To hear Big Boi tell it, music these days is a beautiful thing — but it’s also a transaction.
At the core of our talk, in advance of the release of his second solo album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, is the idea that first and foremost Big Boi loves music. But he also treats it like a business. At this point in his career, he doesn’t need to make albums if people aren’t buying them. Just don’t come complaining to him when there’s no more good music.
“If you don’t buy records, then you’re gonna be stuck with bullshit records, ’cause I ain’t gonna keep giving you goddamn free-ass music,” he says about piracy concerns.
It sounds like tough love, but you can tell he’s (mostly) messing with you. Once he lists off all the different artists he’s into, spanning decades and genres, you know that “bullshit records” mostly refers to records that aren’t his. While he’s clearly done some thinking about the issue, Big Boi isn’t sweating it. “Some things you just can’t control. The economy is fucked up, and some people don’t have $9.99 or $13.99 to get a record. But hopefully they’ll do the right thing.”
Of course, while piracy has meant controversy for the music industry, there’s also the other side: We live in an era of unrivaled access to basically any music one could ever want.
For the new record, that means Big Boi (real name: Antwan André Patton) worked with some unlikely guests, a trend you can expect to continue.
It’s no surprise that fellow Atlanta artists Ludacris and T.I. show up on “In The A,” but the album also features indie bands like Little Dragon, Phantogram and Wavves — a reflection of the web’s connecting influence on broader groups of people. With Phantogram, for example, the musical relationship was born through social media.
“I actually got introduced to their music through a pop-up video ad, like, you know when you’re closing the screens out on the computer?” he says. “The ad pops up and it was a Phantogram song, ‘Mouthful of Diamonds.’ I actually Shazam’d it. On my bigboi.com website I made it my jam of the week, and then Sarah [Barthel] from Phantogram contacted me on Twitter. This is the beauty of social networking.”
From there, the two crossed paths while performing at Outside Lands in San Francisco. They spent seven days in Atlanta recording, a process that appears to have been fruitful. “There’s songs that we’ve done that y’all ain’t even heard yet. I’m 10 songs into my new record.”
When asked to rattle off some artists he’s discovered or been into lately, he opens an app and begins to list: Ornette, Sting, Norah Jones, Metallica, TV on the Radio, James Brown. He picks up steam: Billy Idol, SBTRKT, Nirvana, Bob Marley, Cypress Hill, Royksopp.
“I can go on and on and on,” he says with a hint of pride. “I listen to everything.”
Big Boi discovers new music via his favorite iPhone apps: Shazam, Soundhound and Songza. “When I’m on a flight and the plane lands and they’re playing music, I Shazam that shit,” he says. “Those are some of the best apps that are really pro-artists, because people can find your music. You might be in a restaurant, you just tap [one of those apps] and people can get turned on to your music.”
For him, it’s not the music that’s changed. It’s the process. “Now everything is so fast, it’s instant. I could create a song tonight in the studio and put it out tonight. And that shit would be over every newspaper, every blog. It would be all over the world in less than a matter of minutes,” he says.
Not that he needs blogs for help. Big Boi has become his own media company, steadily churning out content on platforms like YouTube and Soundcloud. But Big Boi that you see on Twitter and Instagram is all him, every day. “You’re more connected to the fans directly. Social media is where you have to be social.”