It may be something of a surprise to learn that on Big Gipp’s new solo album ZAGGA (which he says means “I am the beginning and the end”), the flamboyant fourth of the legendary Southern hip-hop quartet Goodie Mob is focusing less on his skills as a wordsmith. “People don’t know that I’m not just a rapper,” Big Gipp revealed during a promo tour stop in NYC for his latest effort.
On his new album, Big Gipp shines the spotlight on his little-known songwriting and singing talents, which over his 20 years in the music industry have been eclipsed by his iconic Southern-drawl rhyme flow. “I’ve proven that I can do the hip-hop thing. It was time for me to do something new,” shares Gipp—who also points out that although ZAGGA may be his second solo effort, the Atlanta-bred MC considers this latest project to be a more accurate reflection of him as an artist. “My goal was to do things I’ve never done in music, and I think I accomplished that. I can’t wait for everyone to hear what I’m coming with.”
EBONY.com broke bread with Gipp, and his excitement was palatable as he spoke about working on ZAGGA and experimenting with a new sound.
EBONY: ZAGGA is your first solo album since 2003’s Mutant Mindframe. Why did you wait so long to release another album?
Big Gipp: I was very impressed with some of the other artists in the game who are the same age as me and who have been in the game for a long time and how they started stepping back out. Seems like music is going back to music again, and that’s where I come from. All of our music—the Dungeon Family and Organized Noise—was always live and always used instrumentation and we push the boundaries of music. The world needs more musicians to come out.
I saw artists coming out doing some of the things I did. I saw my DNA in them. They were using some of my cadences. At the same time, I was running into younger artists who would ask me why I wasn’t putting out more music. I’m such a team player. It really takes an arrogant attitude to be a solo artist, and that’s something I’ve never been. At this point, I see Pharrell doing 15 million on records like “Happy” and I’m like, “Yo, I don’t have to be that angry rapper anymore. I can be a musician and experiment with my music.”
I went into the studio and started working on different records. It wasn’t planned. I was just putting down ideas. After I finished a couple of songs, I called André 3000 and told him I wanted to get this record to L.A. Reid. André came over and we listened to the record and he said he would call L.A. Reid for me. L.A. listened to the album and was like, “welcome home.”
EBONY: You came full circle getting signed by L.A. Reid. It was him who signed you when you first came into the industry.
BG: It felt awesome being that this is the man who signed me when I was 20 years old, and here he is signing me 20 years later. For him to still be the guy in the music industry all these years says a whole lot. There was no one else I would have wanted to put this album out but him.
EBONY: On this new project, you are experimenting with your sound. You are also singing on many of the songs. What inspired you to break away from your hip-hop roots?
BG: The Gipp of before is iconic and I’ve done that. People know I can be that hardcore rapper. For me to last another 20 years, I have to do something different and out the box for my fans and for me. I can’t just be a rapper anymore. Everything people are doing now it hip-hop, [Goodie Mob and Dungeon Family] did years ago, and back then we were called weirdoes for doing it.
I’m a lot more confident today ’cause I was able to go out on tour with my brother Cee Lo for three years and be at the top of the food chain. It made me see what I need to do as an artist. People can now see all of my talent. I write songs and I can find great producers. I just made sure this album was a worldly album. It’s not attached to any kind of race, sound and community as far as music is concerned. There’s some funk, some soul and some rock in this. This album is a brighter version of Gnarls Barkley.
I’m the guy who will stand up in the club with green monkey pants on in the ’90s. I’ve always infused rock ’n’ roll into the ghetto culture. I was hanging with Lenny Kravitz, Fishbone and Smashing Pumpkins on my first album. I just never had an opportunity to showcase that side of me in my music.
ZAGGA is the closet album to me. On my first solo album, I wasn’t happy at all. I was going through the breakup of the group and I had relationship issues with getting divorced. It wasn’t a time of me to be able to expand musically. This here is the first album I feel I was emotionally clear on who I am and what I want.
EBONY: Some have called ZAGGA as radio friendly. There was a time when uttering those words to describe an album by a hip-hop artist was considered a death sentence.
BG: Hip-hop has changed tremendously because of the people who have taken the hip-hop thing and made it pop. When I was coming up, hip-hop was at the bottom of the totem pole. Now, we are at the top. Hip-hop is popular music now. It was only through artists doing things that weren’t expected and pushing the boundaries that it is where it is today.
On ZAGGA, you are gonna get an album with instrumentation. This is the first album people will hear my singing voice and see me on the stage with a band. I loved the songwriting process. It is still infused with hip-hop, but I had to put more legs on it. I did a song with B.o.B., “Country Song,” about my father and watching my father do right by his family and taking care of his wife. I wanted people to know I came up in a two-parent home and my parents are still together.
“Thank You” is a very European record. The beat is very dark rock ’n’ roll, and rock ’n’ roll is always needed. The first single, “Shine Like Gold,” was written by Bruno Mars and he sent it to Cee Lo but Cee Lo never went to it. I took the hook and song and I wrote my own version. Cee Lo got on and it sounded great. It’s a celebration of women. “Paint Your Walls” is another ode to women. Women are like art, and no two are the same anywhere in the world. It’s a live song and I’m singing on the entire record.
EBONY: A lot of the songs touch on your love and respect for women.
BG: I think this album is for women, who I think have been taking a real beating in the media. Everything is so negative, and it was time for someone to make a record and congratulate and put women back on the pedestal where they belong. I wanted to give men an album to appreciate women. There are enough songs about tearing down women. I have a daughter, and for me personally, it was about making sure I did something for her. I’ve done years of doing the street stuff and now it’s about all these new experiences.
EBONY: How is it now singing as oppose to rhyming? Do you approach singing differently?
BG: When I’m rhyming, I don’t have to think about it. With singing, I have to get into that mind space. On [Goodie Mob’s] “Black Ice,” I was singing, but it was under the actual hook. I sung on all the Goodie Mob songs. On ZAGGA, I brought it to the forefront and everything that was easy for me, like rapping, I put in the background.
ZAGGA drops on December 9.
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and magazines. Check out her work and blog at AlexandraPhanor.com.