Music

Big Boi Would Like You to Call His Music “Timeless Classics,” Thank You Very Much

The OutKast star and his collaborator Sleepy Brown tell us the right way to talk about their new album.

Big Boi and Sleepy Brown perform onstage.
Big Boi and Sleepy Brown perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 2019. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Antwan Patton doesn’t stop. It’s been about three decades since he formed the Georgia rap duo OutKast with his high school friend André Benjamin—aka André 3000, or Three Stacks, or Dookieblossumgame III—and assumed the stage name of Big Boi. Together, Big and Dré transformed the sounds and symbols of hip-hop forever, incorporating funk and drum-and-bass and psychedelic rock into the futuristic beats underlying their tongue-twisting rhymes. The pair also helped elevate Southern sonics and slang, in an era when the region was dismissed by the East and West coasts, and brought many of the creatives of the legendary Dungeon Family collective to the fore: production powerhouse Organized Noize, rapper-singer crew Goodie Mob, and supergroup Purple Ribbon All-Stars, the latter of which paved the way for the solo successes of Killer Mike and Janelle Monaé. Today, not only does the South got something to say, it also runs the 21st century rap scene. Atlanta trap music, which took cues from the Dungeon Family, blew up in the early 2000s and solidified its canonical position in the following decade, as artists like Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Young Thug, and Migos showed off their unique styles. And that’s not to mention Future, who also got his start with Dungeon Family and has kept up a decadelong streak of massively influential mixtapes and LPs.

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But what now of the icons partly responsible for this? OutKast has not released an album together since 2006’s Idlewild, and even though there was a reunion tour in 2014, it’s long been apparent that Big and Dré are unlikely to bring back ’Kast anytime soon. Still, the two remain friends—recently spotted together at an Oregon Ducks game to support Big’s son, a member of the team—and have embarked upon separate, remarkable solo careers. André, of course, gives out the occasional mind-blowing guest verse, stars in movies and TV shows, and sometimes plays a wooden flute in the Los Angeles airport, as one does. Big has been more prolific on the recording front, releasing acclaimed full-length projects and working with out-of-left-field artists like Phantogram and Little Dragon, along with Southern legends like Ludacris and Currensy.

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One longtime collaborator has been by Big’s side throughout: Sleepy Brown, a member of Organized Noize who also became one of OutKast’s go-to hook guys—it’s his singing voice you hear on “So Fresh, So Clean” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” among others. This Friday, Dec. 10, Big Boi and Sleepy Brown are dropping a new album together titled The Big Sleepover; to mark the occasion, I spoke with Big and Sleep, as they both preferred to be called, over Zoom this week to discuss their latest collab, their creative process, and Big’s long-rumored song with his favorite artist, Kate Bush. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Nitish Pahwa: The name of the record is The Big Sleepover, which obviously ties into both your stage names but also—you’ve said this in other interviews, Big—about waking up in the midst of our moment. Is there another tie here, to the title of the classic noir The Big Sleep?

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Big Boi: Absolutely not. It’s Big Boi and Sleepy Brown, The Big Sleepover. Know what I’m talking about? Opposite of a slumber party, man. Wake them up.

Sleepy Brown: We will have slumber parties, though.

Big Boi: This is all about the spreading of the positive vibrations, you know? Music is supposed to uplift and enlighten, and that’s what we’re here to do.

You’ve talked about how the album was inspired by both of you going on tours and performing older hits like “The Way You Move,” and seeing the big audience reaction—

Big Boi: You mean timeless classics?

Sleepy Brown: Timeless classics. Yeah.

Big Boi: Yeah, you said “older hits.” What is that?

Oh, I’m sorry! I did not mean to disrespect the music.

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Big Boi: Oh, no, no, no, no. All good.

But like you said, you were inspired by performing these classics and seeing the big audience reactions. Was part of the goal with this new album to try to evoke the sounds of the classics? To bring people back?

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Big Boi: As a crew that’s doing music, we always try to bridge the gap between generations. So I think it’s the same thing: It’s bridging that gap between young and older. We always call our music “family reunion music,” because it’s the kind of thing you would play at a family reunion and everybody dance to it.

Sleep, are we going to get a solo record from you at any point?

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Sleepy Brown: Yes, sir. Definitely will. Very excited about it. I know for a fact that’s exactly what’s going to happen after Big Sleepover. Definitely we’ll both be doing solo records and then probably hitting the road again, because I’m always going to be on the road.

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I assume that you’d both be working with each other on those respective solo albums?

Big Boi: We’re going to work with each other to the end of time.

Sleepy Brown: To the end, man. We always work with each other. That’s not going to stop.

Big Boi: Nope.

Sleepy Brown: It’s just deciding where the record gonna go. That’s all.

I know The Big Sleepover had been in the works for a while. Did you start working on this album right after Boomiverse, Big’s last full-length solo project, came out in 2017?

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Big Boi: It was maybe a couple of years in the making, just from being on the road and vibing. There’s a plethora of beats that we got stored. Being on a tour bus and riding and listening to beats, we like, “Hey, let’s get that one. Let’s get this one. Let’s get that one.” And just after a while, to have one cohesive project together was the goal.

I know that the pandemic delayed the release and rollout of the album. Did you make any big changes to it in the meantime?

Big Boi: Nope. It was done before everything happened. We ain’t had to go back, we ain’t had to tweak shit, we ain’t had to do nothing. As far as the grooves and the subject matter, it was what it was before this even happened. When you ahead of your time, man, you got time.

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Organized Noize—Sleep’s group—is big part of this album, along with Calvo Da Gr8 and people from Big’s Boom Boom Room Productions. What was it like bringing all those production groups together in crafting the sound of this record?

Big Boi: It’s just natural progression, you know? They’re like professors putting the test together. The beats are the tests, and we, being writers and singers and funkateers, are the students, and we just have to ace the test. It worked out great, for sure. We always pick the beats that nobody else pick, you know what I mean? It’s always the shit that nobody gets. The ones that we want or pick out, are the ones that people just gloss over. We don’t want the same beats that everybody else got. We want that other shit.

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Had a lot of these beats been run by other rappers or other artists before you decided to use them?

Sleepy Brown: I think a lot of the beats, Big had for a while. A lot of producers will give Big a lot of stuff, and on the tour bus, traveling from city to city, he’ll just let the playlist play. We’ll just vibe out, and whichever one catches our ear the most, we’ll go back to it or mark that one and keep on going and listening. A lot of beats were especially made for this group, like “Baller.” With this album, we worked with a lot of producers after we heard their stuff and really, truly liked it.

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Big Boi: In the playlist, I might have 500 to 1,000 beats from 10, 15 years back. Some songs sit and marinate. Like the beat for “Can’t Fall Asleep”—I had that before I even did Boomiverse, but it wasn’t time. So certain things, we put in the pot and let it marinate, and years down the line it sounds different. Even the beat for “The Way You Move,” I had that for four or five years before I even put something on it and brought Sleepy in. So it’s all about time, and it’s about the vibe and whatever your perception is at the time. There’s no shortage of sound. Just got to get your ass behind that. I got damn bored, and inked them lyrics. That’s the hard part.

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Is the writing process different at all from what it was in the past for OutKast and Dungeon Family and Organized Noize works?

Sleepy Brown: I approach [writing] with the same mindset. But I think I’ve gotten a little faster with it, after I’ve been doing it so many years, especially with somebody that you vibe so well with. I could sit by Big, and Big be like, “OK, this the vibe.” I’m like, “OK,” and I’m sitting up, and then I hit that vibe real quick. With other people I probably don’t write that fast.

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Big Boi: As far as with me, the challenge is to not be repetitive of things that you’ve recorded in the past. You got to push yourself. I don’t want the same pattern, the same cadence, the same melody. Every verse got to sound different on the album. Everything got to be its own thing. For me, it might take me a day to write, or it might take three, four, five months to finish a verse. I might do half the verse and come back, jump on another song, and then come back, and feel the rest of it out. It’s like you’re building a house and you’re working on the bathroom and the kitchen and the garage and all that shit at the same time.

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Big, I have to ask about this: We’ve gotten some confirmation recently on your collaboration with Kate Bush, which has been a long time coming. Any more updates on that?

Big Boi: Yeah. The update says, “You go get this Big Sleepover album, and it’s like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. That’s going to unlock the map.” I ain’t give no more shit until y’all go get this motherfucker right here and live with it, rock with it, and then it’s going to unlock the map.

Do you have any final words you’d like to say for fans and listeners about the new record?

Big Boi: Yeah. Stank you smelly much. It’s been a while, I know they’ve been waiting on it. We’ve been teasing it. Now you can have all the songs together and ride it from top to bottom, man. Enjoy, and we’ll see you out the road soon. And remember, you want that Kate Bush record? Go ahead and stream the fuck out this motherfucker, do what you got to do. And they going to unlock the map. They going to turn the little Mario to a big Luigi.

Sleepy Brown: We excited, man. We can’t wait. Everybody get out there and just play that album when you cleaning up the house, play that album when you ride around, you know what I’m saying? Enjoy the whole thing, because it’s going to take you on a nice little journey. Some great sounds, great pleasure.

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