April 24-- Unlike Andre 3000, who recently declared himself "all over the place," said he "never went on dates" and didn't want to "meet anybody's parents," Big Boi has a foundation. He had a serious girlfriend and a kid at 19, just as OutKast, his Atlanta hip-hop duo, was taking off in the mid-'90s. "It caused me to grow up and mature. I had to think about more than just myself," says the rapper born Antwan Patton. "Having a family has kept me from just being super-wild. After a show, I'd catch the first flight home, and take my kids to school. Leaving the studio, it's 4 in the morning, my kids need milk and Fruity Pebbles or whatever. I was Daddy first."
His work paid off on both fronts_two of his kids graduated from college and another son recently graduated from high school, and he has spent the past few years spinning off a lucrative solo career. Early on, his solo albums, beginning with 2010's "Sir Lucious Left Foot ... the Return of Chico Dusty" seemed like throwbacks to an earlier, funkier hip-hop era, but listeners have gravitated to his music_"All Night," based on a killer ragtime piano riff, landed in Apple ads last year and is up to nearly 50 million Spotify streams. The piano-based theme continues on his new single "Doin' It," a collaboration with singer Patrick "Sleepy" Brown, part of Atlanta production group Organized Noise, which helped make OutKast famous in the '90s.
Patton, who wouldn't give his age ("S--! Forever 27. Handsome with a strong back"), took piano lessons as a kid and plays the instrument by ear. "I mean, you always use pianos," he says of both tracks. "Piano just has a certain soul to it. I tap-dance vocally over pianos."
"Doin' It" and the new "Return of the Dope Boi," featuring rapper Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, hint at what Big Boi's album with Brown might sound like when it comes out later this year. "It's jams like a (expletive)," he says, in a phone interview from Atlanta, where he's recording in OutKast's famous Stankonia Studios, as friends cackle in the background. "'Dope Boi' and 'Doin' It' were just little appetizers, some shrimp scampi with some garlic butter in your mouth."
In addition to making new music, Patton recently bought the Dungeon, a basement recording area that used belonged to the mother of Organized Noise's Rico Wade. He sees it as hallowed ground, a shambling, deliberately non-renovated space back then, with rappers and producers wandering in and out for weeks at a time, en route to making classic OutKast albums like 1994's "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" and 1998's "Aquemini." The day before the interview, his people installed a surveillance system and are planning to re-do the roof; they hope to classify the site as a historical monument and turn it into a Motown-style museum complete with tours.
The early days in the Dungeon, Big Boi recalls, were "spending the nights creating, with all my brothers in one house, sleeping on sleeping bags on the floor, and just coming into our talent."
OutKast formed in 1992, after Patton and Andre Benjamin competed against each other at rap battles near their high school outside Atlanta. Organized Noize, which had already worked with established pop stars such as TLC and Xscape, discovered the duo, helped make their albums and drilled them for future touring success, making Big Boi and Andre 3000 run around the block dozens of times while reciting lyrics. The group signed with LaFace Records, run by industry heavyweights Antonio "L.A." Reid and Babyface, and quickly scored the hit "Player's Ball."
"I didn't think it was happening super-fast, because to us it seemed like it was taking forever," Big Boi says. "But it was a process. This started with a lot of experimentation, and just being the best artist that you could be. Everything happened in due time."
Even after that first hit, and OutKast's 1994 debut album, Patton's mother pushed him towards academics. "My mom actually wouldn't sign my record deal until I graduated from high school," says Big Boi, who aspired to study child psychology at New York University until his music career took over. "I ended up graduating with a 3.68 (grade point average), and the rest is history."
OutKast has sporadically reunited over the years, most recently last May, when Patton's son Bamboo graduated from high school in Georgia. Its last major tour, mainly of festivals, including Coachella, reportedly earned millions of dollars for each date, but the group has not announced plans for a future tour. For now, Big Boi is content to make solo albums and tour with the Dungeon Family, including Brown, Organized Noize and OutKast contemporaries Goodie Mob. "It's fun to have that that Dungeon energy. It's a lot of laughs_there's a lot of comedians out here, man, and song ideas come up from just conversation and the slick s-_ we say," he says. "The camp is active and activated and we gonna get out here and get it to 'em."
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