Big Grams, a collaborative EP by Phantogram and OutKast member Big Boi, blends the dreamy production Phantogram is so well known for with the larger-than-life, bombastic delivery and swagger of Big Boi.
“Run for Your Life” starts the record with production that’s pretty much just tribal-esque percussion over deep bass notes, followed by a hazy, ethereal chorus courtesy of Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel. Big Boi’s verses stand out sharply, but are also nicely book-ended by the more subdued melodies provided by Barthel. As an introduction to the record, the song creates an aesthetic that’s shiny and pearlescent, but the track isn’t nearly as strong if taken by itself. What follows, however, is.
“Lights On” announces its presence by way of a short, simple-yet-infectious synth line. Percussion and bass kick in before Barthel croons, “When the bars they stop, when the bars all start to close / And it gets dark outside and I can’t find my way home, I hope you keep the lights on for me.” Palm-muted guitar ticks on in the background, and a dizzying array of components fill just about all available space. “Lights On” seems to be a more refined, lush cousin of contemporary pop songs. Just as the track is about to drag on too long, at the three-minute mark, Big Boi’s unmistakable Southern drawl lumbers out of the haze of production, and immediately grabs the listener’s attention; every syllable is snapped out with laser precision, while still delivered in a tone of voice entirely saturated with a grandiosity and lackadaisical bravado that’s endlessly entertaining.
The first single off this record, “Fell In the Sun,” features a blend of trap-influenced percussion and a more soulful array of instrumentals that play in quite well with Barthel’s decisively saccharine tones. Big Boi, conversely, is intensely charismatic from the get-go. Cold and focused, Big Boi’s delivery acts as a fantastic foil to the soaring vocals Barthel contributes, and every one of his verses propels itself forward with a staggering confidence, punching through to the forefront effortlessly.
“Put It On Her,” one of the more subdued tracks on the record, deserves additional merit, as it’s perhaps the instance on Big Grams that best exemplifies the electric dynamic between Big Boi and Phantorgam’s production. The entire track is one funk-filled bubble in which every single element has a distinct bounce: from the guitar riff, to the tight snare, to the trumpet fills. And Big Boi’s confidence is at its highest and most effective here.
“Goldmine Junkie” is the closest this record comes to having a ballad, and everything — from the violin accompanying Sarah’s effervescent-yet-regretful delivery, to the more restrained flow that Big Boi opens with — blends together perfectly.
Killer Mike and El-P fortify the album infinitely, and their verses on “Born to Shine,” along with Big Boi’s verse, work to produce a track that feels a lot more spacious than it should. Phantogram’s production serves as a picture-perfect backdrop over which three larger-than-life lyricists all come out swinging. The highlight on the track being El-P’s verse, delivered in a fashion as aggressive as a starving pit bull’s bark.
Big Grams is perhaps the most fruitful and satisfying amalgamation of glossy electronica and Southern hip hop flair to grace our ears in the past months.