Big Boi and Sleepy Brown are Dungeon Family legends, Atlanta music icons, and spiritual brothers.
Since the Dungeon Family collective burst onto the scene in the mid-1990s, Big and Sleep's powerful chemistry has been evident. The pair sat down with ROCK THE BELLS to talk about that bond, and about their highly-anticipated new collaborative project The Big Sleepover.
"It started in the beginning," Sleepy says of what he and Big Boi have. "Once we did [the OutKast song] 'Claimin' True' together. I think that was the first time I saw Big [write] a hook. We vibed so well and did so great together. We've always had that thing. Both of us are Aquarius, both of us are from West Savannah. It's like being brothers but [we] never knew! It's so easy with each other because the vibe is so good and so special. I always feel what he's doing, he always feels what I'm doing."
"It just goes back to the very first album, even the Dungeon days," adds Big. "For him to be on the first, debut OutKast single speaks volumes to what he means to the sound overall of the collective. That ingredient is something we've always had. Jumping from that to 'The Way You Move...' and there's been a natural progression. Once Brown started going on the road with me and touring and [we were] spending a lot of time on the tour bus, we just got a vault for music. We was listening to beats one day and was like 'man, we need to do a whole project.' Because if they're going crazy over songs we did five, ten, fifteen years ago -- let's give 'em a whole slab of some new shit!"
Sustaining a standard for greatness has always been these guys' modus operandi. From the moment they saw their first success with OutKast's 1994 debut southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, all eyes were on the Dungeon Family.
"There was never pressure," reflects Big Boi on those early days. "The way Organized Noize trained us as Jedi emcees. It was always to be lyrical giants. We always stayed working. To this day, if we're not on the road, we're recording. If you stay ready, you ain't gotta get ready."
And in being ready for the moment, the Dungeon Family became ambassadors and reporters for a city that many Hip-Hop fans were just getting ot know.
"We were the news if you came to Atlanta," Sleep feels. "We could tell you where to go, where not to go. Everything changed once the Olympics came, but 95 was a great year."
"93, 94 and 95," Big adds. He remembers how an iconic 90s Atlanta tradition paved the way for OutKast and the Dungeon Family to break big.
"We launched our career off the back of Freaknik," Big says. "We was passing out our sample cassettes right there. The Dungeon was right in the middle of where Freaknik was. So we walked down the street, passed out the little player packs. We had dice and incense along with a snippet tape of the southernplayalistic... album. And we were just out there campaigning, man. Letting people know we comin.' For a lot of people who took them tapes back....that was their introduction to who the Dungeon Family and OutKast and the whole collective was — along with pussy poppin' at Freaknik."
A lot has changed in Atlanta since the days of pussy poppin' at Freaknik and passing out cassettes.
Largely on the heels of what the Dungeon Family accomplished (as well as successes by noteworthy contemporaries like So So Def) the city became a musical mecca and a Hip-Hop hotbed by the early 00s. With platinum-selling superstars like Ludacris and T.I., trap legends like Jeezy and Gucci Mane; as well as a younger wave that now includes artists like 21 Savage and Migos, the ATL influences the culture in a way that seemed unfathomable 25 years ago. But Big Boi says that there's a kinship that has never disappeared.
"I think the camaraderie of Atlanta artists has never changed," he shares. "Like, you might've had one or two individuals who might not get along, but for the most part, if you're going to bump into somebody at the Blue Flame or at Lenox or at Magic City or whatever and it's somebody that you listen to, you might be like 'hey, man, we might need to do us one.' So there's a lot of collaboration going on and there's power in numbers. That unity that Atlanta artists show together; when you see a T.I. with a Young Thugga or an OutKast with a Gucci Mane or whatever, we show unity. We all on the same team."
He adds a quick shot at the woeful Atlanta Falcons' recently-departed coach.
"That's how we keep getting that ball and scoring touchdowns, unlike Dan Quinn."
With The Big Sleepover, Big Boi and Sleepy Brown get to flex their creativity and lean into the musical synergy they've always shown on classics from "So Fresh, So Clean" to the slept-on "Margarita."
The project has been gestating for a while now, but Big and Sleep have released singles like this summer's slow-rolling "Can't Sleep" to the topical "We The Ones" remix with Killer Mike. And they know fans are waiting.
"It's been done — since before the quarantine," Big says of the album. "We wanted to put out 'We The Ones' after 'Can't Sleep' to give people something to live to. We have to address what's going on in the world; but the album has been complete. It's substance, its a party, it's groovy, it's soul-stirring. It's what you get from the Dungeon Family."
If there was ever a time when the music-loving public could use a dose of the Dungeon Family, it's now. And the Fam is hard work (Goodie Mob's new album is due for early November, and OutKast's Stankonia is celebrating 20 year anniversary), and Big and Sleep want everyone to know they're aware of what's going in the culture. It's part of the reason why they've taken their time. The timing is everything.
"We tryna give y'all something for y'all to go live to!" Big says, laughing. "So y'all can fight for y'all life! Y'all show some appreciation! We ain't gonna just be throwing no gotdamn songs out just to throw them hoes out! All we gotta do is call L.A. and push send!"
* HEADER CREDIT: Rappers Sleepy Brown and Big Boi pose backstage during the Meadows Music and Arts Festival - Day 2 at Citi Field on September 16, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)