Album Review: Big Grams, ‘Big Grams EP’

Big Grams Big Grams EP
(Epic Records – September 25, 2015)
(Hip Hop, Rap, Electronic)
Review by Brandon Foster

“I was never just a rapper; the music on the radio, those are just rappers. My last record was being called ‘indie,’ and I didn’t even know what the f— indie was. But then, I was doing all the festivals and was like, ‘Shit, if this is indie, then that’s where I want to be.’”- Big Boi

It has been almost 10 years since OutKast dropped an album. Other than a few appearances on tracks from Andre 3000, Big Boi is carrying the OutKast flag by himself. Releasing one of the best albums of the decade in Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Song of Chico Dusty and the super underrated follow up Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, Daddy Fat Sax is nothing short of impressive as a solo artist. Three years after his last album, Big Boi has new material. But this time, he hooks up with Indie darlings Phantogram. Phantogram is an electronic rock duo from Greenwich, New York consisting of Josh Carter on guitar and Sarah Barthel as the keyboardist and lead vocalist. Their 2014 release Voices is a great album of plush electro arrangements, centered around ethereal concepts. Big Boi and Phantogram is not just a connection that fell from the sun. The duo actually appear on Big Boi’s last solo album on a few cuts. Big Boi actually found out about the band through a pop up ad and then proceeded to connect and record with them. After 3 years of working together, they finally decided to form in Voltron fashion under the moniker Big Grams. While Big Boi has been outside the box musically since 1996 (when he and Andre 3000 recorded ATLiens) this does not feel like anything farfetched but it is weird to see him in another group with other people not named Andre 3000 or any other Dungeon Family affiliates. But, the weirdness wears off quick.

The EP kicks off with “Run for Your Life” which is filled with a soft ticking drum beat and then the keyboards and guitar come in sounding like something that would be played in a nightclub on Mars. While Carter produces most of the EP and the Phantogram sound is interjected in it, this is still a Big Boi project because he is not sacrificing any of his lyrical acrobatics in lieu of the production – a great example is in lines like “It’s here ‘til I’m dead I ain’t even trying to play house/Apartments, a condo, my mentality is complex/Fresh out the projects how’s your conscious?” Track number 2 “Lights On” sounds like a morning after a drunk fueled night. Barthel leads this track and details the type of night she has had.

“Fell in the Sun” has a strong indie pop feel to it. This is the official single that was released off the EP and for good reason. This is a dope ass record. Yeah, it kind of sounds like something that probably could be played on the video game “Kingdom Hearts” but Big Boi rides this beat like a Cadillac de Ville rolling on the highway. His flow is hard but he straight owns the beat with it. Even Barthel knows what they are working with when she says they “Dealt this dope from ATL to New York.”

Out of 7 tracks, Carter produces 5 of them. The last song “Drum Machine” was produced by Skrillex but the highlight of the album “Put It on Her” is produced by 9th Wonder. “Put It on Her” is definitely the most hip-hop sound you get off the EP and Big Boi spazzes on the beat with just dope line after dope line. However, Phantogram finds a way to fit perfectly on the song as Carter actually raps alongside Big Boi on the track in an alien voice and straight murks it.

The only guests that appear vocally outside of Big Grams is the best group in hip-hop right now, Run The Jewels on the smooth yet barbaric “Born to Shine”. Killer Mike comes in on some super-duper ignorant and braggadocios shit on the first verse comparing himself to Ric Flair and quoting bible verses, so sick. Seems like it will be hard for anybody to come behind him and then El-P comes in spouting off these sick metaphors that take 5 listens to get and just makes me SMH. After all that, you wonder how Big Boi is going to top them and then he comes in on some fly pimp shit filled with crazy old school r&b references that make you laugh and recognize just how sick Daddy Fat Sax is as a lyricist. This was definitely a lyrical showcase to the highest order.

This musical matrimony works and due to the nature of EP’s, leaves you wanting more. Big Grams work perfectly together and the combination never feels unnatural or out of place throughout the EP. The major aspect to take from this is it is original and fresh. No project sounds like this one. Every track has a picture. Barthel said that they wanted you to feel like you’re having sex on mushrooms and that you can’t tell if you’re on acid or dreaming. The EP truly flows like that. It is trippy, funky, hard, and groovy all at the same time – none of which are mutually exclusive.

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