Growing up in Georgia, Big Boi knew what it meant to grapple with a loved one’s personal struggles. “My father, he was in the military, and then he battled with alcohol for a long time too,” says the co-founder of the foundational Atlanta rap duo Outkast. “Mentally he was a genius, but he had a lot of demons, and I saw that coming up.”
Through conversations with his father, Big Boi sought to understand him. And while those experiences could have led him to retreat inward, he says he learned to lean on family even more. As an adult with influence, he’s come to advocate for candid and constructive mental health discourse. “The way the world is now, with all the pressure and the chaos, you got to keep an open dialogue with your loved ones so you can have that support system there,” he says.
On May 21, Big Boi will put that belief into action by headlining the Sound Mind Music Festival for Mental Health in New York’s Central Park. The festival, which also features Cold War Kids, American Authors, Kamauu, Wrabel, and Allison Russell, is part of the organization Sound Mind’s mission to end mental health stigma through music. Ticket proceeds will support free mental health initiatives from the National Alliance on Mental Health and its New York affiliates.
In addition, Sound Mind is hosting a series of pre-festival events for targeted conversations at the intersections of mental health and LGBTQ+ identity, communities of color, and the music industry — and Big Boi is giving away a signed microphone to the winner of a sweepstakes that fans can enter by donating one dollar or more to Sound Mind, or by signing a petition for increased mental health crisis services.
The petition is a response to the federal government’s creation of a new three-digit code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Starting July 16, people in need will be able to dial 988 to reach the lifeline. Mental health and crisis care advocates have raised concerns that the new number will overwhelm underfunded and understaffed call centers, and that there aren’t enough mobile crisis response teams of mental and physical health professionals and social workers to meet the needs of callers. The petition calls on policymakers to prioritize increasing the number of centers and teams, as well as crisis stabilization programs that help distressed individuals get appropriate and preventative care.
Emphasizing the importance of community and conversation in reaching people before they experience a mental health crisis, Big Boi says, “In my city, you see people snap, and [other] people don’t know why. And it’s like, well, nobody ever spoke to them… It’s just all about dialogue. It’s just all about communication.”
In 2019, Big Boi lent his voice to an animated mental health PSA featuring his pet owls that advocated against harsh and inaccurate rhetoric that perpetuates stigma. “To be able to be instrumental in swaying the minds of the youth and even of adults [by] just talking about my life experiences…That’s what it’s about,” he says.
He adds: “It’s always good to let people know that people care about them, and you’re not alone. And it’s always good to speak to somebody if you’re going through something.”