Release Date: Sep 25, 2015
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Indie Electronic, Alternative Rap
Sometimes the most unlikely pairings deliver the most satisfying results. On Big Grams’ eponymous debut LP, Phantogram and Outkast’s Big Boi share an undeniable chemistry, as was first recognized when Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel were featured on several tracks from Big Boi’s 2012 record Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Each track on the new trio’s LP juxtaposes rap verses with psych pop beats, and the best moments are almost as pure as Walter White’s “blue.” Big Grams‘ seven tracks build on one another, easing listeners into the skillful interweaving of two elements not typically strung together.
Since the dissolution of OutKast, Big Boi has proven himself to be a restless worker, creating Southern rap epics like 2010's Sir Lucius Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty as well as experimenting with other genres and collaborating with a bevy of often surprising artists. Primary among them is the indie electro-pop group Phantogram, who appeared a couple times on Big Boi's last record, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. During the sessions for that album, Big Boi revealed that he was pursuing a continued project with the band, and now we have the BIG GRAMS EP.
As a solo rapper, Big Boi has been pushing steadily against the old preconception that he was the less-daring half of Outkast. On all three of his solo albums—Speakerboxxx counts— he happily explored his quirks, establishing himself as someone more than just Andre 3000's more stolid counterpart. With Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, he pulled off an incredible, boisterously funky reintroduction.
It almost seems laughable now that fans once considered Andre 3000 the eclectic one. In the ‘10s, the much more maligned member of OutKast, Big Boi, has become a noted genre-bender in his own right, covering varying sonic terrain casually and comfortably. His 2010 solo debut, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty perfectly mixed longtime Dungeon Family cohorts (Organized Noise, Joi, Khujo, Big Rube) with extended family (Janelle Monae, Vonnegutt) and a few unexpected guests (Gucci Mane, B.o.B., Yelawolf) to intoxicating results.
This unlikely collaboration began after Outkast’s Big Boi came across the US synthpop duo Phantogram’s music online – specifically, Mouthful of Diamonds. The resulting mini-album mostly plays to their respective strengths – rock-solid Big Boi raps, dreamlike vocals from Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel – amid lots of swaggering electronic hip-hop pop. Although chalk and cheese, the two very different voices seem a natural fit on Run for Your Life and Lights On, sweetly haunting pop about post-closing time female vulnerability.
Having already worked together on Big Boi's 2012 album Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumours, Big Grams is a side project from the OutKast MC and the indie electronic duo Phantogram (Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter) that eases into existence with this interesting, and busy, seven-song EP. Too busy perhaps, as five vibrant, genre-jumping numbers from the core group appear before Run the Jewels join for "Born to Shine," where Goldfrapp are reimagined as a strip-club house band with provocative lyrics like "I'm about to splash her with this Billy Ocean/Watch her rub it on her face, I call it Johnson's baby lotion. " Skrillex then turns the crew into trap stars with "Drum Machine," a number that falls somewhere between "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" and a whole Major Lazer album reduced down to one song.
Too many collaborative projects these days are defined by floods of fan tweets and shaky Instagram videos of surprise live appearances — things that feel like they're more about brand synergy than artistic inspiration. Unfortunately, that's the impression left by this EP recorded by Big Boi, of legendary Atlanta rap duo Outkast, and upstate New York synth-pop act Phantogram, who appeared on the MC's last solo LP. Big Grams is split equally between Southern rap ("Put It On Her") and new-wave noodling ("Drum Machine"), neither of which quite catches fire.