On Friday night at the McDonald Theatre, ‘90s rap fans rejoiced.
Big Boi, a musical innovator in the blend of funk and Dirty South music, nursed nostalgia to a crowd of largely middle-aged, old-school OutKast fans. With a son who plays football for the Oregon Ducks, he’s been enthusiastic about the school on social media and frequenting Autzen on game days. But this is the first time Big Boi has performed in Eugene since his son has become local.
Big Boi launched into stardom as half of OutKast, the six-time Grammy award winning funk group that made fans move and critics swoon. Big Boi still often collaborates with other Atlanta-based Dungeon Family mainstays like Killer Mike and Sleepy Brown, remaining steadfast with his Southern roots — which are the foundation behind the variants between 2015’s “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Rise of Chico Dusty” and 2017’s “Boomiverse.” Now, he combines that same culture and soul with that of his son’s new city.
Big Boi flaunted his Duck gear just as much as his signature gold chains. He marched onstage in sweatpants, gold chains and an Oregon Ducks hat, rapping the familiar opening bars of “ATLiens,” the title track off OutKast’s second studio album. He vigorously waved his arms in sync with his hype man as the crowd of long-time fans — now Eugenian 30-somethings — filled in the iconic hook, “now throw your hands in the air/ and wave 'em like you just don't care/ and if you like fish and grits and all that pimp shit/ then everybody let me hear you say oh-yea-yer.”
With eagerness and open arms, the crowd threw their O’s and attempted to match his Southern swagger with their dance moves. “It’s finally good to see my new family,” he said a few times. “I’ve been coming here all season to see my kid.”
He then dove into some of OutKast’s biggest hits, “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Elevators” and “Rosa Parks.” When performing his solo work, the crowd unsurprisingly quieted down, but earnestly stumbled over the lyrics in support, although also unfamiliarity.
It’s unfair, and maybe even a bit selfish, for fans to be asking for an OutKast 2.0 when Big Boi boasts a discography of innovative solo work released since the group’s demise. But when half of one of the greatest musical duos of all time is in the room, it’s difficult to suppress the desire — and for Big Boi, it’s almost irresistible to revisit his historic heyday.
There’s a reason OutKast was so popular: Together, they’re a pugnacious partnership that has endless uncharted creativity at their fingertips. Andre 3000 is a cooing, smooth-talking musical genius who bent boundaries into brand new sounds. Big Boi is the grounded, hard-hitting counterpart, with biting lyricism of masterful ferocity. Big Boi was the bass to Andre’s treble. They balanced each other out, but as a solo artist, Big Boi has proved that he’s uniquely whole on his own. His music has changed from the OutKast era, but that’s part of the point. It’s a different era for Big Boi, and the crowd at McDonald felt palpably lucky to be a part of this personal chapter.
“We got that Dirty South shit,” Big Boi said to the crowd before jumping into the 2017 twanging, trap-lite track, “In the South.” “So we’re gonna be the dirty motherfuckin’ Ducks tonight.” The animated music video to the song played on the screen behind him as the crowd stretched to match the rapper’s energy.
With minimal lighting effects, the show had the deep theatrics that surround Big Boi’s persona that never distracted from his recognizable, complex bars when performing classics like “The Way U Move” and “The Whole World.” The first time he left the stage, the music video for “Int’l Players Anthem” played on the screen and Andre 3000’s opening verse blasted through the theatre, building anticipation for almost a minute before Big Boi lumbered back to follow up with an encore before saying goodbye to his new family.
Big Boi may have Oregon weed in his lungs now — but as he marched offstage, he had the Eugene crowd chanting “ATL.”