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Rapper Big Boi is still rapping, still learning

MusicBig BoiAndre BenjaminT.I.Inner HarborRock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Outkast remains arguably the greatest rap duo of all time, even though its members — Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 — haven't released an album together since 2006's "Idlewild" soundtrack. While Big Boi continues to release solo albums, Andre has mostly flirted with hip-hop, appearing on guest verses with high-profile artists when he pleases.

Last November, Andre made headlines for his contribution to T.I.'s self-reflecting "Sorry." On it, Andre apologizes to his longtime partner for slowing Outkast down, declining tours and, subsequently, walking away from significant paydays. He confesses, "I hated all the attention, so I ran from it."

A public appearance from the two is a rare sight (so don't expect an Andre cameo at Big Boi's Baltimore Soundstage concert on Sunday), but Big Boi says the two remain close, even if they don't always show it publicly. He says the confessions on "Sorry" were not news to him.

"We talk about this stuff," Big Boi said recently. "When you write songs, though, you express your feelings. But definitely, [we talk]."

During the conversation, Big Boi didn't offer elaborate responses. (Perhaps he prefers saving all those words for the microphone.) But the 38-year-old rapper still offered insight on his recent, expansive album (December's "Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors"), his favorite app and more. He even hinted at — and then quickly moved on from — the possibility of a new Outkast album.

This is your first U.S. tour in more than two years. Was there any particular reason why you took that break?

I really didn't take a break. I was doing festivals. I'm still doing over 100 shows a year. This is just the first string of dates together for ... a themed tour. I've never really stopped being on the road.

On "Vicious Lies," you've brought hip-hop stars and stars from the indie-rock, Pitchfork set together. What surprised you most when putting the collaborations together?

How good the music was sounding. I knew it was going to sound good, but I like to do things that are earth-shattering. And everybody brought something to the table. We had a lot of fun making it.

[Longtime Outkast collaborator] The Dungeon Family has an incredible legacy. On "The Thickets" you talk about fans Googling Dungeon Family. Does the Family get the respect it deserves?

I mean, I guess not commercially, but at the same time, people know we're nothing to play with at all, you know? We're still about this music. Next year, it'll be 20 years. Who can say that? And we're still making music.

It's clear you have a real appetite for music outside of hip-hop. Does the current hip-hop landscape excite you?

It's cool. You go to the club and hear these songs and the 808 rattles and things like that. At some point, you gotta switch it up a little bit, you know? You can't keep making the same song over and over again.

You remain a "student" of hip-hop, and of music in general. Where does that come from?

I'm a music lover. It's not just hip-hop; it's everything. I'm always learning. You don't know everything. When you chart uncharted territory, you have to be a student to learn where different sounds kind from.

One of the best inventions to me ever is that damn [smartphone app] Shazam. That way you could be anywhere, and there's something you could hear, you don't know what it is, you don't have to go up and ask the flight attendant, "Hey, what song is that?" Or if you're in the restaurant, you don't have be like, "Hey, what CD are you playing?" You know what I'm saying? You can just Shazam it and buy it from your phone.

Your album got some strong reviews, but the sales haven't matched up with the critical response. On "Tremendous Damage" you denounce money saying, "We don't worship that." At this point in your career, what matters most to you as an artist?

What matters is that the fans dig it. Once you go diamond, you sell 10 million records. ... If you've sold 50 million records like I have, it's bigger than that. It's about the listener. There's so many illegal downloads and things like that, but when you go to the shows, the shows are packed. I look at like this: The music is free, and concert tickets and merchandise cost money.

What's the ultimate Outkast album in your mind — the one that represents the chemistry you and Andre have most?

Man, you have to get the whole catalog. Each album represents a different time in our lives. We started off 16, 17 years old, and you can kind of follow of us into adulthood, man. That's the beauty of it. I don't think that the pinnacle record has been made yet.

You know, with that answer, I have to ask: Is a new Outkast album still on the table?

Next question.

This year Public Enemy will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which got me thinking: Outkast's time is coming one of these days. Have you thought about that achievement and what it might mean to you?

It's great, man. It's a great honor. And to me, it's still unfinished business as far as making music. To still be able to make music and be considered a hall of famer, that's dope. Just keep on grinding, keep recording — that's the name of the game.

If you go

Big Boi performs Sunday at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place in the Inner Harbor. Killer Mike and Fishhawk will also perform. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. VIP Meet and Greet is $75. Call 410-244-0057 or go to baltimoresoundstage.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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MusicBig BoiAndre BenjaminT.I.Inner HarborRock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
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