Published Sep 01, 2006They altered hip-hops geographic axis and in some ways changed hip-hop itself. Andre 3000 and Big Boi emerged at a time when heads barely paid any attention to music originating outside the East and West coast scenes. Not satisfied with leading the charge in gaining Southern hip-hop a modicum of respect, the duo soon set about sonically and conceptually redefining hip-hop itself with a series of innovative and genre-defying releases. This spirit has fostered the stark contrast between Andre 3000 and Big Boi, fuelling persistent break-up rumours. The duo has parlayed opposing personalities into a key asset and calling card; with the simultaneous release of a film and new album, both called Idlewild, OutKast has become one of the most creative forces in music, period. "Its a relaxed place to be, says Andre 3000 on the eve of their release. "Its almost like weve won the Super Bowl. You already have a ring, or three or four of them, and its not coming from bragging, but creatively youve done it. Youre competing against yourself; anything from this point on is kinda extracurricular.
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 hes five due to domestic abuse. Though he harbours dreams of becoming a football player, his grandmothers 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 Charlottes Web; hes 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; Andres handle is Black Wolf while Antwan is Black Dog. Theyre invited to appear on a cable access show, but Antwan cant make it, so Andre invites Cee-Lo to step in theyd 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 Quests "Scenario (Remix) without missing a beat. Impressed, Wade invites them to his studio, the Dungeon, which hes 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 Wades mothers 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. Dres mother becomes alarmed that hes 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 Wades connections to TLCs T-Boz and LaFace Records executive L.A. Reid, OutKast make their first recorded appearance on a remix of TLCs "What About Your Friends.
L.A. Reid auditions OutKast for LaFace parent company Arista Records, but doesnt 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 "Players Ball. With its slow funky groove, rapid-fire rhymes and Sleepy Browns 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, whos 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.
"Players 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 duos 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 wasnt looked at as far as rap, period, says Andre 3000. "Its 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 Antwans younger brother James, sells about 200 rare pit bulls a year.
Big Bois daughter Jordan is born. OutKast are nominated for Best New Group at the Source Awards. When they win, theyre booed by the New York crowd. Accepting the award, Dre pronounces "The Souths got something to say! they later use audio of the incident on Aqueminis "Chonkyfire. "It made you feel kinda frustrated, Andre says of the incident, "but its 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 Foods 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 TLCs "Waterfalls single. OutKast begin producing themselves. "On the first album I didnt 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 doesnt follow his lead. More changes in Dres lifestyle are reflected in his style he begins to wear turbans as well as dashikis and headwraps to accommodate the dreads hes 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 albums futuristic path, the album sells platinum. "It was how it was supposed to go, says Andre. "Im happy that it went that way. Of course youre always going to have some people on the point that OutKast went somewhere they couldnt get with. Some people are Southernplayalistic fans and thats it. But thats 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.
Dres changing image leads to the circulation of misguided rumours that hes gay or on drugs. (He responds on Aqueminis "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 Badus 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 OutKasts 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, Dres 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 thats exactly what were doing, but were creating new music instead of sampling it. The group has meetings with MTV regarding an Aquemini movie, but the duos star power is questioned and Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes are suggested as casting choices. The project stalls, but OutKast dont give up on making a film. Dres 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 dont fit the traditional OutKast mould and wonders if he wants to rap anymore.
OutKast appear on Dungeon Family member Cool Breezes 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 strippers pole installed in his home studio, known as the Boom Boom Room.
Dres 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 others 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 Badus mother apologising for the failure of Dres relationship with her daughter. At Dres urging, Badu releases her own song about the relationship, "Green Eyes, on her sophomore album Mamas 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 isnt keen on the outfits. "Ms. Jackson video director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator) says hell keep an eye out for film roles for Andre.
After the birth of his third child, Big Boi cancels some tour dates, but Stankonias 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 OutKasts 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 Bois 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 hes working on a solo album, surprising Big Boi and their manager they both balk at the idea considering OutKast just won a Grammy. Andres 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 Mikes album Monster, and starts a group with Organized Noizes Sleepy Brown called West Savannah. Andre is upset when he hears the label is keen to release Big Bois album, since theyd balked at his. He takes saxophone and clarinet lessons, works on his guitar playing and hardly raps anymore. "I cant really explain it, he says. "I guess I dont have anything to talk about. Andres 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. Andres "She Lives In My Lap and Big Bois "Ghetto Musick are the first singles serviced to DJs, but theyre 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. "Were 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. Were not so far away as people make it. A film project set to star Andre and Shannyn Sossamon called Love Hater is announced, but doesnt 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 Bois more outspoken political views.
"Hey Ya is so ubiquitous, Polaroid issues a statement that you shouldnt shake Polaroid pictures and that doing so may actually damage them. "It wasnt supposed to be the huge wide release that it was, says Andre "but I guess in retrospect Im glad that it happened. It was really some hobby type shit. "Hey Ya spends nine weeks at #1 on Billboards Hot 100; its finally overtaken by Big Bois "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 its not the underdog spirit anymore. On Speakerboxxx /The Love Below we just went somewhere else. After the commercial success of Stankonia, its like now were 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 Browns single "I Cant Wait, prompting hope that he hasnt 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 theyre 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 its 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 hes not performing, merely filming a non-partisan documentary on voting for HBO. Andre appears on and produces a track for Gwen Stafanis 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. Andres acting aspirations include a burning desire to play Jimi Hendrix in a proposed biopic, but those hopes are dashed when the guitarists estate refuses to licence music for any film project. Meanwhile, P.E.T.A. names him the Worlds Sexiest Vegetarian and Esquire dubs him the Worlds 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 hes 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. Andres focus is acting, and he appears in Get Shorty sequel Be Cool, John Singletons Four Brothers, Guy Ritchies 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 films 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 Charlottes Web. A new Organized Noize-produced song from Idlewild, called "Mighty O, begins to circulate and causes a buzz because its the first track in years featuring both Andre and Big Boi rhyming together. The film and albums release date is confirmed for the end of August. "Its 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 its 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 Bois will be under his Hot Tub Tony alter-ego. "From this point weve decided not to say whats happening next, says Andre 3000, "because people take it and go other places and take the title and say theyre coming out with this and peoples expectations are always in other places and usually we come back with something else. So really Im 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 Bois hungry rapid-fire slick talk anchored by Organized Noizes 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 Noizes 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, its 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 bears 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 eras 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.