Big Boi Is Not Too Artsy

After endless clashes and delays, the OutKast rapper's triumphant solo album emerges at last

Big Boi's Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is out this week. Seriously. You can hear it and buy it and everything. For nearly four years, that sentence has scanned as science fiction, with the deified Atlanta rapper and OutKast co-founder—who, alongside his flamboyant cohort André 3000, has sold millions of records and topped dozens of critics' polls—plagued by delay after delay, leaked track after leaked track, locked in a prolonged creative-differences battle with his then-label, Jive, that never seemed to make sense given his stature and track record. He deserved better, and so did his increasingly impatient legions of fans.

Finally, earlier this year, he split from Jive and jumped to the evidently far more receptive Def Jam, which let him finish Sir Lucious in relative peace. The resulting, mercifully final product is, as you might have suspected all along, fantastic, by turns triumphant, defiant, and gleefully crass. (You will learn what a "David Blaine" is, for example.) From tracks you might have already heard (the gorgeous, hilariously appropriate "Shine Blockas," featuring a groaning Gucci Mane) to newer works (the surly "You Ain't No DJ," produced by André 3000, otherwise barred by Jive from appearing here), it feels triumphant and relieved and epic even if you discount the tortured backstory. Recently, I chatted with Big Boi on the phone about his clash with Jive, his hopes for OutKast's (and his) future, and why he's not a man to be fucked with. Here are some excerpts.

I can't imagine how you must feel, to finally have this record come out, to have people finally hear it. I mean, yeah, I feel really good. My whole thing was I just wanted as many people to hear it as possible. Just continuing to make funky rhymes and music that the fans can dig for years to come. To work on something for three and a half years—it's definitely, definitely, definitely exciting.

How different is the final product from what you initially imagined three and a half years ago? How has it evolved through the course of all these difficulties? It's pretty much the same. I used the same core songs that I've been recording. I could have been done like a year or year and a half ago, but, you know, due to creative differences at Jive, I kept recording and tweaking the songs until I got on Def Jam, to get a full release together. It would have sounded pretty much the same. I only added like two new records, and that's "Be Still" and "You Ain't No DJ."

What were those creative differences? What was the argument you were having with Jive? What did they want? Uh, they told me my album was too artsy—it was a piece of art. Too artsy.

Too artsy. Yeah. Too artsy.

And how did you feel about that? It was a slap in the face, for them to come and try to dictate to me how to make music. I've been doing this for a minute, I trust my judgment, I knew the songs were jamming. And they wanted me to conform to what was on the radio and try to make songs for the radio, and that's not how I do it.

It's shocking to people, I think, that this could happen to you—that even someone so successful could be so frequently pushed back like that. Did you ever feel like just throwing copies of Stankonia or Speakerboxxx on whoever's desk and shouting, "This is my track record—now put out my fucking album"? You know, I just had the conversation. I just was like, "I've sold more records than any artist you have over here that's a producer or artist. I wanna make music, and if you don't like it, I think we need to part ways." They did the honorable thing and let me go, which was great, because I don't think I would've gotten the proper push if I had been over there—they don't want original, artistic music.

What did they want instead? Like you say, just whatever was on the radio? Yeah, they told me to go in and make my own version of Lil Wayne's "Lollipop." Uh. Yeah. That's—yeah. Right. I mean, I love that song, but how are you going to tell me to go copy somebody else's record?

So you never seriously entertained that notion? Fuck, no.

What's changed now that you're on Def Jam, besides their actually putting the record out? Just being back with L.A. Reid, you know. He started me and Dre's careers. He definitely gives me the creative freedom to make the music, and he trusts my judgment. I gave him an album full of bangers, and he loved 'em. He got behind me 100 percent. It's like being on a real label again.

There's been a slow trickle of prospective singles over the past few years: "Ringtone" and "Royal Flush" and "Dubbz." Did those not make the final, official tracklist because they'd been out a little too long? No, they were kind of like teasers almost, just to quench the thirst of the fans. I did "Sumthin's Gotta Give" to get people to the election, and I put out "Royal Flush" just for the fans because they hadn't heard me and Dre together in so long. These were songs that I was putting out on my own. "Theme Song" was another record that I put out just to kind of give 'em a different taste of what was happening, to quench the thirst of the listener and let 'em know that I'm still at work. Those songs weren't really planned to be on there. I did keep "Theme Song" for the deluxe version of the album, because it was one of the bangers that got over a million plays on MySpace. People loved that record—it was requested for that to be on the side, so I added that little bonus on there.

You say "Sumthin's Gotta Give" was tied specifically to the election—two years later, how do you think Obama's doing? Umm . . . umm . . . about the same. Things are about the same. Everything's the same.

Which is a bad thing, obviously, in some ways. Right. Yeah.

So, just to clarify: André isn't on this record because Jive is opposed to him being on the record? Yes. He appears on the record as a producer, but the songs that we cut, like "Lookin' for You"—Jive wouldn't let him be on the album, which, to me, is a damper for the OutKast fans. But to them, they're looking more on the business side. They didn't want any songs that had both of us to appear on my record. It's just red tape and label politricks—that's what's fucking music up today, stuff like that.

So is OutKast under contract with Jive? Or how does that even work? Yes, yes. We're still under contract with Jive as OutKast. We are signed to Jive as OutKast. Dre's over there as a solo artist, and I have a three-album deal with Def Jam, so thank God for that.

Just bottom line: What are the chances of a full OutKast record, percentage-wise, in the next five years? Definitely, that's the plan, to make an OutKast record. After I do my solo and Dre does his solo, we're going to do an OutKast record, but there are going to have to be some changes over at Jive. There's gotta be some respect for the music.

You consistently have some of the best nicknames in hip-hop, most of which are here as song titles: "General Patton," "Daddy Fat Sax," even "Lucious Left Foot." Where do you get them? Are yours self-anointed? Yes, most definitely. Just being out on the road throughout the years, me and Dre just kind of fuckin' around on the bus and the hotels and stuff, we just call ourselves different names to describe, I guess, different personalities, different emotions, different ways of feeling that particular day. Lucious Left Foot is actually like my Luke-Skywalker-becoming-a-Jedi persona. Like, I'm just really serious about my craft, I've mastered it, and I'm very skilled at it, and I take pride in making this music.

There are guests on nearly every track here. . . . Do you work better when you have people to play off? I can't listen to a whole album with just my voice on it—I get bored. So I bring somebody in to break it up a little bit, to add flavor. I'm used to being in a group anyway. I just couldn't listen to a whole album of just my voice. I couldn't, not me. So I bring other artists into my world, and we funk it out.

Is George Clinton, in person, as completely spaced out as most people assume he would be? Yup, he's out of this world. He's the grandfather of funk, and he lives up to it. Very cool guy. I had a chance to work with him back on the song "Synthesizer," and ever since then, he's just been really cool. When I called him to do "For Your Sorrows," he was really crunk about doing it, and he laid it down. Very animated. Can't get more funky than George.

It's always surprising to hear you address haters or enemies on your tracks. . . . I would think everyone universally reveres you. Is there still something you have left to prove, or people to prove it to? No, I don't have nothing to prove to nobody. But there's haters all around the world. My thing is that I just let it be known that I'm not to be fucked with, period, and they know that. There's always going to be those that try to test. But before they even get to that point, you gotta let them know that there ain't nothin' happening.

What do you think of what's happened in hip-hop, even in the time you've been making this record? What do you think of Drake? It's cool, it's cool. He can sing. Yeah.

What do you have planned for after this record? Is it straight to OutKast, or is there something else? Yeah, the OutKast record, and my new record as well, the Daddy Fat Sax album, is next: Daddy Fat Sax: Soul Funk Crusader.

And how far into that are you? Maybe about six songs into it. Once you're in the zone and you're recording, you kind of, like, stay in the zone. I like to try to get all of my ideas down. So at the same time that I'm working on the OutKast material, I'll be working on that, too.

Well, it's probably too early to put a release date on that. Yeah, you know how people get when you give them the date early. They get antsy, waiting on that shit like tomorrow. I'm gonna let them soak this one up for a minute and discover some Lucious Left Foot, but at the same time—just keeping people up with my passion of making music and just really having fun with my craft. It's fun to discover that ultimate groove, to write the ultimate lyric and just have fun with music. That's what it's all about.

So you feel like you're still getting better? Oh, hell yeah. Oh, hell yeah. That's my curse: trying to outdo the last verse that I burst—that's my curse. Challenging yourself to do better. As we all should.

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

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