Double eXcel: Wu-Tang Clan’s Masta Killa and OutKast’s Big Boi

When Wu-Tang Clan’s Masta Killa laughs his exceptionally big, gregarious laugh and answers my question, it’s like he’s pulling some kind of long con. Not because he hasn’t given me a perfectly good answer. He has. But because his answer to the question “How does one achieve hip-hop longevity?” is the exact same one Big Boi of OutKast had given me a few hours earlier.

Just listen:

Big Boi, 1:15 p.m.

“You gotta always consider yourself a student. Even though you might have mastered certain things, you gotta always be a student to it. And, I mean, I’m always trying to learn new things.”

Masta Killa, 4ish p.m.

“The true understanding a master reaches is that he’s always a student. See, life is the ultimate teacher. So even though you’re the master of your destiny, you have to remain open to new things, because that’s the only way you learn.”

Be humble, basically. Or, in Big Boi’s Southern, to-the-point parlance, “Don’t ever get to a place where you can’t be told nothin’.”

Both Masta Killa and Big Boi have been in the rap’s public realm for 20 years now, a phenomenon as rare as an atheist in a foxhole or a depressed Trader Joe’s cashier. Rap artists either burn out (DMX, Bone Thugs), fade away (Biggie, Tupac, Eazy-E), find Jesus (Ma$e, Hammer), find Hollywood (RZA, Andre 3000, Ice Cube), or become sick parodies of themselves (I’ll let you fill this one out). And while their answers on some common topics are the same, both longtime artists have new albums that are wildly different. Masta Killa’s is Selling My Soul (Nature Sounds); Big Boi’s is the no-less-ominous sounding Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Def Jam). Different, yes, but they’re both incredibly good. And both make the same statement in similar words: We’re here because we’re know what the fuck we’re doing.

On Selling, Masta Killa leans back on the Wu-Tang sound of yore: soaring samples of old-school soul and stuttering, slow-tempo beats and production by longtime Wu associate 9th Wonder, plus kung fu samples, the whole bit. On “Dirty Soul,” the album’s last track, he outright lifts old Wu-Tang lyrics—Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Hippa to Da Hoppa”—in salute to his fallen comrade.

“I heard the beat, and the first person that I thought of was Ol’ Dirty,” says Masta of the song. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, this is the kind of beat'”—a rolling bassline over a thick, filthy organ—”‘Dirty would love right here.’ It’s such a soulful beat he would’ve loved it. It felt right to rap his words over it, and give tribute.”

Masta keeps Selling mostly in third gear, seldom amping up the BPM to anything that will quicken the pulse. This is music to smoke blunts and lounge to. Fitting, considering he is doing exactly that on the album’s cover. “I listen to a lot of old music,” says Masta, adding that he spent a lot of time before the album cruising the city listening to old pre-disco Bee Gees. “And a lot of it has a laid-back feel, which inspired me.”

Selling harkens back to what’s old, but according to Masta, that’s what makes it new again. “A lot of people haven’t heard this classic Wu sound in a long time,” he says. “And, matter of fact, because RZA didn’t do any of the beats, and the title’s Selling My Soul, that’s all being perceived as I’ve deviated from the classical sound that everyone once loved. It’s going to surprise people.”

About that title: Does it foreshadow what it takes to stay in the hip-hop game for 20 years?

“Well,” laughs Masta Killa, “most of the time when you hear that phrase, ‘selling my soul,’ it’s perceived as a negative. But in actuality, when you think about the soul, the essence of one’s self—when you’re being creative and being productive from the inner self—that is a part of the soul, brother. You can feel it in your soul. You’re selling your soul.”

Vicious, on the other hand, leans forward. Way forward. Pop hooks abound all over its 15 tracks, and the album features many guests, both expected (T.I., Ludacris) and not (Phantogram, Wavves). “The music has to evoke a certain type of emotion that’ll make you feel a certain type of way,” says Big Boi about the album. “That’s when I know I’m done—when I feel a certain type of energy.”

“With every album, even from OutKast albums up until now, it’s always been about evolution in all ways,” he adds. “Trying to just find new sounds. You never wanna re-create something you’ve already done. When you’re searching for new sounds and new things, you try new things. I like to always say the music is organic, we create it—never genetically modified.”

“After 20 years of records and songs in the catalog, it’s important to stay excited,” says Big Boi. “Me as an artist and a producer, too, I try to create something that you’ve never heard before. Something I’ve never heard before.”

Following along that “something you’ve never heard before” vibe, certainly, are three songs (“Lines,” “CPU,” “Objectum Sexuality”) produced by or featuring slinky pop-duo Phantogram. On “Shoes for Running,” Big teams up with the gauzy Nathan Williams of Wavves. All the tracks are outliers on a hip-hop album, injecting a new wave touch that definitely lives up to Big’s lofty billing.

Masta Killa lays in the old-school cut. Big Boi is never happy in familiar surroundings. Both are students, speaking different languages, but getting the message across.


El-P and Killer Mike, Survivors

Killer Mike, the mayor of Atlanta underground rap, is mercilessly teasing El-P, Definitive Jux founder and reluctant New York indie-rap mascot. “El, tell him the acronym I suggested for our group record!” Mike is giggling, an infectious sound that only grows louder as El-P’s face grows more pained. I’m gathered with them over drinks on the Lower East Side to discuss the particulars of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music (Williams Street), produced entirely by El-P. Apparently, the collaboration was so fruitful that discussions of future projects are under way—a follow-up to R.A.P. Music and the one currently under discussion, a hypothetical dual-MC project. El, looking like a man forced to order the “Cheesy Gordita Crunch” by name, sighs and tells me, “M.O.M.” Mike’s giggling rises. “Tell him what it stands for!” I watch El sag inwardly: “Mad Old Men.” Mike loses it completely. El’s grimace quivers, and after a beat, so does he.

Ten years ago, this endearing scene would have been impossible to imagine. Back then, Mike was a member of Big Boi’s entourage and a fixture on the Atlanta strip-club circuit, while El-P was still struggling under the weight of his image as indie-rap’s severest and most unforgiving idealist. Witnessing these two carry on like old college roommates, then, is as good a sign as any: The underground-rap scene as we know it has finally imploded. Or exploded. Or something. Whatever tectonic plate has shifted, it has allowed R.A.P. Music, the miraculous kind of “Marvel What If . . . ?” collaboration (to borrow a metaphor El himself uses) often dreamed of but rarely realized, to slip through.

Both artists talk about the album as if it is a new lease on life. “We found each other at a very ripe time for both of us,” El-P says. “Either of us could have potentially faded into obscurity by now. It happens all the time.” Mike, for his part, says that after the third installment of his celebrated I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind underground-album series, he faced a crossroads. “I was in a precarious place of having gotten what I wanted,” he says. “With Pl3dge, the third volume from last year, I wanted the critics on my dick. And I got it. Finally, the world understood me. So I was like, what the fuck do I do now?”

The answer came from Jason DeMarco, founder of the Adult Swim–affiliated indie label Williams Street. He introduced the two, who hit it off in the manner of all rap nerds—discussing the latter-day pursuits of the Fu-Schnickens, debating favorite Scarface LPs. The potential for a collaboration dawned on both of them simultaneously. “We are aware of how we’re perceived as artists, and to be honest, it kind of lent this sinister-grin aspect to the collaboration,” El says. “As a culture, we have finally talked ourselves into such homogeneous little pockets of criticism and interaction that the natural idea of two dudes who love hip-hop music and grew up on the same records making a record together is actually a curveball now.”

The result doesn’t scan quite as a collaborative album or as a straight-ahead “Killer Mike solo album.” What R.A.P. Music provides is fusion, and it throws off the face-shielding sparks and light that true fusion produces. El-P surrounds Mike with decades of gangsta-rap history—Bomb Squad, Dr. Dre, BDP, Suave House, Screwed Up Click, and more—stripped for scrap metal, and Mike offers his most focused and personal performance, meditating on family and responsibility as often as he lashes out at corrupt cops or war profiteering. Both artists, in each other’s presence, sound like bigger, better versions of themselves. “This album was made entirely by Jaime [El-P’s real name is Jaime Meline] and Mike,” goes a vocal tag at the beginning of “Jo Jo’s Chillin,” and the inclusion feels pointed.

“As a rapper, I always wanted to be produced,” Mike says. “Most rap artists don’t want to be produced until they meet Dr. Dre, and then they shit themselves. But there are a lot of good thinkers and producers out there that people haven’t given themselves over to.'” I ask El if cooking up something like the RoboCop-in-candy-paint futuristic UGK homage “Southern Fried” was a stretch for him, and he responds simply: “I’m a producer. Ten years ago, maybe I wasn’t. Ten years ago, I was a rapper who made dope beats. But I’ve had a lot of experience since then. I’ve been getting better, I think. This was my favorite manifestation of producing for someone else. It may be a breakthrough point in my head.” Mike nods solemnly: “Well, I’m an excellent teacher, and it was my pleasure putting you in a better place.”

At their root, of course, Mike and El share qualities that transcend both geography and rap politics. Whether it’s El-P demanding to know “who owns police” on “Deep Space 9mm,” or Mike snarling that “This album is meant to be a soundtrack to your success” on the intro to his underground classic I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II, both traffic in music as urgent communication of necessary truth. Both place belief in the kind of anger that builds things instead of razing, the kind of purifying gale-force rant that only loving something moves you to. In other words, Mike and El are two of rap’s truest believers: The fact that they have persisted in a cultural nether zone for as long as they have without letting it darken their hearts is part of what led them to this table.

You can hear their minds melding on R.A.P.‘s most outspoken tracks. To wit: “Reagan,” a complicated dance between rant and confessional where Mike recounts the evils of the War on Drugs, Reaganomics, and the Iran-Contra scandals—gangsta-rap catechisms—before pivoting into a startling self-recrimination and indictment of rap’s glorification of gang culture and drug sales. The song concludes with the exceedingly blunt last line “I’m glad Reagan dead.” When I ask Mike about this line, his eyebrows shoot north. “I threw a barbecue when Reagan died,” he says. “Straight the fuck up—a Reagan’s Dead Barbecue. Kept it negro as a motherfucker.” El notes: “We took that from KRS-One when he did ‘Aw Yeah’: ‘You know, I’m kinda glad Nixon died.’ To me, that was the hardest shit anyone could say. Because, you know, so was I!”

This honesty braids through the record, and it is the undergirding of their obviously real friendship. “Mike is a real person; that’s why I fuck with him,” El says. “He’s not a caricature. He’s a man who has experienced a bunch of different shit. He’s taking on a lot of responsibility right now. And people are listening to him because he’s someone who’s seen and done some shit. I mean, let’s be honest. You don’t want to take life advice from a priest. You want to take life advice from a fuckin’ thief. You wanna tell me why stealing’s wrong? I wanna hear it from somebody who’s actually stolen some shit.”

I ask both artists what they want to prove with R.A.P. Music. “That I’m the lyrically one of the top MCs on earth right now,” Mike says. “Straight up. Eminem, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Andre 3000, Big Boi, Cee Lo, Kanye—you put my album next to theirs, and that shit is getting seriously debated.” El-P wants something similar. “I want to prove that I’m one of the top five best living producers. I want my goddamn recognition; I’m not even gonna front. I’m not running around tooting my own horn. But the fact of the matter is, shit, why the fuck not, man?”

R.A.P. Music isn’t the end of the story for El-P. He is also re-emerging from semi-exile to release his first solo record since 2007, Cancer4Cure. In the interim, he had been more or less absent: In 2009, his legendary group Company Flow reissued Funcrusher Plus, but otherwise, he had receded from view. In a recent Pitchfork interview, he referred to Cancer4Cure as “fight music,” but El’s music has always been a little too internal for that; if there’s a fight on Cancer, it’s between a man and his own shadow. “When I say ‘fight music,’ I think it’s a little more abstract,” El says when I reach him on the phone weeks later. “I think I’m fighting for my sanity, fighting my own instincts, as much as I’m battling any outside force.”

The alternate universe of the gorgeous, gloomy Cancer4Cure—one where El is the sole, often-unhappy inhabitant—might feel familiarly claustrophobic, but the recent story of El-P’s career has been one of slowly letting in light. “I feel like I’ve been given yet another chance to do what I love to do, and maybe I don’t deserve it,” El says. “But this is a rebirth record for me.”

Back in the bar, El seems comfortable, basking in the simple glow of his newfound friendship. He and Mike engage in a bit of mutual admiration. “You know how your mom tells you, ‘Pick good friends’? ‘Hang around people that know more than you,’ ‘find someone smart’?” Mike says. “El is genuinely that. He’s someone I respect—I just really love the guy. He gives a damn about making me better.” El, for his part, relates an anecdote that seems to summarize everything about their dynamic.

“The other day, I witnessed Mike scream on someone on the phone,” he says. “I would say it was probably one of the most epic screaming-ons that I’ve witnessed in the last decade. It was to the point where he was almost dancing. Now, if it was anyone else, I would have told them to shut the fuck up, please go away. But I just sat there watching, and I couldn’t help but grin ear-to-ear and laugh. Because everything this motherfucker was saying was true. I didn’t even know the situation, but you could hear it. He didn’t scream on this person because he enjoys hurting people or because he likes to play power games. He was screaming at someone because the truth needed to be told. That’s who Mike is to me. I needed a friend like Mike right now in my life.”

El-P performs at Santos Party House with Despot and other guests on May 21.



“No overlapping sets!” trumpet the ads for this weekend’s inaugural Governors Ball Music Festival, and you have to admire the organizers’ marketing strategy: At a moment when most American summer festivals seem determined to overpower their competitors through sheer volume of talent, here’s a relatively tidy one-day event at which you can (and might actually want to) see everything on the bill. Headliners include mash-up king Girl Talk and Aussie synth-pop weirdoes Empire of the Sun. But the undercard is solid, too, with Das Racist, Neon Indian, and Big Boi, who may or may not show off some of the tunes he’s been working on with Modest Mouse. Need a break from the music? Beer pong, beach volleyball, basketball, ping pong, and a dance-off are all happening as well. G

Sat., June 18, 11:30 a.m., 2011


‘The Governors Ball’

Now that we’re entering the balmy days of summer, we Gothamites deserve outdoor festivals, right? Still no word about All Points West, so we might have to make due with Rock the Bells, River to River, and this one-day, two-stage mini-fest. The big attraction today is Girl Talk, who’ll pull half the crowd onstage while mashing up classic rock and rap, but this is also a chance to see Big Boi (who does Outkast songs in his set) as well as indie-rap smarties Das Racist and a DJ set from Passion Pit. The fest will also offer beer-pong, ping-pong, volleyball, and basketball, but organizers have warned concertgoers to leave their explosives, umbrellas, and nunchucks at home.

Sat., June 18, noon, 2011



Despite what Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and (most likely) our upcoming Pazz & Jop results might say, OutKast motormouth Big Boi actually made the best rap record of 2010. Sorry, Kanye: Big Boi’s three-years-in-the-making space-funk opus, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, has twice as many rhymes, funnier skits, more consistent trunk-rattling, and no one puts anyone’s genitals in a sarcophagus. His sets at SXSW and Brooklyn Bowl were simple, unfuckwithable scattergun rundowns of
his many, many, many hits, plus woofer-
destroying versions of his skittery, stuttery, impossibly funky new material. It’s a common complaint that his sets can be a little short, but they’re certainly not short on megahits or crunktacular energy. This thing is likely to go on all night anyway, thanks to a DJ set from Scottish nu–new wave wundergeek Calvin Harris; Cali electro-remix sensation L.A. Riots; and Brooklyn hipster-hop poptimists the Knocks.

Wed., Dec. 22, 8 p.m., 2010


Big Boi Is Not Too Artsy

Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is out this week. Seriously. You can hear it and buy it and everything. For nearly four years, that sentence has scanned as science fiction, with the deified Atlanta rapper and OutKast co-founder—who, alongside his flamboyant cohort André 3000, has sold millions of records and topped dozens of critics’ polls—plagued by delay after delay, leaked track after leaked track, locked in a prolonged creative-differences battle with his then-label, Jive, that never seemed to make sense given his stature and track record. He deserved better, and so did his increasingly impatient legions of fans.

Finally, earlier this year, he split from Jive and jumped to the evidently far more receptive Def Jam, which let him finish Sir Lucious in relative peace. The resulting, mercifully final product is, as you might have suspected all along, fantastic, by turns triumphant, defiant, and gleefully crass. (You will learn what a “David Blaine” is, for example.) From tracks you might have already heard (the gorgeous, hilariously appropriate “Shine Blockas,” featuring a groaning Gucci Mane) to newer works (the surly “You Ain’t No DJ,” produced by André 3000, otherwise barred by Jive from appearing here), it feels triumphant and relieved and epic even if you discount the tortured backstory. Recently, I chatted with Big Boi on the phone about his clash with Jive, his hopes for OutKast’s (and his) future, and why he’s not a man to be fucked with. Here are some excerpts.

I can’t imagine how you must feel, to finally have this record come out, to have people finally hear it. I mean, yeah, I feel really good. My whole thing was I just wanted as many people to hear it as possible. Just continuing to make funky rhymes and music that the fans can dig for years to come. To work on something for three and a half years—it’s definitely, definitely, definitely exciting.

How different is the final product from what you initially imagined three and a half years ago? How has it evolved through the course of all these difficulties? It’s pretty much the same. I used the same core songs that I’ve been recording. I could have been done like a year or year and a half ago, but, you know, due to creative differences at Jive, I kept recording and tweaking the songs until I got on Def Jam, to get a full release together. It would have sounded pretty much the same. I only added like two new records, and that’s “Be Still” and “You Ain’t No DJ.”

What were those creative differences? What was the argument you were having with Jive? What did they want? Uh, they told me my album was too artsy—it was a piece of art. Too artsy.

Too artsy. Yeah. Too artsy.

And how did you feel about that? It was a slap in the face, for them to come and try to dictate to me how to make music. I’ve been doing this for a minute, I trust my judgment, I knew the songs were jamming. And they wanted me to conform to what was on the radio and try to make songs for the radio, and that’s not how I do it.

It’s shocking to people, I think, that this could happen to you—that even someone so successful could be so frequently pushed back like that. Did you ever feel like just throwing copies of Stankonia or Speakerboxxx on whoever’s desk and shouting, “This is my track record—now put out my fucking album”? You know, I just had the conversation. I just was like, “I’ve sold more records than any artist you have over here that’s a producer or artist. I wanna make music, and if you don’t like it, I think we need to part ways.” They did the honorable thing and let me go, which was great, because I don’t think I would’ve gotten the proper push if I had been over there—they don’t want original, artistic music.

What did they want instead? Like you say, just whatever was on the radio? Yeah, they told me to go in and make my own version of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” Uh. Yeah. That’s—yeah. Right. I mean, I love that song, but how are you going to tell me to go copy somebody else’s record?

So you never seriously entertained that notion? Fuck, no.

What’s changed now that you’re on Def Jam, besides their actually putting the record out? Just being back with L.A. Reid, you know. He started me and Dre’s careers. He definitely gives me the creative freedom to make the music, and he trusts my judgment. I gave him an album full of bangers, and he loved ’em. He got behind me 100 percent. It’s like being on a real label again.


There’s been a slow trickle of prospective singles over the past few years: “Ringtone” and “Royal Flush” and “Dubbz.” Did those not make the final, official tracklist because they’d been out a little too long? No, they were kind of like teasers almost, just to quench the thirst of the fans. I did “Sumthin’s Gotta Give” to get people to the election, and I put out “Royal Flush” just for the fans because they hadn’t heard me and Dre together in so long. These were songs that I was putting out on my own. “Theme Song” was another record that I put out just to kind of give ’em a different taste of what was happening, to quench the thirst of the listener and let ’em know that I’m still at work. Those songs weren’t really planned to be on there. I did keep “Theme Song” for the deluxe version of the album, because it was one of the bangers that got over a million plays on MySpace. People loved that record—it was requested for that to be on the side, so I added that little bonus on there.

You say “Sumthin’s Gotta Give” was tied specifically to the election—two years later, how do you think Obama’s doing? Umm . . . umm . . . about the same. Things are about the same. Everything’s the same.

Which is a bad thing, obviously, in some ways. Right. Yeah.

So, just to clarify: André isn’t on this record because Jive is opposed to him being on the record? Yes. He appears on the record as a producer, but the songs that we cut, like “Lookin’ for You”—Jive wouldn’t let him be on the album, which, to me, is a damper for the OutKast fans. But to them, they’re looking more on the business side. They didn’t want any songs that had both of us to appear on my record. It’s just red tape and label politricks—that’s what’s fucking music up today, stuff like that.

So is OutKast under contract with Jive? Or how does that even work? Yes, yes. We’re still under contract with Jive as OutKast. We are signed to Jive as OutKast. Dre’s over there as a solo artist, and I have a three-album deal with Def Jam, so thank God for that.

Just bottom line: What are the chances of a full OutKast record, percentage-wise, in the next five years? Definitely, that’s the plan, to make an OutKast record. After I do my solo and Dre does his solo, we’re going to do an OutKast record, but there are going to have to be some changes over at Jive. There’s gotta be some respect for the music.

You consistently have some of the best nicknames in hip-hop, most of which are here as song titles: “General Patton,” “Daddy Fat Sax,” even “Lucious Left Foot.” Where do you get them? Are yours self-anointed? Yes, most definitely. Just being out on the road throughout the years, me and Dre just kind of fuckin’ around on the bus and the hotels and stuff, we just call ourselves different names to describe, I guess, different personalities, different emotions, different ways of feeling that particular day. Lucious Left Foot is actually like my Luke-Skywalker-becoming-a-Jedi persona. Like, I’m just really serious about my craft, I’ve mastered it, and I’m very skilled at it, and I take pride in making this music.

There are guests on nearly every track here. . . . Do you work better when you have people to play off? I can’t listen to a whole album with just my voice on it—I get bored. So I bring somebody in to break it up a little bit, to add flavor. I’m used to being in a group anyway. I just couldn’t listen to a whole album of just my voice. I couldn’t, not me. So I bring other artists into my world, and we funk it out.

Is George Clinton, in person, as completely spaced out as most people assume he would be? Yup, he’s out of this world. He’s the grandfather of funk, and he lives up to it. Very cool guy. I had a chance to work with him back on the song “Synthesizer,” and ever since then, he’s just been really cool. When I called him to do “For Your Sorrows,” he was really crunk about doing it, and he laid it down. Very animated. Can’t get more funky than George.

It’s always surprising to hear you address haters or enemies on your tracks. . . . I would think everyone universally reveres you. Is there still something you have left to prove, or people to prove it to? No, I don’t have nothing to prove to nobody. But there’s haters all around the world. My thing is that I just let it be known that I’m not to be fucked with, period, and they know that. There’s always going to be those that try to test. But before they even get to that point, you gotta let them know that there ain’t nothin’ happening.


What do you think of what’s happened in hip-hop, even in the time you’ve been making this record? What do you think of Drake? It’s cool, it’s cool. He can sing. Yeah.

What do you have planned for after this record? Is it straight to OutKast, or is there something else? Yeah, the OutKast record, and my new record as well, the Daddy Fat Sax album, is next: Daddy Fat Sax: Soul Funk Crusader.

And how far into that are you? Maybe about six songs into it. Once you’re in the zone and you’re recording, you kind of, like, stay in the zone. I like to try to get all of my ideas down. So at the same time that I’m working on the OutKast material, I’ll be working on that, too.

Well, it’s probably too early to put a release date on that. Yeah, you know how people get when you give them the date early. They get antsy, waiting on that shit like tomorrow. I’m gonna let them soak this one up for a minute and discover some Lucious Left Foot, but at the same time—just keeping people up with my passion of making music and just really having fun with my craft. It’s fun to discover that ultimate groove, to write the ultimate lyric and just have fun with music. That’s what it’s all about.

So you feel like you’re still getting better? Oh, hell yeah. Oh, hell yeah. That’s my curse: trying to outdo the last verse that I burst—that’s my curse. Challenging yourself to do better. As we all should.



In 2008, Beyoncé’s little sister, Solange Knowles, released a defiantly trippy psychedelic-soul disc that attracted more attention from the indie-rock blogosphere than from Hot 97’s listenership. Two years later, Janelle Monáe seems primed to duplicate that trick with The ArchAndroid, her forthcoming full-length debut, on which this adventurously coiffed protégé of both Diddy and Big Boi vacillates between springy future-funk tracks like killer lead single “Tightrope” and freakier fare, such as the indicatively titled “Mushrooms and Roses”; reported collaborators include Big Boi, Saul Williams, and Of Montreal, the last of whom have also jammed with Knowles. Live, Monáe’s been known to do an overly cutesy rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” but now that she’s finally got an album to preview, perhaps at the Highline (or on Friday and Saturday at Joe’s Pub), we’ll be spared. Tonight at 9, Highline Ballroom; Friday and Saturday at 7, Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, 212-967-7555, $15

Thu., April 8, 9 p.m., 2010


Goodie Mob+Scarface+Slick Rick

All of the original members of Goodie Mob, the hip-hop group who coined the term “dirty south,” have cleaned up their act and are touring together for the first time since releasing 1999’s World Party. This tour might be a big filibuster, though, since Goodie buddy Big Boi said the group was working on a new record as of last year. But since they don’t have new material, it makes for a great night of classic rap when you throw in openers Slick Rick, who is performing with the live band Bad Rabbits, and Geto Boys alumnus Scarface. With Outasight.

Fri., Nov. 13, 11:30 p.m., 2009



Billing itself as the world’s largest sneaker show, the Sneaker Pimps USA Tour plans to fill the massive Terminal 5 with the smell of crisp leather and freshly polymerized rubber. Over 1,500 pairs of rare, limited-edition, and artist-crafted sneakers will be on hand, thwarting the tireless efforts of eBay resellers and sitting side by side with skateboarding demos, basketball competitions, kicks-related artwork, and a whole ton of performers. Beyond a still-unannounced artist that tour founder Peter Fahey calls a “major headliner who people are going to be psyched about seeing,” the tour stop in Solesville, U.S.A., includes Big Boi, Clipse, the Cool Kids, Wale, DJ Clark Kent, Team Facelift, Ninjasonik, and more. Big Boi has been prepping his finally dropping solo album for months now with high-energy live shows. Everyone will assuredly be freaking out to his high-bpm classics like “Kryponite” and “B.O.B.,” while trying their damnedest not to scuff their new shoes.

Fri., June 26, 8 p.m., 2009


Outcasts Search for the Love Above in Ambitious Hip-Hopera

You may think you already know what it is: a cautionary ‘hood-rap tale scarred by exit wounds and scored to booming basslines—pop propaganda for the radio-ready soundtrack. But where lesser works have died trying, ATL doesn’t derive authenticity from criminality. Rather, it unpretentiously serves class consciousness and conflict with its Cadillac music, attempting to capture—not capitalize on—the Atlanta scene that’s spawned an aesthetic and a mythology all its own, and is currently in full flourish. Music video vet Chris Robinson distills a fine vintage from rich sources, namely his cast of (mostly) certified ATLiens who bring organic charisma to their character’s interactions, playing them sweet like mash notes yet grown-ass as the men and women the tale’s teens are trying to be. First and foremost is Tip Harris (a/k/a T.I.), as a high school senior who spends his Sunday nights at a skate rink with his crew rather than adopt the dope boy lifestyle his younger bro aspires to. A debutant actor, T.I. seems equally at ease with his canny demeanor as with his mesmeric drawl, fluently swaggering between mellow and malicious from behind a winsome perma-squint. And as if channeling William Hurt’s latest villainous turn, Big Boi’s trapstar kingpin borders on self-parodic, delivering hilarious quips with bristling menace beneath. It’s entertainment with ambition, but I can’t front though; the soundtrack is pretty fly too.