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It’s A Dungeon Family Affair: Free-Fallin’ With Big Boi And Little Dragon

By Kevin Friedman on March 27, 2013


It’s A Dungeon Family Affair: Free-Fallin’ With Big Boi And Little Dragon


One’s first thoughts for guests on a Big Boi solo album might not include a Swedish indie-electro band, but Big Boi isn’t about expectations, he’s about music—a subject about which his knowledge is vast. So it happens that this unabashed Kate Bush fan from Atlanta enlisted Sweden’s Little Dragon to trade verses with him on his latest project, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, a magnum opus of 17 tracks spanning everything from dirty Southern krunk to space-age electro pop.


Long considered the more grounded in the traditions of hip-hop of the two members of Outkast, Vicious Lies proves that Big Boi, too, is an eager adventurer and that his and André 3000’s Stankonia studio home is an ever-expanding universe where either of its overlords is apt to summon unsuspecting visitors for extended intervals of musical free fallin’—a time-defying period of general debauchery used as the inspiration for Big’s new Little Dragon collaboration, “Thom Pettie.”


The appearances by big-name rappers like Ludacris and T.I. as well as a handful of Big Boi’s Dungeon Family members are de rigueur, and, as a result, somewhat unremarkable, but the inclusion of Little Dragon, as well as the indie duo Phantogram and fuzz-punkers Wavves—groups outside of hip-hop’s ordinary orbit—is what transports Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors to another dimension. 


Fronted by Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon, in various configurations, has made appearances on albums by Gorillaz, DJ Shadow and Raphael Saadiq, aside from their own three full-lengths. Their sound is relatively stark, yet an emotional weight is found in Nagano’s soulful incantations, which add warmth to the icy sonic background.


For those concerned about Big Boi and André 3000’s increased independence, take heart in knowing that the two still share Stankonia, and even though they’re focused more now on their respective solo careers, there has been no official closure from the Outkast camp. (“It's in the hands of the abyss,” says Big Boi. “You never know.”) Their forays into different realms of the sonic universe can be attributed more to the natural explorations of two creative expeditionists rather than a Lennon-and-McCartney-like rift. In fact, it was André 3000 who turned Big Boi on to Little Dragon.


The Swedes spent a week in Stankonia, immersed in Big Boi’s world, alternating time devoted to working, free-fallin’ and, under Big’s strict tutelage, even learning how to bowl. Ultimately, their contributions resulted in three songs on the final release: “Thom Pettie,” “Descending” and “Higher Res”—though there is an original version floating around the Internet of Yukimi singing the Kelly Rowland part on the album’s first single, “Mama Told Me,” that remains a cultish gem.


Throughout the record, Big Boi repeatedly uses family as a touchstone. The title is a reference to his grandmother, a major musical influence who introduced him to acts like Parliament-Funkadelic, and stated that if she were to write a memoir, it would be called “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.” The lead single may be the unabashedly poppy “Mama Told Me,” but the most introspective and emotionally resonant track is “Descending,” on which Big Boi laments the death of his father.


For Big Boi, family is everything, but it isn’t limited to blood—it involves everyone he lets in under his umbrella of creation. While Sweden may seem as distant from Atlanta as Tatooine is from Earth, Big now considers Little Dragon family, too. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is the soundtrack to the family reunion that we’d all love to attend. For a taste, we got Big Boi on the horn with Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano and drummer Erik Bodin for a long-distance catch-up. It might be a bit of a smörgåsbord, but after all, that’s just another word for home cooking in Sweden.

When you worked together on the album, were you able to do the work in person or were you forced to trade tapes overseas?


BIG BOI: Little Dragon came to Stankonia for a day or so, then came back for a week. It was definitely live, in person. We had a good time. We went bowling and such. 


Was that the first time you’d met? How did you end up working together?


YUKIMI: We met in Austin the first time for some festival about two years ago.


BIG BOI: My godbrother Trevor, aka “The Pimp,” hooked us up in a hotel down there in Austin. We kicked it and just talked for a bit and then we ended up hooking up at Stankonia and it worked out great.

Whose idea was it? 


YUKIMI: I heard in some interviews that Big liked our song “Twice” and that was huge for us. We were all super excited about that: “Oh my god! Big loves our song!” We have tons of respect for him and it was amazing that he liked our music. So it was a mutual thing.


Big, when did you first hear Little Dragon?


BIG BOI: I was at Dré’s house, André 3000. We were just going through music and he was showing me stuff he was listening to and one of them happened to be Little Dragon. I really liked the vocals on “Little Man” and “Sunshine.” I was like, “Man!” Then Trevor put us in touch. It just all happened by chance and was all very organically created. Nothing genetically modified. 


Tell me about how you put together the tracks and lyrics.


BIG BOI: The first time, they brought tracks they were producing and we marinated with those for a little bit. Then I let Yukimi hear “Mama Told Me” and she jumped on it and killed it. Then the next time when Erik and Yukimi came back in the studio, we were just vibing out to different things, messing with different beats and songs and would record from there. Everything she jumped on just sounded magically delicious. 


YUKIMI: It was very collaborative. Just feeling the vibe and listening; writing there in Stankonia; trying things out and experimenting; recording it, seeing if it was something. It turned out really good. 


Let’s talk about a few of the tracks you collaborated on, like “Thom Pettie.” Can you fill us in on what that means?


BIG BOI: It’s really just a saying. You know the song, “Free Fallin’”? That means, like, you leave the house at night, you don’t know where you gonna wake up in the morning. When you “Thom Pettied it,” you went out all night, you don’t know what’s gonna happen. It’s like The Hangover almost. When you wake up, you’re like, “How the fuck did I get here?” You Thom Pettied it all night. You’re free-fallin’. 


So, Yukimi, did you just come up with something to sing on top of it?


YUKIMI: I was just vibing on the lyrics and taking inspiration from them. He writes very abstractly, so that’s what I was thinking.

BIG BOI: The song started out as just the interlude. It was so dope. I had some guys come in from Texas and we started putting lyrics on it at night. Yukimi was in there while I was writing it. We collaborated on the whole song. Erik got in on the drums and was killing it. And Yukimi came in and put the bridge on it. The stupid booty bridge, shorty! That’s how some of the best music is created. 

On another track you collaborated on, “Descending,” there are references to Big Boi’s father, and it seems like your family is really influential throughout this album. Could you both discuss the influence of family on this track and project?


BIG BOI: I just write about my life. It’s like self-medicating, to get that emotion out on tape. I lost my grandparents and my father. It’s part of my healing process. I’m glad Yukimi came in for that one. It’s my favorite song on the whole album. It’s closest and near and dear to my heart.


YUKIMI: While I wasn’t really aware of the details of what Big was saying in the song, the emotion was there. Sometimes you don’t need to know exactly every thought behind what someone is saying. You should know it anyway. I think that song has that kind of vibe. You could feel the emotion in the singing. That was there. We fed off each other that way.


BIG BOI: I’m family-oriented. Family plays a major part in my life, so it’s going to be expressed in the music. I’ve always been taught: family first. I’m the oldest of five kids so I was taught leadership skills early. You’ve got to respect family because at the end of the day, that’s all you’re gonna have.


ERIK: I agree, but in a band, when you do music, you also make a new family with the musicians. You travel along, and life on the road isn’t always easy, so you go through things together and you become a family, or siblings. I think it’s very important for all humans to have strong bonds with each other to survive. It’s the ingredient we really need. Music is very much family-based.


BIG BOI: Exactly.


YUKIMI: I totally agree. I don’t know what I’d do without my band. They’re my family in the highest way possible. Music unites people. One of the cool things of being in Stankonia and meeting Big was meeting new family and making new connections.


Big, how do you decide who you’re going to collaborate with for each track?


BIG BOI: It’s organic. For Little Dragon, we just camped out in the studio, for seven days one time and the first couple days the other time. We also hung out in California a little bit, too. They were around the music and they were around when we created these things. It was natural. 


YUKIMI: It was pretty spontaneous. Like with “Thom Pettie,” it just kind of happened. Erik put the cymbal part on it, then Big put a verse, then I put a verse. It was all in the moment.

Big, it’s known that you’re a big Kate Bush fan, and on some of the tracks featuring female vocals, Kate Bush seems like an influence. Is that something you think about while you’re working? 

BIG BOI: I guess it might be a certain feel, and she is an influence, but it’s not intentional. 


ERIK: We really love Kate Bush, though. I think we all do. She’s an uncompromised artist. 


Do you discuss artists like that as a reference point when working on a track?

YUKIMI: Not really. When you’re working on music, you wouldn’t say, “Let’s sound like this.” I don’t know any artist who does that. You maybe take inspiration from all kinds of stuff, of course, but you never try to do something the same.


Is it difficult when working with multiple artists on an album to keep it cohesive?

BIG BOI: Not really. When you’re recording, it has to be organic. I recorded like 40 tracks and 17 made this particular album. When you’re working on so many songs, it’s like pearls going to string. 


Obviously, you’re very into many different styles and genres of music, and it seems like you’re really expanding the palette of music and influence you’re including on your albums. Can you talk about how you’ve been turned on to all these different styles and artists?


BIG BOI: Even when we worked on Outkast albums, we used every genre of music. Now when we’re working with different people, it does something different for the sound. I listen to everything.


Yukimi and Erik, you guys have worked with many different artists. When you started Little Dragon, did you imagine you’d end up doing hip-hop collaborations?

YUKIMI: Things just happen. You meet people by chance and your paths cross and you make something together. That’s how it’s been from the start. Working with Big was definitely one of my favorites. We’re big fans. I was nervous to go into the studio to record. We love working with other artists that we look up to.


ERIK: You always learn something. You wonder how it’s going to turn out, but people are very similar. 


BIG BOI: It’s always a treat when Jedis meet.  F 

This article is from FILTER Issue 51