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Being quarantined is making rap legends as nostalgic and reflective as the rest of us. Big Boi is, of course, one half of OutKast and a core member of the world-changing Atlanta collective the Dungeon Family (named after the crew’s original studio, the Dungeon, located in the basement of DF member Rico Wade’s mother’s house). And while he’s stuck in his home by the Chattahoochee River, he’s taken the time to look back through his voluminous archives and revisit a never-released video for his 2012 song “Tremendous Damage” featuring Bosko, inspired by the death of his father, Tony Kearse. The song originally appeared on the album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.
Why put out a new video for an eight-year-old song? “Right now, the world is experiencing tremendous damage,” Big explains. “I just wanted to speak to my people.” And the fact that the track was about his late father was important: “It was my way of honoring him.”
The video for “Tremendous Damage,” which Complex is happy to premiere, features Big rapping and singing about Kearse, whose nickname, Chico Dusty, inspired the name of Big’s 2010 album Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty. The moving clip also contains a number of photographs from Kearse’s time in the military.
Big Boi is readying the release of his collaborative project with Sleepy Brown, The Big Sleepover. But he’s got other music in the works, as well, including an upcoming collaboration with an Atlanta duo that has often been compared to OutKast. “I like EarthGang,” he says. “I got a record that I’m going to do with them that’s just sitting in my email for once I get back in the studio.”
Complex got Sir Lucious Leftfoot himself on the phone to discuss the video, the current state of Atlanta rap, his best Ludacris memory, and his new cat. The interview, lightly edited for length and clarity, is below.
You have this new video, and it's a little unusual because it's for a song you released a number of years ago. Can you tell me why you did that?
Yeah. Me and Sleepy Brown have this project called The Big Sleepover. We finished the album, and we were gearing up to start releasing it. Right before all this stuff started happening, we had already shot a video for a song called “Can’t Sleep.” But for the times, I didn’t think that particular song matched what was going on in the world. It’s a little edgy.
So I was in the vault just looking around. I shot “Tremendous Damage” years ago, and I never released it. But the song spoke to me because there’s a lot of people out here that are losing loved ones, and the song’s about somebody who lost somebody. It’s dedicated to my father. It’s called “Tremendous Damage,” and right now the world is experiencing tremendous damage. I just wanted to speak to my people.
When was the video shot? Was it around the time the song was released?
Yeah, when I put out Vicious Lies. It was a mourning-type of album for me, because I had lost my dad and my grandmothers. The album was super personal. It was therapeutic for me to kind of get those songs out because I was really, really deep into my emotions at the time. When you make music, you aim for it to be timeless, and the song works today.
Did you update or change the video in any way?
Absolutely. We added some things to it like certain effects and more historic pictures of my dad when he was in the military. He was in the Marines and he was in the Air Force ,as well. The guy was a genius. He fought in Beirut and Vietnam. It was my way of honoring him. He was a bad, bad man.
I read something from the time of the song’s original release that said writing “Tremendous Damage” helped you to begin to deal with losing your father. What was it like revisiting your relationship with him to finish this video?
It was a celebration of his life. And it was a way to portray him, because everybody knows The Son of Chico Dusty, but I wanted people to know who he was. He made me the man I am today, as far as being a great husband and father and family guy. Even though him and my mom weren't together for very long, there’s certain values that stuck with me. Sons need their fathers. He taught me how to be a man.
Where did all the photos of him in the service come from?
They came from my auntie, his sister. She gave me a lot of things at his funeral. She gave me a lot of pictures, and she also gave me his Bible that he was using to go to church in his last days. So I have this Bible that I sleep with every night.
I think for somebody in this day and age who has lost a loved one, it’s going to resonate with them because I’m not even just going crazy rapping, but just melodically getting my point across.
Yeah, you’re really singing on this record. Can you take me through deciding to go that route?
Certain things come out in harmony, you know what I mean? I’ve been singing since the first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. [Sings] “Ain’t no thang but a chicken wing/We having a smokeout in the Dungeon with the Mary Jane.” Just exploring that other side. Certain songs call for certain things. It was pressing for me to put it in that rasp, to let everybody know what’s going on.
You were part of a Dungeon Family tour in 2019. What other DF collaborations are planned right now?
Well, first and foremost is The Big Sleepover. That's the album, me and Sleepy Brown. It is incredible. You got a whole album of “The Way You Move” brothers, you know what I mean? A lot of melody, some of the dopest productions from Organized Noize to Calvo Da Great. And I co-produced on a lot of records, too. Killer Mike is on the album a couple of times. Everything is always a Dungeon Family effort. At the same time, Organized Noize is working on a brand new Goodie Mob album, which I’m super excited about, too.
One of the things people don't credit you for enough is being a talent scout. You discovered Janelle Monaé and Killer Mike.
Tell me about how you recognize talent like that.
I like artists that you don't have to hold their hand. First, they got to be talented artists. Both Killer Mike and Janelle Monaé, from the beginning, they were dope. It’s almost like Professor X and the X-Men: just being around and working together, you learn how to sharpen your craft. That’s what we do—we’re around each other to make each other better.
Those two are phenomenal in the way that they’ve moved their careers throughout the years. They make me a proud big brother, man. Until this day, it’s always been about friendship and the music. The music thing brought us together, but there’s a friendship and a bond that’s never going nowhere. I was just with Killer Mike this weekend celebrating one of my close friend’s birthdays. We had a social distancing surprise party, like nine people. The weirdest surprise party in the world, but it was so dope because we had puppies and owls and strawberry shortcake and curried chicken. That’s the moments that life is made of.
What else are you working on musically?
I think we’re going to put The Big Sleepover out. The single with CeeLo is out now. It’s called “Intentions.” I’m going to put out “Tremendous Damage” for my people. Then the next single from The Big Sleepover is called “Can’t Sleep.” And then I’m just working on music.
How are you handling this new quarantine world?
I’ve actually been at home doing home improvements. I put a lot of lights around my house. This shit looks like a fucking mall right now in the nighttime. Because we're at home, we’re outside in the nighttime. I live right by the Chattahoochee River, so there’s a lot of critters like wolves and bears and alligators. We’ve got to see what's going on around here, you know? So I've been doing that, hanging around the pool. I've been trying to be an expert on the barbecue grill. I’ve been barbecuing every week for my mom. My mom has been home, kind of isolated. So she comes to my house and I cook her lobster once a week on the grill, which we’re doing today, actually.
And we've been playing spades. We’re unfuckwithable on the card table. And laundry, been doing a lot of laundry. And I got a new cat.
What's the name?
Anjo. It means angel in Portuguese. He’s a snow bengal. He's like the baby around here. He's just a little, teeny-tiny baby with a bell around his neck.
Obviously you’ve known Future for many, many years [Future is the younger cousin of Organized Noize’s Rico Wade. A young Future, then known as “Meathead,” appeared on the 2003 album ‘Dungeon Family 2nd Generation’ as a part of the group Da Connect]. Do you remember any things about a young Future that people who only know him now might be surprised to hear?
I guess it’s no surprise, but his work ethic is impeccable. He was always in the Dungeon, always learning, always recording. The boy stay in the studio. So you can’t do nothing but get better if you keep at what you're doing. I’m proud of him. That’s my DF brother. We thriving as a crew, as a family.
Other than him, who are some of your favorite Atlanta rappers right now?
I love Run the Jewels. I like EarthGang, too. They came by the studio a while ago. I got a record that I'm going to do with them that's just sitting in my email for once I get back in the studio. I know who else I like: Masego, I like him.
Have you mentored any younger artists in recent years?
I’m actually mentoring my kids. That’s why you haven’t seen me kind of develop more artists—because I’ve been being daddy, and raising my children. Between balancing that along with being on the road and recording, I haven’t had time. That’s a special type of attention that you have to take when you take somebody under your wing.
I’m definitely looking for somebody. I got a couple of people in mind that I might start working with. It's coming.
Do you ever think about your legacy and the ways in which you and the rest of the Dungeon Family have changed music?
It's always on to the next thing. The past is our foundation. When you live in the moment, you record in the moment, you have to live, you know what I mean? Music comes from experiences and living. That’s how you get material to write.
When I sit down to write, I never want to sound the same. I can never repeat what I’ve done before. That’s a challenging task. But at the same time, when you get that particular line or cadence, it’s very satisfying. It motivates me to make more music, because you’re digging for what’s new.
Because you’ve written so many songs, do you ever have to go back and relearn any of them when you’re getting ready to perform, or are they all locked up there somewhere?
They’re locked up. They’re in my head. I’m a perfectionist. Say I’ve been off the road for like two months: I got a rehearsal hall inside my studio, Stankonia. We’ll go in for about a couple hours and knock the dust off, just to sharpen up before you get back out there.
We don't rap over the words. When you hear us live, that’s real live. If I had to just push play and I lip synced or was just yelling over the words, then I wouldn’t have to [rehearse]. But when it’s raw and you want to sound like those particular records, you definitely got to go to practice.
The Verzuz battles have been a big thing lately. Have you given any thought to who you might want to face if you did one?
No comment. I’m like the black Trump on that: no comment. Next question.
The first time I saw you perform live was in 2000 on the Stankonia tour. The opener was Ludacris, who at that point had just one or two hits. What’s your best memory of Luda from that tour?
My best memory is not even from that tour. The first time I met him is actually when he was on the radio [as a DJ]. He had a show with this guy named Poon Daddy on Hot 107 in Atlanta when he first came to the city. We had a song called “Elevators” that the record label didn’t believe in and didn’t want us to put out. We said, “Fuck it,” and we went to the radio station, and Ludacris actually was the first person to play that song on the radio. From there, that’s just one of my good friends, man. Very stand up guy.