Sometimes the most unlikely pairings deliver the most satisfying results. On Big Grams’ eponymous debut LP, Phantogram and Outkast’s Big Boi share an undeniable chemistry, as was first recognized when Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel were featured on several tracks from Big Boi’s 2012 record Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Each track on the new trio’s LP juxtaposes rap verses with psych pop beats, and the best moments are almost as pure as Walter White’s “blue.”
Big Grams‘ seven tracks build on one another, easing listeners into the skillful interweaving of two elements not typically strung together. Opener “Run for Your Life” sounds more like a mashup than the two acts working together, as if vocal tracks were taken from Big Boi and Barthel’s respective projects and combined rather than recorded anew together. But by the final track (“Drum Machine”, which features Skrillex), any sonic inconsistencies get strained out of the mix. Big Boi and Phantogram are at that point no longer discrete entities — Big Grams has taken shape and taken over.
The LP mostly maintains a moderate tempo, allowing rapid-fire rapping and airy vocals to coexist, as best heard on “Put It On Her”. The track stands out for its immunity to classification under any one genre or decade; horns, soulful vocals, and fast rhymes are all blended together with an electronic, funkified beat.
Throughout Big Grams, Big Boi, Carter, and Barthel demonstrate their ability and willingness to take risks, even if some don’t work as well as others (“Goldmine Junkie” features Barthel’s futile attempt at rapping). But the downfalls of the LP are more or less overshadowed by the gambles that do pay off. And the biggest gamble of all? Tossing any and all expectations out the window. The trio clearly shows no concern for adhering to any constraints of sounding like Big Boi and/or Phantogram — Big Grams sounds like something else entirely, as any successful collaboration should.
“Ain’t no crystal ball/ Just balls on chains,” Big Boi raps on “Drum Machine”. His inability to see the future or its consequences is interesting when it pertains to Big Grams. No one predicted this LP, and no one can guess what follows it, but it’s often the good things you don’t see coming.
Essential Tracks: “Lights On”, “Put It On Her”