There are few artists that have achieved the critical, commercial, and long-running success that Big Boi has. The kind of longevity that he’s enjoyed only comes from constantly evolving and working hard. It’s one of the reasons we jumped at the chance to speak to him ahead of his Australian tour. Calling in from his hometown Atlanta we talked to Big Boi about the continuation of his legacy, the new generation of hip-hop, and what makes a good investment outside of music. But first we had to wish him happy birthday.
Happy birthday for the other day!
Thanks man, appreciate it.
You played a pivotal role in the popularity of hip-hop from the South. Early in your career did you ever think music from the south would be embraced at this large of a scale?
We didn’t know. We were just in the moment, trying to make the best music we can make. To see where it is now is incredible. And I applaud everybody continuing the southern movement and keeping the music strong. Power in numbers.
As someone who has been creating rap music for more than 25 years, how do you feel about the current state of rap music?
It’s cool, it’s little bit of everything. I listen to a lot of the music. Not necessarily whole albums, but I keep my ear to the streets and stay hip to the new stuff.
Do the stylistic changes from the new generation ever influence you?
You watch the trends, but you never fall into it. I try to stay away from the things everybody else is doing—that’s always been the motto. That’s what Outkast was… always on the outskirts doing something else.
As hip-hop has evolved it seems like a lot of the rules that used to apply no longer exist, and younger artists have more freedom to experiment with their sound. Do you feel as if you played a role in this change?
Absolutely, I think we are definitely pioneers in everything we do. I think everybody is influenced by somebody and people just have to build off each other’s energy and tap into something else. You always have to save something for the new.
Rap, more than other genres, traditionally was always a young man’s game. And it seemed that artists wouldn’t maintain much of a career after their early 30s. Do you think as the genre has matured that this has changed?
Yeah, it’s improving. If you keep the music fresh and new, people are going to come to it. To have a career spanning 20-plus years is basically unheard of and I’m blessed for it. I never take it for granted and as long as I keep making music I am going to be responsible for making that new shit.
Is there a challenge for artists past a certain age to reach a younger audience throughout support on the radio?
Nope, because with the internet you can reach anybody. Not everything is dependent on radio anymore, you can make a song and put it out the same night through Soundcloud or social media. As long as the shit’s new and jammin’, they will come!
As someone who came into the game as a teenager, what is some advice you can offer to artists starting out today?
Don’t play it safe. Always evolve and always look for the new sound. Change and expand. And don’t be afraid to be something else.
I wanted to touch on to your hustle outside of your own music. Purple Ribbon Records is a venture of yours, is that something you’re still putting time into?
It’s about to be. I was really focusing on my solo career and pretty soon I will be on my own record label.
Is that exciting?
Very much so.
Do you have other artists on the record label’s line-up? I know you were working with Vonegutt and Killer Mike.
I have a new young singer named Malcolm White. He is the only artist that I’m really focused on right now with Purple Ribbon.
Is it better to have a limited roster that you can put all your energy behind?
Yeah, I don’t want to spread myself thin. When I put my time and energy into something I’m all in.
Do you have any other businesses outside of your recording career that you’re involved with?
My trailer company provides trailers for Hollywood actors on movie sets. I also have my sock line Left Foot by Big Boi, as well as the Big Boi Bobby Dog campaign, and the dog breeding kennel business that I run with my brother.
That’s quite a variety. How do you make decisions on what you get involved in as a businessman?
You just got to diversify. I’ve invested in a few tech companies as well. It’s important to spread out.
You’re touring extensively now with the current record, where’s your favourite place to visit?
I love going all around the place. The first time I came to Australia I loved it. The Gold Coast is beautiful and I look forward to coming down and rocking people with new music.
Are you still based in Atlanta?
Absolutely, ATL is where I’m at.
How much time do you spend at home compared to on the road?
60/40, with 60% on the road.
Are you able to travel with your family at this point?
When my kids are on break they come out to travel with my wife and I. I think my kids will be on Spring break when the tour comes around so I think I’m going to take them down to Australia because they’ve never been.
It must be a different dynamic and experience going from a young man on the road with no strings attached to now travelling with your kids.
Yeah it’s fun because they’re teenagers. We have a lot of fun.
When you’re on the road for an extensive amount of time, what do you miss about Atlanta the most?
My house (laughs). Being at home, my fish that I have, as well as my dog.
Do you have a big collection of fish?
Yeah, I got puffers and all sorts.
On Boomiverse, there’s some poignant references to social issues but for the most part it sounds like a party record. Do you think that’s an accurate description?
It’s a positive upbeat record. We try not to be preachy, but when you listen to the lyrics there’s sprinkles that will make the listener think things like, “Why you say that?” But at the same time, you’ve got to entertain as well. You just got to listen.
Can you pinpoint something off of Boomiverse that you feel is the strongest point of that record?
I think my favourite record might be ‘Overthunk’ with Eric Bellinger, because it’s kind of personal to me. It’s the jam and groove of it though over everything, Organized Noise really killed the production on that track.
How does it feel working with Organized Noise now after such an extensive history?
It’s better than ever. I have a history with the guys who put you on, and to still be able to work with them is great.
You’re a rarity in the sense of the longevity in your career. What do you think you’ve done that has allowed you to continue to be relevant and prolific over the years when others have failed to do the same?
You gotta’ stay evolving and don’t follow the trends. You can be aware of what’s going on but never follow it. Tap into new sounds, emotions, waves, and use your voice. That’s what keeps me inspired in music—finding songs like ‘Overthunk’ and ‘Kill Jill’, which are different, and just banging them out.