A excerpt from his latest interview with New York Times.
I’ve heard you say that you didn’t want to become an old rapper.
I remember, at like 25, saying, “I don’t want to be a 40-year-old rapper.” I’m 39 now, and I’m still standing by that. I’m such a fan that I don’t want to infiltrate it with old blood.
But over the last five years, you’ve recorded maybe three or four guest appearances a year, and those verses are always really strong.
I struggle with the verses. I don’t sit around and write raps, I just don’t. Now the only time I’m really inspired to write raps is if an artist that I enjoy invites me to their party. So if Future calls and says, “Hey man, I want you to do this,” I don’t want to let Future down. I don’t want to let Lil Wayne or Drake down, because I love them.
But when you show up to the party, do you believe that you have something to contribute?
My son, he’s 16. Him and his buddies, they’ll be in the car, and I’ll say, “Hey, what do you think about this verse?” That’s my gauge at this point. I don’t have the pulse. Part of art is knowing when not to put paint on. And when to change your medium.
Why the tour now, then?
Honestly, I never planned to go onstage again in that way. If I feel like I’m getting to a place where it’s mimicking or a caricature, I just want to move on. But I felt like: Let me do it now ’cause these kids [in the audience], it feels good to know that they’re happy. I really don’t actually get anything from performing.
Not even over the course of the whole tour?
I feel good in being able to look at Big Boi and say, “Hey, man, we did it.” Big Boi’s got these great records on his own, but this means something else for him.
On the T.I. song “Sorry,” you have a line apologizing to Big Boi about leaving a lot of money on the table over the years.
We’ve left millions and millions of dollars on the table. We didn’t even tour for our biggest album [“Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”]. I just wanted to say I know how hard it must be.
When you started the tour, was it difficult to be onstage after so long?
Yeah, I think people could see it at Coachella, the very first show. It was foreign. My head wasn’t there. I kind of fluffed through rehearsals. A few hours before the Coachella show, I get a message that Prince and Paul McCartney are going to be there. My spirit is not right, and idols are standing side-stage, so as the show started, I’m bummed. This is horrible. In my mind I was already gone to my hotel room halfway through. So Prince called a couple days after. It was my first time actually talking to Prince. He said: “When you come back, people want to be wowed. And what’s the best way to wow people? Just give them the hits.”
I’m explaining to him that I really didn’t want to do it. He said: “I’ve been there. I’ve tried to do other things. After you give them the hits, then you can do whatever.”
Prince told you to boss up, so you bossed up.
He broke it down like this: “You’re a grown man. You’re either going to do it or you’re not.’
On tour, you’ve been wearing full bodysuits, wigs, sunglasses. Is that a person who’s hiding?
It’s always easier to play characters. They actually got André Benjamin the first night [at Coachella], and I clearly saw they don’t want André Benjamin. He loves what he’s done, but I hate cages, and sometimes nostalgia is a cage.
You’d also lost both your parents not long before the tour. Did you ever think about canceling?
No, it was actually the biggest blessing ever. These shows force me to have to be in front of those people, so it was good therapy for me.
What’s your creative life been like since that era? It’s mostly been out of view.
I write ideas, I write thoughts. Melodies come more for me than raps. I sit in my house and just play. I’ve been drawing and painting a lot more. I’ve always drawn costumes, things I was going to wear onstage.
Seven and I hate folding clothes, so we’d always take all of our clean clothes and just put ’em on the table. One day, I was like, “Man, we living like college students.” I got so fed up with [the mess]. I drew it. [He pulls out iPhone and flips through some sketches.] I see me moving into a visual space.
So no plans to put out an album, but we might get a gallery show?
No, I’d love to put out an album.
Sung or rapped?
It’s hard to say. [Laughs.] I’m just going to call it honest. I know this may sound morbid, but I was like, if I were to die today, I have all these half-songs on my hard drive, and I don’t want that.
But you don’t have a time window.
When you feel it, it’s right. If you don’t feel it, then why? Honestly, think about it. Why do it? Why?