1975 to 1990
Antwan Patton is born in Savannah, Georgia on February 1; Andre Benjamin is born on May 27, 1975 in Decatur, Georgia. The oldest of five children, Antwan helps raise his siblings after his parents split when he’s five due to domestic abuse. Though he harbours dreams of becoming a football player, his grandmother’s tastes (Parliament, Ohio Players, Bob Marley) spur his interest in music. At one point, the Patton family lives in a motel for a year. Andre also lives in a motel as a child; after his parents separate, he stays with his mother, who works the assembly line at General Motors. Andre grows up in a black neighbourhood but is bussed to a white school. His school bus drops him miles from home; he walks the rest of the way to prevent classmates from learning where he lives. His interest in art gives way to music influences from school (Depeche Mode, INXS) and at home (Eric B. & Rakim, Too Short). He catches the acting bug and appears in a school production of Charlotte’s Web; he’s also an avid skateboard enthusiast, and writes "Skate or Die” in classmates’ yearbooks.
1990 to 1992
To escape his strict mother, Andre moves in with his father in the East Point section of Atlanta, where he steals clothes from laundromats and tricks pizza boys into delivering to empty apartments, where he orders them to drop the food and run. He attends Tri-Cities High School, as does Antwan, and they are in a tenth grade class together but only formally meet at a Ralph Lauren store at a local mall; they bond immediately over eccentric sartorial tastes and love of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. They steal cars and try to sell dope but smoke more than they sell before getting retail jobs at shoe stores. They form a group, 2 Shades Deep; Andre’s handle is Black Wolf while Antwan is Black Dog. They’re invited to appear on a cable access show, but Antwan can’t make it, so Andre invites Cee-Lo to step in — they’d met in third grade and reconnected at an alternative high school Andre attends. After more name changes, Andre settles on Dre and Antwan calls himself Big Boi. Because another local group is called 4 Shades Deep, they change their name to Misfits and eventually OutKast. Through a high school friend, they connect with 19-year-old producer Rico Wade, who has some industry connections. The bald-headed duo sit with Wade in the Isuzu Trooper of future Goodie Mob member Big Gipp and freestyle over the five-minute instrumental of A Tribe Called Quest’s "Scenario (Remix)” without missing a beat. Impressed, Wade invites them to his studio, the Dungeon, which he’s set up in the basement of a house he and his mother are renting from a former Atlanta police chief. Amongst the red clay and exposed pipes, Wade has assembled second hand equipment and instruments and leads a production team called Organized Noise with Pat "Sleepy” Brown and Ray Murray. Taking advantage of Wade’s mother’s lax rules, they congregate, party, sleep over and work on music "We were all living in a house making music so it was like a family creation thing,” says Andre. Dre’s mother becomes alarmed that he’s dropped out of high school. Dre and Big Boi are the youngest members of the crew, known as the Dungeon Family, which includes future members of the Goodie Mob. Through Wade’s connections to TLC’s T-Boz and LaFace Records executive L.A. Reid, OutKast make their first recorded appearance on a remix of TLC’s "What About Your Friends.”
L.A. Reid auditions OutKast for LaFace parent company Arista Records, but doesn’t like them. Discouraged, Dre wants to quit music altogether and become an architect, but Big Boi talks him out of it. Buzz begins to build around the duo, and after another label showcases them, Reid takes another look, this time offering the two 18-year-olds a record deal. Big Boi abandons his plans to become a child psychologist. Reid wants a song for a Christmas compilation on LaFace; unhappy with the subject matter, the duo write about their perfect day and call it "Player’s Ball.” With its slow funky groove, rapid-fire rhymes and Sleepy Brown’s hypnotic chorus, the song is a standout, and proves to be a turning point for the entire Dungeon Family crew. Goodie Mob member Cee-Lo hears it while working at the airport, and he and his cousin immediately walk off the job. It reaches Sean "Puff Daddy” Combs, who’s setting up Bad Boy Records at Arista; he loves it so much he comes to Atlanta to direct a video, then takes the duo on their first trip out of the city to open for Notorious B.I.G. in New York.
"Player’s Ball” is re-released without its sleigh bell effect and begins to spread nationwide. Their debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, is released in April. Conscious of not sounding like East or West coast hip-hop, the album has its own slow, soulful groove and readily incorporates live instrumentation welded to the duo’s elastic lyrical flows. It receives critical acclaim in hip-hop magazine The Source, and with platinum sales, is pivotal in garnering respect and attention for Southern hip-hop. "Before the Geto Boys and OutKast, the South wasn’t looked at as far as rap, period,” says Andre 3000. "It’s funny, now when I go to New York, [Southern hip-hop] is all I hear.” In addition to buying gear like they used in the Dungeon, the duo begin to show an entrepreneurial side — they both get into real estate, buying Atlanta apartment buildings, and Big Boi invests in a dog breeding business called Pitfall Kennels in Fairburn, Georgia. The business, now run by Antwan’s younger brother James, sells about 200 rare pit bulls a year.
Big Boi’s daughter Jordan is born. OutKast are nominated for Best New Group at the Source Awards. When they win, they’re booed by the New York crowd. Accepting the award, Dre pronounces "The South’s got something to say!” — they later use audio of the incident on Aquemini’s "Chonkyfire.” "It made you feel kinda frustrated,” Andre says of the incident, "but it’s all good fuel.” Dre goes back to high school to complete his GED. Fellow Dungeon Family members the Goodie Mob release their debut, Soul Food, bringing further attention to Atlanta hip-hop. Soul Food’s second single is "Dirty South”; the title, coined by Dungeon Family member Cool Breeze, becomes the representative phrase for Southern hip-hop. As well as producing Goodie Mob and other Dungeon Family projects, producers Organized Noize enjoy worldwide success for their work on TLC’s "Waterfalls” single. OutKast begin producing themselves. "On the first album I didn’t produce anything,” Andre says. "So by the time the second album came around there were a lot of tracks that I had done, new concepts and stuff and that was taking it in another direction.
Dre becomes a vegan, stops drinking and smoking pot; Big Boi doesn’t follow his lead. More changes in Dre’s lifestyle are reflected in his style — he begins to wear turbans as well as dashikis and headwraps to accommodate the dreads he’s growing. Female friends begin to design clothes based on his drawings. Their second album, ATLiens, presents a quantum leap in terms of musical breadth and conceptual execution. Though some long-time fans are puzzled by the album’s futuristic path, the album sells platinum. "It was how it was supposed to go,” says Andre. "I’m happy that it went that way. Of course you’re always going to have some people on the point that OutKast went somewhere they couldn’t get with. Some people are Southernplayalistic fans and that’s it. But that’s cool too.” Dre meets emerging Dallas-based R&B singer Erykah Badu in New York at a concert. Badu asks Dre for his number, but mistaking her intentions as purely artistic, Dre offers his business number; she turns and walks away. Dre attends a Badu show a few months later; they reconnect and eventually begin a relationship.
Dre’s changing image leads to the circulation of misguided rumours that he’s gay or on drugs. (He responds on Aquemini’s "Return of the G.”) Erykah and Dre begin to work together — Badu directs the "In Due Time” video, featuring Cee-Lo, from the Soul Food soundtrack, and Dre appears as Badu’s love interest in her "Other Side of The Game” video. She gives birth to a son, Seven Sirius, in Dallas on the same day her live album is released.
The duo forms the Earthtone III production company with friend and former tour DJ Mr. DJ, and work on OutKast’s third album. While Organized Noize are still producing, the bulk is handled by the duo. They name their album Aquemini to represent astrological signs of Dre (Aquarius) and Big Boi (Gemini); lead single "Rosa Parks” features a harmonica solo by Rev. Robert Hodo, Dre’s stepfather. The album sells faster than any previous releases and earns them widespread critical acclaim. "A lot of people say that hip-hop is the raw, raw thing and that it started with samples and all these different styles of music and putting it into their own songs,” says Andre. "When I look at it that’s exactly what we’re doing, but we’re creating new music instead of sampling it.” The group has meetings with MTV regarding an Aquemini movie, but the duo’s star power is questioned and Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes are suggested as casting choices. The project stalls, but OutKast don’t give up on making a film. Dre’s sartorial choices become increasingly outlandish, prompting label executives to ask Big Boi to tell Dre to curb his eccentricities. Big Boi refuses. Dre begins to write songs on guitar that don’t fit the traditional OutKast mould and wonders if he wants to rap anymore.
OutKast appear on Dungeon Family member Cool Breeze’s hit single "Watch For the Hook.” R&B singer Bobby Brown attends an OutKast show where the inebriated vocalist tells them his studio — where they recorded some of their debut — is up for sale and suggests they buy it. The duo discovers that Bosstown studio is actually in possession of the IRS. They purchase and revamp the studio, renaming it Stankonia. They score a Grammy nomination for "Rosa Parks” but the civil rights legend herself is unhappy and sues them for defamation of character. The charges dismay OutKast, who have deep admiration for the woman. Work begins on a new album, while so much leisure time is spent at strip clubs that Big Boi has a stripper’s pole installed in his home studio, known as the Boom Boom Room.
Dre’s relationship with Badu ends. Dre and Big Boi launch the Aquemini label and sign Slimm Calhoun. However, his debut The Skinny, released later next year, is a commercial disappointment. Midway through recording, the duo begin to work separately in the studio, checking in on each other’s progress and making suggestions. The breakneck "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” is the first song to emerge from the sessions, after the duo ignore record company requests to remove a guitar solo. Stankonia is innovative and progressive, and is an immediate success. Second single "Ms. Jackson” becomes a huge hit; the song is a message to Erykah Badu’s mother apologising for the failure of Dre’s relationship with her daughter. At Dre’s urging, Badu releases her own song about the relationship, "Green Eyes,” on her sophomore album Mama’s Gun at the end of the year. Dre takes on the moniker Andre 3000, and his clothes become even more futuristic, now featuring platinum wigs and alien suits. Entrepreneurial efforts include a clothing line; Big Boi is the driving force behind it, because Andre isn’t keen on the outfits. "Ms. Jackson” video director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator) says he’ll keep an eye out for film roles for Andre.
After the birth of his third child, Big Boi cancels some tour dates, but Stankonia’s success otherwise keeps them on the road. They remix "Again” for Lenny Kravitz and release a greatest hits album, Big Boi and Dre Present... OutKast, including a new single, "The Whole World.” Big Boi co-ordinates a collective Dungeon Family album, the excellent Even In Darkness. When both are released at the end of the year on the same label, promotion leans heavily on OutKast’s greatest hits, dismaying some members of the Dungeon Family collective.
The group win their first Grammy for "Ms. Jackson.” Big Boi marries his girlfriend Sherlita, mother to some of his children. In June, Goodie Mob member Khujo loses the use of his lower leg in an accident after falling asleep at the wheel. Although much of the Dungeon Family gathers in support (Andre visits and gives him a bass) Goodie Mob are effectively a trio now that Cee-Lo is working as a solo artist. When Big Boi’s favourite Atlanta strip club closes, he wants to help get it reopened; when that deal dies, he explores opening his own club. When work begins on a new album, OutKast are further apart than ever — Andre is in L.A. trying to start an acting career while Big Boi is comfortable in his home base of Atlanta. On a conference call, Andre reveals he’s working on a solo album, surprising Big Boi and their manager — they both balk at the idea considering OutKast just won a Grammy. Andre’s unhappy about it and considers leaking songs on the internet, but the duo eventually decide to work on a solo album each and release it as an OutKast double album. They record "Land of a Million Drums” for the Scooby Doo soundtrack; the work connects them with a film producer keen on making an OutKast movie.
Big Boi finishes his solo album in February and is frustrated to discover that Andre is still working. Big Boi focuses on the label, releasing Killer Mike’s album Monster, and starts a group with Organized Noize’s Sleepy Brown called West Savannah. Andre is upset when he hears the label is keen to release Big Boi’s album, since they’d balked at his. He takes saxophone and clarinet lessons, works on his guitar playing and hardly raps anymore. "I can’t really explain it,” he says. "I guess I don’t have anything to talk about.” Andre’s new songs feature him singing; the album is built around the idea of feelings men are afraid to express. He also attends acting classes and makes his debut in Harrison Ford movie Hollywood Homicide. Long-time collaborator Bryan Barber delivers a movie treatment to HBO. Meanwhile, "Bombs Over Baghdad” enjoys new life as an unofficial theme amongst American troops in Iraq, while tennis star Jennifer Capriati requests the song be played before her matches to support the troops. The attention irks Big Boi, who opposes the war; he thinks the song is being misinterpreted. After some frantic last minute sessions, Andre finishes his half of their new album. Andre’s "She Lives In My Lap” and Big Boi’s "Ghetto Musick” are the first singles serviced to DJs, but they’re quickly changed to "Hey Ya” (Andre) and "The Way You Move” (Big Boi); the singles make a monster smash out of their Speakerboxxx/The Love Below album even as their schizophrenic identities prompt rumours of a break-up. "We’re two guys that met in 10th grade,” Andre 3000 says. "Of course when you get older, you start doing your own thing. You still like some of the same things. We’re not so far away as people make it.” A film project set to star Andre and Shannyn Sossamon called Love Hater is announced, but doesn’t come to fruition. Andre announces that he will not tour; Big Boi decides he will regardless, with Dungeon Family members and guest artists. Break-up rumours and the success of "Hey Ya” in particular overshadow Big Boi’s more outspoken political views.
"Hey Ya” is so ubiquitous, Polaroid issues a statement that you shouldn’t shake Polaroid pictures and that doing so may actually damage them. "It wasn’t supposed to be the huge wide release that it was,” says Andre "but I guess in retrospect I’m glad that it happened. It was really some hobby type shit.” "Hey Ya” spends nine weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100; it’s finally overtaken by Big Boi’s "The Way You Move.” The duo miss out on some huge paydays by not touring together — they turn down a million dollar offer to perform at a Nashville festival and decline various endorsement deals. "After Stankonia and once ‘Ms. Jackson’ took off and MTV got ahold of what we do, it changed a lot,” Andre says. "Everybody knows about you and it’s not the underdog spirit anymore. On Speakerboxxx /The Love Below we just went somewhere else. After the commercial success of Stankonia, it’s like now we’re playing with ourselves.” The group does agree to perform at the Grammys, where they are nominated for six awards and win three, including Album of the Year; they embrace for a long time on stage before accepting the award. Their performance of "Hey Ya” causes controversy when it incorporates "The Beauty Way,” a sacred traditional Navajo song, and features Andre and backup dancers wearing feathers and headdresses. Some viewers are offended and CBS — under fire for the Super Bowl "nipplegate” incident only a month earlier — quickly apologises, although OutKast remain silent on the issue. Andre raps, along with Big Boi, on Sleepy Brown’s single "I Can’t Wait,” prompting hope that he hasn’t given it up, but he remains devoted to acting under his birth name, Andre Benjamin, and thus bows out of the Aquemini label, which closes down. In July, they begin a shoot in North Carolina on an OutKast movie, set in the 1930s and loosely based on two aborted video treatments for singles. Directed by Bryan Barber, it features Dre and Big Boi as childhood friends, one who pursues dreams of becoming a songwriter, the other a shady nightclub owner; the separate storylines mean they’re only onscreen together in a handful of scenes. After shooting all day, they work on music for the film at night; the schedule stresses out Andre in particular. Rumours spread that the film is over budget and behind schedule; when shooting wraps, most of the music remains unfinished. "We had some of the songs before we started shooting the movie and had some songs after the movie was shooting,” says Andre. When it’s announced that Andre will appear at the Republican National Convention, fans in Atlanta call radio stations and threaten to boycott OutKast, before Dre clarifies that he’s not performing, merely filming a non-partisan documentary on voting for HBO. Andre appears on and produces a track for Gwen Stafani’s solo album under his Johnny Vulture alter-ego. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below reaches diamond status in U.S. sales, the only hip-hop group to ever do so. Andre’s acting aspirations include a burning desire to play Jimi Hendrix in a proposed biopic, but those hopes are dashed when the guitarist’s estate refuses to licence music for any film project. Meanwhile, P.E.T.A. names him the World’s Sexiest Vegetarian and Esquire dubs him the World’s Best-Dressed Man.
OutKast settles the Rosa Parks lawsuit; together with the record company, they develop educational programs about her and her civil rights legacy. She dies later this year. A new OutKast album, to be called 10 The Hard Way and featuring the duo rhyming together, is rumoured to be in the works but never surfaces. After the end of the Aquemini label, Big Boi launches Purple Ribbon Records, a reference to the purity of a dog breed; he signs Bubba Sparxxx and Killer Mike, and releases a label comp called Got Purp? Vol. 2 (a more official version of a Got That Purp? mixtape issued earlier). The lead single is called "Kryptonite,” also the name of an energy drink he’s promoting. The busy Boi also starts a production company called Boom Boom Room and starts work on a new Santana album; add to that his mortgage company (Chunk of the Earth), and an appearance on King of the Hill as a pastor. HBO decides the OutKast movie, now titled Idlewild, deserves a theatrical release instead of debuting on the cable channel. Andre’s focus is acting, and he appears in Get Shorty sequel Be Cool, John Singleton’s Four Brothers, Guy Ritchie’s Revolver and cable TV hit The Shield. When Hurricane Katrina hits, they house some victims in apartment buildings they own outside of Atlanta. Music for Idlewild remains incomplete, delaying the film’s release until the following year.
Idlewild is originally slated for a spring release, but unfinished music and then a busy summer blockbuster season delay it until August. Big Boi makes his acting debut in ATL while his Purple Ribbon label releases an album by Bubba Sparxxx and prepares the debut of long-time collaborator Sleepy Brown. Dungeon Family member Cee-Lo enjoys his greatest success as a member of Gnarls Barkley. Andre produces a new project for the Cartoon Network called Class of 3000; he voices a rock star who gives it up to teach music to kids. He also provides the voice of a crow in a new version of Charlotte’s Web. A new Organized Noize-produced song from Idlewild, called "Mighty O,” begins to circulate and causes a buzz because it’s the first track in years featuring both Andre and Big Boi rhyming together. The film and album’s release date is confirmed for the end of August. "It’s an OutKast album and a soundtrack,” Andre says. "The movie takes place in the 1930s so some of the music will back up the movie. It has stuff that sounds like it could be from there, but at the same time it’s an OutKast album so it will still be us doing our own thing.” Like their last effort, two singles are released simultaneously. The Big Boi track, produced by Andre 3000, is called "Morris Brown” after the university marching band that provides percussion; Andre releases a blues-inflected track called "Idlewild Blues.” They continue to deny that OutKast has broken up, but their future seems hazy. The rumoured 10 The Hard Way project may or may not surface. Both are working on solo albums; Big Boi’s will be under his Hot Tub Tony alter-ego. "From this point we’ve decided not to say what’s happening next,” says Andre 3000, "because people take it and go other places and take the title and say they’re coming out with this and people’s expectations are always in other places and usually we come back with something else. So really I’m just gonna say it. You never know.”
The Essential OutKast
(La Face, 1994)
Before this, recognition of Southern hip-hop artists was limited to Geto Boys, 2 Live Crew and Arrested Development, and respect for lyricists from below the Mason-Dixon line was non-existent. Dre and Big Boi’s hungry rapid-fire slick talk anchored by Organized Noize’s deeply soulful production put Atlanta and the Dirty South on the hip-hop map. While subsequent OutKast releases are acclaimed for breadth and eclecticism, this is noticeable for its deceptive depth. Organized Noize’s layered sound eschewed sampling and seamlessly incorporated live instrumentation with minimal fuss.
(La Face, 1996)
OutKast defied expectations again on their startling sophomore effort. Their use of sci-fi, comic book and otherworldly motifs over ethereal yet organic soundscapes, harkened back to pioneering afronauts Sun-Ra and George Clinton. Speaking to their outsider status within hip-hop, it’s here that the player/poet dichotomy between the two is established. Dre traded in his Atlanta Braves gear for bohemian garb and philosophical and introspective lyrics while the irrepressible Big Boi expounded on being "cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.”
(La Face, 1998)
A landmark release, Aquemini is awash in pre-millennial tension. Dre and Big Boi acknowledge their sonic heritage and history by inviting George Clinton along and name-checking "Rosa Parks.” Then they tap knuckles with Raekwon of Wu-Tang, the era’s pre-eminent hip-hop clique and hint at their future all-encompassing sound dipping into rock and reggae without missing a beat, ending up in uncharted sonic territory. This stellar achievement gave them carte blanche and is their mothership connection to Stankonia and beyond.