Rap royalty goes to the dogs
Inside the dog breeding world of Big Boi and his brother
James Patton was supposed to vacation with his brother Antwaan, aka rapper/former OutKast member Big Boi, in Las Vegas. He had a flight booked and bags packed for a beach getaway in the Dominican Republic. He cancelled both trips at the last minute. Though he says he desperately needs a vacation, even if it's just to Marietta, he can't leave his home in the outskirts of Atlanta.
His reason? If you head behind his Fairburn house you can hear it — more than a dozen French and English bulldogs play-fighting in a backyard compound. These pups, who have names like "Bye Felicia," take up a bulk of Patton's time. And he's nervous about letting anyone else watch them grow up.
"Me and my girlfriend get into it all the time like, 'Why don't you get someone to come out here and take care of the dogs?' But this is what I do," he says. "They're not gonna do it like me. I love them too much."
Patton and Big together own Unbelievabull Frenchies, which they started in 2012. Patton also functions as Unbelievabull's operator, feeder, janitor, breeder, caseworker, and chief promoter. And the bulldog biz is just one of the newer canine companies the brothers govern. Once the bullies are tired from running around in the sun, Patton takes a trip every day to Pitfall Kennels, the Newnan pit bull breeding business the two founded in the early '90s.
The Patton brothers' clientele include athletic and musical elite like Serena Williams and Usher. For the general-admission crowd who can't shell out around $2,500 for one of the baby pups, there's the option for virtual puppy joy. In between promotion of his new music project Big Grams and political memes, Big shows off the kennel's available pups on his Instagram. Each picture and video of the puppies roughhousing together links back to the business.
The brother's two social media stars du jour are 8-week-old English bulldogs Pluto and Jupiter — the "Digable Planets," as Big calls them. Watching both roly-poly chubsters wrestle over a chain, it's hard to connect their goofball demeanor with the macho image both breeds the brother's handle bring to mind; especially in Georgia, where UGA's bulldog logo sports a spike-covered collar and looks capable of tearing a person to pieces. These rowdy puppies live in a weird world in which, no matter how cute they are, there's an inherent stereotype of violence associated with them.
The rap world can reinforce this savage trope. The dog, straining at its owner's leash, fangs bared, is a common signifier of machismo found on album covers and music videos. Hell, almost the entire video collection of DMX could be summed up with his "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" — a fierce group of dogs surrounded by dudes flexing. Other rappers, including Lil Wayne and Chief Keef, compare bulldogs to a pistol. "I point it at you and tell that motherfucker fetch," Wayne raps on his song "John (If I Die Today)."
You don't typically see the gentle side of the puppies in this world, the side that Pluto and Jupiter show off with big smiles and adorable, gurgling barks; the side that likely inspired patron saint of sweethearts Betty White adopt a pit (not from the brothers, but still). The brothers themselves both struggle with this stereotype at times. Next to photos of the babies on their website are magazine covers with the typical chain-link leash dog pose. Big recently Instagrammed a meme of a pit bull looking through a shattered door The Shining-style.
Though there are momentary lapses, both men argue the breeds get a bad rap. In a recent interview, Big said he saw the effects of these destructive stereotypes play out at a photo shoot for his soon-to-be-released Big & Bobbi dog shampoo (yes, he created a dog shampoo, which is now in use at both kennels). While he and pet care entrepreneur Bobbi Panter posed with one of Pitfall's dogs, Big Junior, he noticed she was nervous around the large dog. He joked later that she thought Big Junior was going to eat her little Shih Tzus, who were also on the shoot. It wasn't until later on, at the end of the shoot, that Panter realized how friendly and easy-going Big Junior actually was.
And that cheerful playfulness is what Big and Patton try to put the spotlight on with their social media and the business's website. Both strongly emphasize the "Frenchie squishy faces and unconditional puppy love" of their dogs and want each of the dogs to find a "forever home," as they call it.
"How a dog acts is on how your treat them," Big says. "If you have a kid and you lock the kid in the basement and you beat him and you abuse him ... nine times out of 10 you're gonna come out with a serial killer on your hands. It's the same things with dogs ... You've got to have them around your family and cultivate that love and you've got something that'll last."
Murderer hyperbole aside, Patton says the kennels strictly examine each potential adopter with background checks and meetings to make sure the dogs and owners will be a good match. If the person has the right vibe — and especially if they have a good, warm family, Patton says — then he gives them a chance to buy one of his dogs.
This puppy love isn't a new thing for the brothers. Growing up, they spent a lot of time around their grandfather's hunting dogs in Savannah, big pit bulls and German shepherds bred to face down deer and raccoons. But, being young kids, they preferred the dogs closer to their own age.
"Me and my brother used to take care of the puppies," Big says. And it wasn't just the family's dogs that would come under the brothers' care. They'd pick up stray, mangy dogs from around the neighborhood, wash them off, and try to nurse them back to health.
Patton knows the real danger in dealing with these dogs: They're addicting. At one point, he guesses he had more than 40 of them running around. He only owns three now: Lil Boosie, Sophia Grace, and Rosie. The latter two his girlfriend named after the two girls who sang "Super Bass" on "Ellen," Patton points out sheepishly. The last three Unbelievabull pups up for adoption are tempting him, but he's fighting with all his might.
It'd just be another four-legged friend keeping him away from a sunny beach somewhere.