One thing I've always loved about hip-hop is that the line between mediocre and magnificent is obvious: Listen to any MC spit game for a minute, and you can quickly tell whether he's legit or lame. Applying that instant litmus test to Big Boi, one-half of pioneering Atlanta rap duo OutKast, reveals that he's still one of hip-hop's most technically proficient, verbally vicious practitioners.
His blend of rapid-fire delivery and deep, muddled Southern drawl is responsible for many of the most memorable hooks and devastating verses on OutKast classics like "Elevators (Me & You)," "Rosa Parks," "B.O.B." and "The Whole World." Since OutKast split up in 2007, Big Boi has been much more prolific than his former partner in rhyme, André 3000, releasing two critically acclaimed and stylistically diverse full-lengths, 2010's "Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty" and 2012's "Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors."
André 3000 is most well-known today for fashion and acting, but Big Boi still stakes an active claim as one of the sharpest, hardest-working MCs in the business.
Folio Weekly: On your current "Shoes For Running" tour, you have a full band backing you up. How do you think that enhances your show?
Big Boi: That's the only way I like to rock out.
F.W.: When you record a song with an outside band that features full instrumental arrangements, how involved are you?
B.B.: Very. The musicians come in, and I usually get members of my own band to play stuff, as well. Then, we arrange and handle all aspects of creative control. You have to be hands-on with it.
F.W.: Tell us about fellow Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, who's opening for you right now.
B.B.: He's the right choice. We hadn't been on tour together in six or seven years, and we have a history of jams, you know? He's one of the dopest MCs out there — and a great person. He's my brother.
F.W.: At what point did you and André 3000 realize that OutKast's music was changing hip-hop forever?
B.B.: When we first started doing our thing, we knew we really loved music — it was our passion, and everybody that was around us gave it 120 percent. Sonically, the sound stuck together, so we were able to present to the world some of the coldest shit on the planet.
F.W.: You two thrived within the major-label system. Do you think younger rappers have it better or worse, now that the music business is more decentralized?
B.B.: It just depends. It all starts with the music. If it's good, people are going to come to it, whether you've got control or a label's running everything.
F.W.: You did a packed run of West Coast dates before heading East this month. As a Southern rapper, do you get a lot of love out there?
B.B.: Hell yeah! I get love all over the world. But the West Coast was where our music blew up first. [1993 single] "Player's Ball" took off in the Bay Area before anywhere else, so it's always been one of the mainstays of fan participation. It's just like being at home.
F.W.: Your last album, "Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors," dropped as 2012 ended. Are you already working on new material?
B.B.: Definitely. We have a mobile studio out here, so we can put down ideas. You have to keep recording, even after you turn a record in — keep all your material together so that when it's time to carve out your album, you have a lot to pull from.
F.W.: What inspires your lyrics?
B.B.: Everything. It's like being a news reporter almost. Firsthand experiences, what's going on in the world … I'm influenced by all of life.
F.W.: You've rapped about your family quite often in the past, and a post on your Twitter feed reveals that your daughter graduated from high school last month. How proud a dad are you?
B.B.: Very proud. One of the biggest accomplishments of my life is raising a baby into a young lady and a productive citizen. That's what it's all about.
F.W.: Career-wise, is there anything that you haven't accomplished that you still hope to be able to achieve?
B.B.: I really just take it one day at a time. One person I want to collaborate with is Kate Bush out of the UK.
F.W.: Will you and André 3000 ever work together again?
B.B.: Next question.
F.W.: Any young rappers impressing you these days?
B.B.: Not really. Can't think of any off the top of my head.
F.W.: What are you looking forward to doing when you get to Florida?
B.B.: I have family down there. But I like the weather more than anything.