OutKast - Biography
By Paul Glanting
Throughout the nineties -as far as Hip Hop is concerned- New York and Los Angeles were the main players. The Bay Area and Texas got a few rhymes in but when a pair of fellows of Atlanta, Georgia lunged onto the scene, the name Outkast could not have been more appropriate. Atlanta, and the South in general for that matter, are now mainstays in Hip Hop, largely thanks to the efforts put forth by one of Hip Hop’s most progressive groups. Outkast are an example of perfect juxtaposition, one man tabbed “the player” and the other labeled “the poet” their contrasting styles have created a dynamic which has taken Hip Hop high into the musical cosmos and never let it drop back down to Earth.
Antwan Patton and André Benjamin met while they were both enrolled in high school in Atlanta. The two were noted as always being slightly different than other students. The pair, going by Big Boi and Dré’ , linked up with Atlanta-based production team Organized Noize, the same producers who would produce TLC’s prolific single “Waterfalls” as well as music for legendary soul singer Curtis Mayfield. The duo originally wanted to be known as “The Misfits” or “2 Shades Deep” but eventually settled on Outkast. Outkast became the first Hip Hop group to sign with the rhythm & blues-centric label LaFace. Outkast’s official debut came on the remix to TLC’s “What About Your Friends” from their album Ooooooohhh.... On the TLC Tip (LaFace-1992).
The obscurely dizzying amount of syllables in the title of Outkast’s debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (LaFace-1994) was a microcosm of the efficient absurdity brought to Hip Hop by the two rappers from, a then unknown, Atlanta. The entire album was produced by Organized Noize and their implementation of live soul instrumentation can be heard on the funk-fueled singles “Player’s Ball” as well as the title track. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was remarkably loyal to the pair’s Atlanta roots, shouting out neighborhoods and significant Atlanta landmarks such as the Georgia Dome. Compared to later Outkast releases, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik hears the two rappers often coming off as unapologetic and brash, bragging about womanizing, guns and strip clubs. However, despite the album’s fondness for vice, an uplifting concern for oppressed African Americans in the south is still able to shine through, especially on songs like “"Git Up, Git Out." Fellow Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob lent their lyrics to the album as well, and together, Outkast, Goodie Mob and Organized Noize formed the Atlanta Hip Hop collective, Dungeon Family. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik peaked at #28 on the Billboard charts and became certified platinum almost one year after its release.
ATLiens (LaFace-1996) was a gigantic leap not only for the duo as artists, but for Hip Hop in general. Big Boi and Andre further explored the concept of themselves as an alienated force in Hip Hop, as can be seen on ATLiens’ themes of space exploration. The two began to adopt a heightened sense of responsibility and the casual talk of guns and sex were scrapped for more open-minded discussions. During the recording of Outkast’s second album, Andre also began to live entirely free of alcohol and marijuana and would steadily begin to bloom into one of rap music’s most free-spirited artists, wearing large head wraps and robes and often emphasizing his desire to be original. Dre’ and Big Boi began to dabble with the creation of music as well, producing five of the album’s fifteen songs. The production on ATLiens was far more atmospheric compared to the sweaty funk on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The album featured singles like “Elevators (Me & You)” which featured the duo’s esoteric stream-of-consciousness musing. Despite the album’s eccentricities, West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop fans also began to take more notice of the pair.
Meanwhile, Andre was involved in a romance with soul-singer Erykah Badu and the pair had a son named Seven. Andre’ and Big Boi would further showcase their individuality on their next album Aquemini (LaFace-1999) which draws its title from the amalgamation of Big Boi and Dre’s zodiac signs, Aquarius and Gemini, respectively. Outkast would handle all of the production for Aquemini themselves and would steer the album through a vast landscape of diverse genres ranging from funk on the seven-minute "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" to rock on “Chonkyfire” to blues on the single “Rosa Parks.” The latter however, did not sit well with the woman whom the song takes its name from. Rosa Parks stated that she did approve of the manner which the song used her name, nor did she approve of the vulgar language on the song. Outkast collectively stated that they did not mean Parks any disrespect but were essentially using her role in the civil rights movement as a metaphor for their own attempts to uproot the dominant order in Hip Hop. In the end, the courts ruled in Outkast’s favor. Controversies aside, Aquemini perfectly exemplifies the dynamic between Andre’ and Big Boi as “the poet” and “the player” and collaborations with George Clinton and the Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon established Outkast, and subsequently the south, as a legitimate force in Hip Hop. Aquemini is seen critically as the pair’s first opus, even snagging The Source magazine’s rare a “5-Mic rating”, an achievement reserved strictly for the most canonized rap albums of all time.
Outkast were now mainstays in Hip Hop and they lent their intergalactic visions to soundtracks and collaborated with other Hip Hop artists such as Missy Elliott, UGK and the Youngbloodz. Outkast took their already esoteric ideologies from Aquemini and amplified them even further for their fourth album Stankonia (LaFace-2000). The album begins with Dre’ -now going by Andre’ 3000- claiming that the album was recorded “seven light years below sea level.” Stankonia was a collision course of musical genres as can be heard on the explosive single “B.O.B.” which fuses elements of jungle, gospel and heavy metal all at a ridiculously fast BPM rate. The melancholy “Ms. Jackson” features a chorus which is apologizing to Andre’ 3000’s former girlfriend’s mother, for perhaps a messy breakup, but the song is an overall discussion of the sorrow which follows a breakup. Andre’ 3000 was now constantly seen in public draped in retro vintage clothing and his rhyme delivery followed suite with remarkably off-the-wall metaphors and references. Conversely, Big Boi handled more of the album’s gangster themes with his speedy wordplay. Stankonia catapulted the Atlanta duo not only into further Hip Hop dominance but mainstream prominence as well, playing sold-out arenas around the globe while respectable magazines like Time and Rolling Stone included Stankonia on their lists of the greatest albums of all time.
After touring extensively, Outkast put out Big Boi and Andre Present...Outkast (LaFace-2001) which was merely a greatest hits compilation but also included three unreleased tracks including the popular single “The Whole World.” That same year, Outkast along with Goodie Mob, Organized Noize and the rest of Dungeon Family, put out a group album titled Even In Darkness (Arista-2001). While Even In Darkness received very little commercial or critical attention, the underrated album shines some light upon some of Atlanta’s lesser-known Hip Hop artists and despite Outkast’s worldwide acclaim, Even In Darkness exhibits a mysticism exclusive to the South.
For their fifth album, the two highly individual members of Outkast decided to each record a solo effort and then release them together as a double-disc album titled Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003-LaFace). Big Boi’s half of the album, the Speakerboxxx side, was loyal to past Outkast releases and considering the album’s collaborations with Hip Hop icons like Jay-Z, Lil Jon and Ludacris, Speakerboxxx was definitely more of a “rap album” than was Andre’ 3000’s. The argument can be made that Andre’ 3000’s effort,The Love Below , barely qualifies as a rap album. Andre’ sings far more than he raps on his half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below where he dabbles with a wide array of musical styles yet barely any Hip Hop. Toying with rock music, the upbeat anthem “Hey Ya” was a groundbreaking artistic achievement for Andre’ 3000. Having gone platinum 11 times, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has become the best selling rap album of all time. Critically, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was highly praised, snagging the Grammy for “Album of the Year.”
Outkast starred in the film Idlewild and also supplied the musical companion. The film was centered around a depression era jazz-club and provided the always flashy Outkast a new medium to express their showmanship. Idlewild (LaFace-2006), following suite with the time period in the film, features Outkast’s always boundry-pushing Hip-Hop colliding with 1930’s American Jazz as can be heard on the first single “The Mighty O.” Idlewild saw the return of Big Boi and Andre’ 3000 fluidly collaborating, on several songs, as opposed to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below which had the two exploring their solo artistic endeavors. The reviews for Idlewild were somewhat mixed, some critics complaining that the album’s lack of focus detracted from its integrity. And inevitably, Idlewild was dauntingly and unflatteringly compared to several of Outkast’s past releases.
In a genre which has often found itself in stagnant territory, Outkast have courageously and consistently pushed the envelope and this has yielded some of the genre’s most canonized album’s ever. Never content to merely dwell in the realm of orthodox Hip Hop Andre’ 3000 and Big Boi continue to take rap music high into the galaxy and perhaps beyond it.