an album for me and give me her number. So after that, about a year or so pass, and I told her I was coming back, I just said, "Hey, when can we do a song?" Just send her a text every now and then. I talked to her on the phone, "Hello. Hello. So lovely." And so I came back and she's like, "Let's go to dinner." So we went and she took me to dinner to this cool little pub place where I had almond cognac. And we was both throwing them back. It was the coolest experience.
So we had dinner and then we're like okay. Her son was going off to college and she was just like, "Okay, I'm going to try to get to something when I get my studio set back up." And so my manager, being the great, great manager he is, he reached out to her manager a couple years ago and was like, "Hey, we need to make this happen." And I just so happened to have the right song that is fucking phenomenal, and sent it to her. And it had the words on there and she just had to sing the words. And then I wrote my verse and my boy Go Dreamer wrote her parts and wrote the hook. And it is incredible. It's incredible.
Is it going to come in the next year? Is it just you're going to hold on, whenever the universe, whenever it's right?
Yeah, whenever I think they deserve it, I'm going to give it to them.
That is a big scoop you just gave us. Thank you very much.
Yeah, it's a big scoop. And I'm going to tell you another thing too I was thinking too, because you know how these NFTs are supposed to be works of art, so I'm thinking maybe this is that perfect art piece to have something stunning visual to go along with it as an NFT, I'll fucking blow the whole world up.
That will. Or you could just make only one copy, like the Wu-Tang album, pocket $30 million or something.
No, the world got to hear because it's uplifting.
So that collaboration right there was the last piece of the puzzle?
That collaboration right there was the last piece of the puzzle.
You know what I mean? As far as my legacy goes. The only other person I wanted to work with would've been Bob Marley.
And I've worked with everybody that I wanted to work with now. You know what I mean?
And this one right here is special because I've been a fan of hers since I was in middle school. You know what I mean? She's one of the reasons why I started doing music.
How did you discover her? Were you just listening to the radio or ...?
No. Everybody got the weird old uncle, right?
My mom's brother, her younger brother, my uncle Russell, he turned me on to Prince. He turned me on to Genesis, Phil Collins, Guns and Roses. And he turned me on ... He listened to everything, Michael Jackson and all that. And so he had this record player and he had Kate Bush and he would tell me the stories behind the songs. And I was just intrigued. You know what I mean?
Oh, this is deep. And then to find out that she was producing and writing all this stuff. And then she worked with Peter Gabriel and I love Peter Gabriel. I used to ride my bike to school, listening and running up that hill. Crazy as a boy. And now as a grown ass man with three kids and a grandson.
Yeah, man. For sure. Like God is good. I'm blessed and highly favored, man.
Wow. Is that our first scoop? I feel like Kurt Loader in the eighties. Breaking news, two of music's most beloved and acclaimed artists hook up for duet. Maybe this episode's going viral. In all honesty, though, it is kind of amazing to think about it, right? Kate Bush and Big Boi on a record. That it probably took 30 years to put to together. Kate Bush, one of music's most famous recluses coming out of recording retirement to make a song with one of her most famous biggest fans, Big Boi.
It's a testament to Big Boi's putting that good energy out into the ether. Obviously being Big Boi. And some light harmless stalking backstage, it shows. But I think, most importantly, really it's just a record that's going to make a lot of people, very excited and very happy, myself included.
That was the most incredible sidetrack story of all time. But what I also wanted to ask you is what are you listening to right now that's got you kind of excited?
A little bit of everything. I got like 20,000 songs on here, on my phone. I just put it on shuffle. I could just read off what pops up.
Mumford and Sons, Weeknd, Danger Mouse, Billy Ocean, Mickey Howard, Goodie Mob, Janet Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, EPMD, The Spinners, Prince, Tupac, more Prince, Cappadonna, Kate Bush, James Brown, The Who. I can keep going on.
Yeah. What Billy Ocean song. I'm curious. Because Billy has some ... People only know him from those eighties soundtrack hits, but he had some very soulful tracks. Like one of those nights you feel like getting down and like the early eighties shit.
I remember when my grandson was born and my son, I turned him on to a lot of ... I was so proud. I went down to go meet him and my son was playing this song over and over again. We was just outside eating by the pool.
He just kept playing it. My kids pallet, they turning me onto a whole bunch of shit, too. You know what I mean? Especially my daughter, she got a ear.
You mean all new stuff that you didn't know or new songs?
No, I mean, new shit.
It just be all kind of new shit. Like Bobby McFerrin's son, Tyler McFerrin.
Yeah. My daughter turned me on to that. It's another song from the other day. Oh, Masego. I love Masego.
Yeah. Well you've done a song with them now, right?
I did a song with, yeah. Masego, cool guy.
Yeah, I like Masego a lot. You mentioned Goodie Mob. Goodie Mob as well, like when "Cell Therapy" came out, that must have come out in between your first and second album. That felt like this kind of next wave of Dungeon Family shit.
Yep. Yep. They came at Southernplayalistic.
I think Southernplayalistic, "Players Ball" into that song. Especially being in New York where it felt so foreign. Like it felt so far away. It was just fucking ... It was incredible.
Yeah, man, Squad.
Yeah, pray for the sheep.
And then I just ... Because you mentioned Tupac and then we've been talking about Organized Noise so much ... One of my favorite, and I think it's more of a slept on Organized Noise song is "Blackberry Molasses" by Mista.
Oh yeah, absolutely.
There's always these stories, and when I, probably like everybody, you get into a song and you start going down the internet wormhole researching all this shit. And apparent Tupac's favorite song. The weekend that he tragically was shot and died, that's all he was listening to in the car over and over again. Do you remember that song, "Blackberry Molasses."
Oh absolutely. That's one of my favorites, man.
That's one of my favorites.
Bobby Valentina was in Mista and he become ...
But Organized Noise, man. Geniuses.
Without a doubt. Throw that word around, but it's not many of us.
It's true. It's true. Another thing that ... There's all these moments that obviously, that you or your work or Outkast was somewhere. I almost could chart my life at different records that you put out. But I DJed the 2004 Grammy party that you had. The big one in LA. Do you remember the huge one when you won Album of the Year? It was in this huge mansion.
Yeah. Yeah. They had the casino set up in there and I remember Mista being there.
Yep. Yep. That's the night that they did a Punk'd episode on us.
Did they really? I never saw that. What was that?
It was like that's when the Maybachs first came out and so Mercedes gave us two Maybachs for the awards and all that. I had a brown one and Dre had a black one. Nobody had the car. And Ashton Kucher, they got us good. They set it up. They made it seem like one of our drivers ... They had Maybach crash through a store window. And Ashton Kucher say he sold it. He had the helicopters in the sky and everything. And we was going, "What the fuck?" Then we was about to fight the driver. It was crazy. It was like a wild episode of Punk'd. There was so many curse words in that shit, man.
Wait on the night that you've just won Album of the Year? On the day, on the way to the Grammys?
After we left the party, they Punk'd us.
That's actually disrespectful. I mean, I know it's funny and but I just ... On one of the most, I don't know, celebrated nights, it's like ...
Yeah, they did it. They did, they did it. Because that was the only way they got us, you know what I'm saying? Because it was so believable.
Yeah. And then how long did it take you to forgive them for that? Or were you kind of just instantly like, "Okay, haha." Like what?
No, we just kind of was like, "Oh they got us." You know what I mean? Yeah. Because it was quick.
It was quick.
They had some pretty good Punk'd. I forgot about that show sometimes. But that was sort of really ahead of the ... Because now everything's documented and there's the video... Everybody, whatever making a fool themselves. But this was like, it was kind of like ... Sometimes it was funny. The thing that I really remember about that Grammy party is because the DJ booth was in this big outdoor area. I can't even remember. It had like this big dome over it. I could see the moment because obviously the artists always come later. The party's packed and popping and we probably played "The Way You Move" 18 times at that point. But I saw the moment where you walked into the crowd for the first time, because it was your night. It was like the seas parted. There was such an excitement because obviously everybody's waiting for the guests of honor to show. But I don't know, do you remember anything about that night? Is it a blur? Does it seem like a dream? I mean obviously you had a lot of ilestones.
It seemed like a dream, but it was great because me and Dre both flew about 30 members of our family each out there and we took over this hotel out there. And so I had my grandmas, my aunts and my uncles and my grandma, she had never flown before. They had to do like Mr. T on the A Team, give her a tranquilizer. Get on the airplane man and just for our mothers and everybody to be in the audience it was ... You can't beat that shit.
Yeah. It was such an incredible year because it was "Speakerboxxx," "Love Below," "The Way You Move" and "Crazy in Love." I think Rich Harrison who produced "Crazy in Love," who produced so many great bangers. I remember him walking in to the party, but you know, he's a producer. People aren't going to recognize guys like that, but there was like a vibe and everybody was like, "Hey man." But then you guys, when you came in, it was just like ... And I'm sure we just throw on the way you move, like right at that thing. And I'm very embarrassed to say, but I got very drunk that night at the end of my set, because I think another DJ, Goldfinger or somebody finished the set. And I was just leaning over the balcony. The valet was bringing people's cars, and I just kept singing, "You like the way I move. You like the way ..." Anyway, I'm sorry to disrespect your song like that.
No man. It's all good brother.
I'm back in my old studio in New York. And when I moved in here, there was just a plaque on one of the doors that's a storage closet, that says the boom boom room. I never really thought about it because it was just always called the boom boom room. And now that word has become like a part of the cultural dictionary, but did you actually invent the term? Like did you bring that term into existence with that MTV craze? I was trying to figure it out.
I think I did.
Did you get it from somebody else or did you just remember like, "No, we're going to call this the boom boom room."
We just like, We're going to call it the boom boom room."
I just built another whole wing to my house just to do that. Pool and the aquarium and it's crazy. Fun fact. I still own that house and I'm about to put that one ... I've been remodeling that one. That was going to be on Airbnb shortly too. Okay. So with the pool and all that shit.
Because that was your old house. That's actually where you lived. That wasn't a studio.
Yeah it's crazy. Becuse you know, if you had trademarked that term ... There's a nightclub in New York called The Boom Boom Room.
It's pretty nice. Yeah.
It's all right.
It sounds like you have a healthy ... You're like if I work now, it's for fun.
Yeah. It's recreational man. It's no pressure. It's just, you know, trying to create the perfect groove. I want something that's going to excite me. You know what I mean? Make you want to rhyme and make you want to write like this. It's got to be that.
I mean, this is something that a lot of your peers and people ... Artists that we all love have fallen into this thing of like trying to chase ghosts, the ghosts of success. I'm not going to name any names, but like people are just continually doing records as they get older with whoever the youngest hottest person is, just to kind of keep a foothold. I think there's a little bit of a desperation on that. I'm not going to knock anybody else's hustle, but you seem to have just this healthy thing with it. Like yes, I've made records. I've set records. Like there's, there's I'm just going to make the shit that makes me excited at this point
Yeah, exactly. I mean, people ask,"Who's on the album The Big Sleepover?" I'm like "Uh, shit, Killer Mike."
And then Killer Mike is on like three songs. That's about it.
And that's the main thing that you're working on right now when you're go in the studio.
It's done. It's done.
It's coming very soon.
Yeah. You could tell. Sorry. I usually someone would tell me like, "Hey, he's dropping an album. You might want to ask him about that." But I apologize for not knowing that.
I'm going to drop that bitch out of the blue. It's cut. It was done.
Like I can't wait. I mean, honestly I just ... It really is like ... Like anyone who loves music, I could just chart my fucking different points in my life from like the first time I took ATLiens out and put it on the fucking turntable and like, probably didn't even understand it at that point as like a, whatever 19. It blows my mind as well sometimes when I remember that you guys were like 15, 20, 25, like dropping those records. Everything was so fully realized. You were kids, essentially.
Yeah man. It's it is definitely a gift, man.
You know, we were put here for a reason and like you said, I get that a lot. Like when people say the soundtrack to their lives, that's what you want to hear. You know what I mean?
I mean moments, moments.
Moments. Exactly. Well, thank you for talking to me today and thank you for all the moments and I can't wait for The Big Sleepover.
Appreciate it, man.
Thank you for everything.
Yeah, you too. And if you got some stuff, man, you got to send me some stuff, man. We ain't doing nothing yet, you know.
I would love to. I would love to. Should I just ...
Go, go in your bag? Yeah. Go in your bag. Go in your bag, man.
Just got to be something else. You know what I mean? You got it. You definitely got it.
You got it. It'll be the shit that you'll be like, "Eh, no." That'd be the shit that I'll pick.
Okay. I'm going to go. I'm I'm going to go. I have a job this afternoon now.
Yes, sir, man. Appreciate it brother.
Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
All right. Thanks.
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