"Those are nice socks. Do you like colourful socks?" This is the first thing Big Boi says when we meet, eyeing up my (admittedly gorgeous) footwear.
A commonly held dream of the music journalist is that an artist will show up for an interview clutching your latest article, expressing love for your work. That’s not happened to me yet, but having my socks be the subject of sincere admiration is a fair alternative.
“If you want comfortable socks,” he continues – after a little back-and-forth on colour, pattern and origin (he favours American-made, I recommend Korean) – before dropping the hook on me: “I have a line of socks myself . . . The range is called Left Foot by Big Boi. You’ll love it, the designs are crazy.”
When I work on a record, I work on a whole bunch of songs at the one time"
As half of Outkast, one of the most revered and commercially successful hip-hop groups of all time, Antwan André "Big Boi" Patton has the presence of an expert salesman, born out of long experience of promoting himself and his ventures with the smooth hyperbole of a carnival barker. Sometimes this braggadocio is comically endearing, such as on Kill Jill, the lead single from his new album Boomiverse, on which the plaintively boastful refrain "They say it's lonely at the top, but it's the best s**t ever" forms a crucial part. When not repping specialist footwear, he's no less hyperbolic about the new record, his 12th whether solo or as part of a group.
"The Boomiverse is like the scientific concept of the big bang," he says at a listening event that precedes our interview. "It's what's left after the big boom," he says, implying that this release will have an effect on the musical landscape broadly similar to the emergence of all matter from one infinitesimal point of near infinite heat and mass.
Like superheated cosmic dust, hip-hop bangers also need time to settle. “Sometimes you gotta let them marinate, leave them simmer,” he says. “When I work on a record, I work on a whole bunch of songs at the one time. I might put a verse on one track and then move on to another. And when I go back and listen to the first, it’ll sound different to me – I hear something I didn’t hear before. And this can inspire a different type of bridge, or a whole new verse, something completely different; it’s always an ongoing process.”
Big Boi has been platinum since his teen years with Outkast. The duo put out six albums, selling 20 million records in the process. While his Outkast partner, Andre 3000, had the higher public stature and the more flamboyant bearing, Big Boi was always a critics' and fans' darling. While he couldn't match Andre in, say, his ability to dress like a fox hunter from The Jetsons, he more than made up for it with his polyrhythmic patter and elastic southern drawl.
"For me, the difference with Atlanta is that we work together. There's a certain sort of brotherhood, a pride"
Nowadays this earthy style defines a lot of modern rap, as Atlanta experiences a time of supremacy within the art form. Atlanta natives such as Migos, Gucci Mane, Lil Yachty and 21 Savage dominate the national stage, while Killer Mike has made Run the Jewels the biggest touring hip-hop group on earth. Elsewhere Janelle Monáe is an art-pop cause célèbre, while in 2016 Donald Glover's rap comedy drama Atlanta took the city as the setting for one of the year's best TV shows. How does Big Boi explain the cultural moment his hometown is experiencing right now?
“For me, the difference with Atlanta is that we work together. There’s a certain sort of brotherhood, a pride. None of that infighting you get elsewhere. The studios are in one sector of the city and, me having one myself, anyone can bump into anyone else, whether in the club or the studio or whatever and be like, ‘Hey man, we recording tonight’, and they’ll be like ‘Oh s**t, we’re coming through, then’. When you got people working together on their songs, and putting out the magnitude, the quality and volume of records from one place, you’re gonna get a lot of hits out of that. Because there are no egos; people just come in and wanna jam together.”
This even extends beyond this mortal coil, as Boomiverse features a posthumous collaboration with late UGK rapper Pimp C. "My man Cory Mo, who produced records for UGK, brought me Southern Anthem, the song with the Pimp C verse on it. It's got Gucci [Mane] on there, and then you got me with Pimp – it's like Clash of the Titans, three of the biggest voices from the south, and it is nasty, just hard-hitting, it beats like a motherf***er. And it's so funky. My man came in wilding on an electric guitar and that bassline dripping syrup on the track. That's what I call 'that elite street s**t'."
Sometimes this open-door policy can lead to moments of unexpected serendipity. "Certain things happen by chance," he says. "The Snoop collaboration on Get With It came about because he just happened to be in the studio when I first did that record two years ago. We listened and felt like this was some real west coast s**t. And it just so happened that when my deadline was creeping up, he came to the studio, blessed the track and killed it. That's how things turn about. Like Adam Levine, we got the same manager. He heard the record and was like 'Man, I have to play this for Adam, this is some danceable s**t, my guy might wanna get down'. Adam loved it and got on the track."
The music is never old – never! This music is actually far ahead of its time, because we do so much wild s**t"
Big Boi is adamant that his reputation makes the difference. “The music is organically created, never genetically modified, you know? People trust my judgment and the quality of music I put out, so people want to be a part of it.
“Nobody ever says no,” he says, before giving an artful example. “Killer Mike will come down, he’ll be on tour with Run the Jewels and he won’t even come home first, he’ll come by the studio, and whatever’s playing, he’ll be like ‘Mind if I try something?’ He writes really fast, and whatever it is, it’ll be banging. Me and him, we got a lot of stuff together, maybe 40 records waiting to come out of the vaults.”
In fact, Big Boi says he has so much extra material recorded, Boomiverse is merely the first part of a two-album work. "When I stop this record at last song with Currency and Killer Mike, it actually continues on. I could have kept the album playing a dozen more tracks and we'd have still been up there jamming to the party. But I had to stop it because this is Boomiverse Side 1, and y'all waiting for Side 2. Now, I don't know if Side 2 will be called Boomiverse 2 or something else, but it's coming."
Is there’s a risk that hoarding all those tunes could see them get old or dated in the meantime? Big Boi scoffs at this; he believes the reverse is more likely true. “Nah man, the music is never old – never! This music is actually far ahead of its time, because we do so much wild s**t. Some of these tracks are years old and, to be honest, I still feel like y’all ain’t ready for this s**t.”
- Boomiverse is out now on Epic Records