After spending most of 2014 touring with Andre 3000 for their Outkast reunion, Big Boi returned to his Atlanta home and started craving a new creative endeavor. "I got the itch again to scope out new talent," he tells Rolling Stone. The Purple Ribbon CEO had already found success in past years with the discovery of rapper Killer Mike and futuristic soul-pop singer Janelle Monae. Now, he's hoping to do the same with 14-year-old Vine and Instagram star Malcolm White.
White is the first signee on Camp Purple, a joint venture between Big Boi and Outkast's longtime collaborator David "Mr. DJ" Sheats. Sheats had found White's cover of Fetty Wap's ubiquitous "Trap Queen" and showed it to Big Boi, who instantly gravitated toward the charismatic, young singer.
"When I first saw the video of him doing 'Trap Queen,' I didn't know that was a real song," Big Boi admits. "I don’t listen to the radio. I keep my radio stations set on the Sixties, Seventies and the Eighties [laughs]. I thought that was his record. But once I heard his voice, I was like, 'Wow.'"
White, a freshman at Cleveland Heights High School, has already begun to earn acclaim with his covers of "Trap Queen" and O.T. Genasis's "CoCo" and had sparked interest in multiple record labels. "All kind of record labels were calling [White's parents] to get them to sign, so they were weary when I called until they knew it was me," Big Boi says.
The Outkast member flew White and his parents to Atlanta – White had never been in a professional studio before – and recorded some demos. "It was great," White, who records as MalcUpNext, tells Rolling Stone. "We had good chemistry and I never thought I would work with a superstar like him. He gave me advice and was very welcoming. He's a real cool and genuine guy."
One of those demos would turn into White's breezy, soulful first single "This Feeling," which Rolling Stone is premiering below.
"It's a feel-good song," Big Boi says of the track. "It reminds me of a young Michael Jackson or New Edition. There aren't any kid artists that are being kids that are really souful. Everybody wants to be grown. Everything doesn't have to be raunchy or too adult. We want to keep him like he's 14; taking a girl to the movies and being in the lunchroom with his friends. Things me and Andre used to do when we were young. We want his music to reflect the adolescent stage that he's going through right now."
White has already recorded four songs and is planning to return to Big Boi's Stankonia Studios to record more. Expect to hear Big Boi collaborate with White on numerous tracks, as the rapper plans to put out White's debut album, produced mainly by Mr. DJ, later this year.
The 40-year-old rapper has personal experience with precociousness, as he and Andre 3000 began their careers in high school. (Big Boi's mother wouldn't let him sign a recording contract until he graduated high school with honors.) For Big Boi, White's age represents an innocence that, as an 18-year-old, he had already shed when Outkast released their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
"I'm definitely mentoring him," says Big Boi. "Me and 'Dre started when we were sophomores in high school. We was already fuckin' and all kinds of stuff like that. Malcolm's way younger than that, so he ain't got to that part yet. The innocence is what's dope about it. I want to groom him as a talent. We gonna grow this boy into the world. Our goals are the same as always: We like to get talent that can be groomed and when you take the training wheels off, they can start pedaling and just go."