Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Sound Familiar?
“Rosa Parks,” “B.O.B.,” “Ms. Jackson”

Who Are They?
A tour de force hip-hop duo with a lot of funk and just enough soul.

Once upon a time in Atlanta, André “André 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton met at a shopping mall. The two hit it off and started participating in rap battles in their school cafeteria. Eventually, André and Big Boi teamed up and attracted the attention of Organized Noize, a group of local producers. When faced with the dilemma of naming their project, André and Big Boi were torn between 2 Shades Deep and The Misfits. Unfortunately, both names were already taken, so they settled on OutKast.

OutKast, Organized Noize and Goodie Mob joined forces to form the Atlanta music collective Dungeon Family. Once André and Big Boi signed to LaFace records in 1992, they made their first appearance on a remix of TLC’s “What About Your Friends.” A year later, OutKast released its first official single, “Player’s Ball.” The song was a hit and climbed to number one on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart.

The duo released its debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, in 1994 and ended up winning a Source Award for Best New Rap Group in 1995.

OutKast’s next two albums, 1996’s ATLiens and 1998’s Aquemini, earned André and Big Boi more recognition in both the East Coast and West Coast hip-hop scenes. Aquemini in particular was considered by The Source to be the duo’s best material to date. Through this record, OutKast was able to explore different sounds, including soul, trip-hop and electro music.

As OutKast’s sound evolved, so did the subject matter. André and Big Boi’s lyrics went from reflecting the lifestyles of pimps and gangsters to discussing the materialism and misogyny of the hip-hop scene. Don’t let those funky beats fool you; these guys rap about some serious shit.

Where Are They Now?
Unfortunately on an indefinite hiatus, but how long could that last?

Although André and Big Boi had released some groundbreaking and politically conscious material in the ‘90s, they had yet to achieve real commercial success. But that changed with the release of 2000’s Stankonia.

Originally titled Sandbox, Stankonia spawned three huge singles (“B.O.B.,” “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean”) and earned OutKast two Grammys (Best Rap Performance for “Ms. Jackson” and Best Rap Album).

The mainstream appeal continued with 2003’s double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (they called it a double album, but it’s basically just two solo albums released in one neat package).

Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx was mostly a funk/Dirty South party record, while André’s The Love Below mixed hip-hop, funk, jazz, rock, electronic music and R&B. “Hey Ya!” from The Love Below became the most successful single from either album, with Speakerboxxx’s “The Way You Move” coming in a close second. (Fun fact: Both “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move” became the first hip-hop songs to be played on adult contemporary radio stations.)

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has become OutKast’s most successful album to date, going 11 times platinum and earning the dynamic duo a Grammy for Album of the Year.

After that whirlwind of accomplishments, André and Big Boi began working on a joint film called Idlewild, along with an accompanying soundtrack (released in 2006). Though the soundtrack was meant to be a follow-up to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Idlewild didn’t nearly the same commercial success. The film, which tells the story of a juke joint in a Depression-era Georgia town, received mixed reviews. The album faired a little better.

In 2007, Big Boi announced plans to release a solo album (and not the kinda-sorta solo album that was Speakerboxxx). Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was released in 2010 to mass critical acclaim.

André took a break from music for a while to do some acting and launch a clothing line called “Benjamin Bixby” (so damn classy). Eventually, he went back to music to do some guest vocals on various songs and remixes, including Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter.”

But Why OutKast?
André and Big Boi still secretly work together (see Big Boi’s remix of Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter”), so new material isn’t entirely out of the question. But we may not see a new OutKast album for a while.

What Does Sam Think?
I was kind of wary about making an OutKast entry because I’ve always associated these guys as an early 2000s group rather than a ‘90s group. But I think that perception of them has to do with commercial appeal. André and Big Boi made great music in the ‘90s, but it didn’t reach a wide enough audience.

So the question becomes, did OutKast sell out?

I’ve never explored the concept of “selling out” with a hip-hop act before simply because I don’t listen to enough hip-hop. I’ll admit that I got into OutKast after hearing “Hey Ya!” and discovering the one and only masterpiece “Ms. Jackson.” Those songs have mass appeal for two slightly different reasons.

“Hey Ya!” is pure pop magic. It’s catchy, it’s danceable and it has one of the most fantastic videos of the 2000s. It’s got to be the greatest song of the 2000s (VH1 got it wrong, but don’t even get me started on that awful list).

Now let’s look at “Ms. Jackson.” It’s still catchy, though not in that “get all the girls on the dance floor” way. It’s a fairly personal song since it deals with André’s relationship with former girlfriend Erykah Badu and her mother, who is the real life “Ms. Jackson.” The animosity between a woman’s mother and her daughter’s boyfriend or husband is relatable, which is one of reasons why this song became so popular.

I’m not saying OutKast songs lost substance after Stankonia. André and Big Boi like to experiment and that’s what makes OutKast such a great project.

So did OutKast sell out? Of course not. Yes, there’s a big difference between Aquemini and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, but it’s still the same group working with different styles and subject matter.

Bottom line: OutKast is an important part of hip-hop history, and André and Big Boi will no doubt continue to churn out great music, together or separately.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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