Big Boi talks Kate Bush, Chico Dusty, 'Rap Jedi School', and the timeline for a new OutKast album
Speed certainly isn’t a part of Antwan "Big Boi" Patton’s creative process. It’s been more than four years since Outkast, the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning group he co-founded with Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin, released an album, despite more than a few promises to fans.
It took almost as long for him to release his solo debut, “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty,” which came out July 6 on Def Jam Recordings.
But the wait -- mostly due to label drama -- was worth it, he said on Monday night at Los Angeles chapter of the Recording Academy, where he sat down for an interview with songwriter/producer Harvey Mason Jr. in which Patton discussed label politics, the birth and (highly anticipated) return of OutKast, and shared some surprising anecdotes about the life of Sir Lucious Left Foot.
Upon its release in July the record was critically hailed and remains one of the year's top-rated albums, according to Metacritic (Times pop critic Ann Powers gave the “pleasure cruise of an album” three-and-a-half out of four stars).
Below are a few highlights of the entertaining, insightful interview.
On getting a ‘kick’ of inspiration
Patton said it was his grandmother who got him into music. She would send him and his siblings to the store to buy 45s of soul classics (and cigarettes) on weekends. But it was an uncle who broadened his musical tastes when he introduced him to the music of British singer Kate Bush.
“[She] became my favorite artist of all time. Her and Bob Marley would tie for first. I used to listen to 'The Kick Inside' and 'Wuthering Heights' and 'This Woman’s Work' and just admiring the style of music she was making, from the production side of it to the lyrics,” he said. “It was kind of mind-blowing. I was like OK, I wanted to be like her. My thing was if [the music] was jamming, if it felt good [I liked it].”
Patton fondly remembers the early days of OutKast. After teaming with partner Benjamin in high school, the two needed a name. They settled on 2 Shades Deep with Patton as Black Dog and Benjamin as Black Wolf. The moniker didn't last long.
“In high school there was another group composed of members of [R&B group] Jagged Edge and a couple other people, called Four Shades Deep. We didn’t want to infringe on the name they stole from us,” he said, laughing. “We looked in the dictionary and we tried to get a word to describe what we wanted to be. First it was the Misfits and it was like ‘Oh man, somebody got that.’ We went down a little bit more and got to the O’s and saw 'outcast' and we thought, ‘That’s what we wanna be.’ We took the annunciation spelling and ran with it since then."
Black Dog turned into Big Boi because he was playing football in high school and was “really into apple pies and ice cream.”
The two eventually met production team Organized Noise, and alongside Cee-Lo and the rest of Goodie Mob formed the collective known as the Dungeon Family -- a nod to the basement studio where they did their early recordings. “We all lived in one house eating off of one plate. It was a real brotherhood,” he recalls. “It was like a real rap Jedi school.”
After a few ill-fated attempts at convincing label head L.A. Reid of their star potential, a young Outkast finally proved themselves at a showcase -- this of course after getting their start on public access television doing shows. Patton is the first to admit they weren’t well received at all.
“The worst thing you could tell us, because we were so determined and believed in ourselves, was ‘You’re not good enough,’” he said of the struggle to prove Reid wrong, which they eventually did -- even if he demanded they first contribute to the “La Face Family Christmas Album.” (As cheesy as they thought the assignment was, it nabbed them their first No. 1 Billboard rap single, “Players Ball.”)
While Sir Lucious Left Foot is one of the rapper's many titles, Chico Dusty is actually a nod to his father, who passed away before Patton started recording the project.
“Chico Dusty is my father. It’s an ode to my dad, like a legend. He was a military guy, tough character. Chico Dusty is my father being in my life but him and my mom not being together but still giving me the values of being a responsible man and parent, and I always respected him for that. That was a nod to him,” Patton said. “The whole Sir Lucious [part] is me and Dre decided to knight ourselves some years ago in the forest ... he is Sir Benjamin Andre and I’m Sir Lucious Leftfoot. The way to describe it is when Luke Skywalker became a Jedi. You get to a certain point where you’ve mastered your craft and you truly are unstoppable. That’s the graduation period.”
The project had a hard time when it came to release dates. During the conversation, Patton never shielded his contempt of the process, and acknowledges that label hiccups -- including a reported attempt from Jive to block its release -- weighed down the project.
“[It took] 40 months, but I could have been done in a year and a half, two years. OutKast is signed to Jive Records. The type of music that we make, they don’t really understand. They were telling me the songs were too artsy and too different,” he said.
He was surprised at the reaction from the label head when he played him some tracks.
"He’s like, 'Why don’t you think of making your version of Lil Wayne’s "Lollipop"? Which I love "Lollipop," the record is dope, but when he said that, I was like, 'I don’t know if this is where I need to be. It was a lot of back and forth. I tip my hat off for letting them go back to L.A. Reid and doing what I wanted to do."
The (legally blocked) return of OutKast
During the recording process of the album, Patton teamed up with his partner in rhyme Benjamin for a slew of tracks. When Patton went to Def Jam as a solo artist, Jive ultimately didn’t allow the tracks “Lookin’ 4 Ya” and “Royal Flush,” which both have verses from Benjamin, to be featured on the record. The latter track, in fact, landed a Grammy nomination for them despite not getting a proper release. Patton coyly explained what happened.
“They wouldn’t let me put on the album. But somehow it ended up on the Internet. I was happy, the fans wanted some new music. It’s like a music fairy somewhere that’s on the sides of the fans, [the tracks were] mixed and everything,” he laughed. “The only thing I would have changed [about ‘Sir Lucious’] was if I could have put 'Royal Flush' and 'Lookin’ 4 Ya' on the record. But they can be downloaded on the internet for free.”
Patton even had the sequence ready.
“‘Lookin’ 4 Ya’ comes after ‘Hustleblood’ and ‘Royal Flush’ is the absolute last song on the album because I wanted Dre to have the last word,” he said.
Sadly, fans of Outkast will have to wait just a little longer for a new album, but Patton promises it will be released after Benjamin releases his solo album. In the meantime, the artist known as Big Boi is planning another solo release, tentatively titled, “Daddy Fat Sacks: Soul Funk Crusader” as part of the three-album deal he inked with Def Jam.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Big Boi. Credit: Jessica McGowan / For The Times