At this point, collaborations between artists from disparate genres aren’t a new concept. While a rapper remixing an indie band’s hit single used to be cause for confusion or celebration, these days it’s common for, say, Big K.R.I.T. to add a verse to an alt-J single. But these tracks tend to lack a sense of immediacy – more often than not, it sounds like the rapper just recorded a verse on the road and emailed it to the band’s manager.
Big Grams – the new collaboration between Atlanta rapper Big Boi of Outkast fame and New York electro-pop duo Phantogram – feels refreshing in comparison. Big Boi discovered Phantogram through a pop-up ad (making Big Grams the most compelling argument against Spotify Premium so far), before the trio tested the waters on three of the standout tracks from Big Boi’s 2012 album Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors.
It’s a testament to the versatility of both artists’ sounds that this new, full collaboration covers several different styles, never content to stay in one lane. Opener “Run for Your Life” features Big Boi maneuvering an anxious, clattering beat that feels nearly claustrophobic until Sarah Barthel’s soothing hook emerges like a sunrise on a dark night. Two tracks later, standout single “Fell In The Sun” lays Phantogram’s signature synths and horn samples over skittering hi-hats to produce a warm, exuberant summer jam that sounds like an ice cream truck riding on hydraulics.
Barthel recently told Rolling Stone, “The main focus of wanting to do this project was to do things that we wouldn't normally do anywhere else,” and the EP’s experimental streak extends to its guests: Rap legend 9th Wonder and dubstep wunderkind Skrillex contribute production to “Put It On Her” and “Drum Machine,” respectively, but these tracks don’t feel out of place alongside Josh Carter’s stylistically omnivorous production. Similarly, “Born to Shine” matches the aggressive energy of guests Run the Jewels while still feeling like a Big Grams song. Big Boi’s verse compliments the tone and theme of “Lights On” without feeling superfluous, while his playful sing-rap conversation with Barthel on “Goldmine Junkie” is one of the record’s most thrilling moments.
Not everything works – there are moments where Barthel’s hooks feel like an afterthought, and Big Boi has a tendency to fall back on familiar subject matter (if you don’t want to hear multiple references to Big Boi’s semen, Big Grams EP might not be for you), but the project succeeds overall because both parties understand each other’s styles and what makes them work, allowing them to play to their strengths while simultaneously exploring new, unexpected directions. Over the course of their debut EP, Big Grams prove that cross-genre collaborations are more than just a gimmick – as long as they’re done right.