The two dope boys in a cadillac are back. Since rumors swirled last fall surrounding Coachella’s 2014 lineup, the dream of music fans the world over has been realized: André 3000 and Big Boi of the Atlanta rap duo OutKast have launched a massive tour, reuniting one of hip-hop’s most celebrated acts.
The group behind worldwide singles “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move” took the stage twenty years after the release of their debut album, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” changing the hip-hop landscape forever.
But before they were OutKast, they were teenage rivals, slinging rap verses at each other across the cafeteria of Atlanta’s Tri-Cities High School, fast friends after a chance encounter as 16 year-olds at the Lennox Square Mall. After school they’d make their way through Atlanta’s decrepit East Point district to the basement studio of Rico Wade. There they would hang out with other local hopefuls, two of which (Khujo & Big Gipp) went on to form hip-hop powerhouse Goodie Mob. Wade would eventually form a label, Organized Noize, which signed the likes of TLC, Eric Clapton, and eventually Patton and Benjamin, as OutKast.
Their success was almost immediate and (for a time) it would seem, unstoppable. Their first single, “Player’s Ball” spent weeks on the rap charts and began one of the most impressive runs in hip-hop history. Their debut album and successive releases “ATLiens” and “Aquemini” would go platinum to the tune of universal acclaim and introduce a new generation of hip-hop fans to a place few people had heard it flourish. They would declare on “Aquemini” to their skeptics and the West Coast and East Coast rap kingdoms, “The South got something to say.” Soon enough it was OutKast giving Khujo & Big Gipp spots on their own songs.
Part of the reason for OutKast’s success and acclaim was that they never stopped running through genres or ideas. Whether gliding through classic hip-hop alleys or improvising their own, they rapped from the perspective of oppressors, oppressed, pimps and pranksters, lovable down-home guys, and of course, outcasts. It’s impossible to deny Andre’s intensity as he burned “Aquemini”’s “Return of the ‘G’” or the 150 bpm “Bombs Over Baghdad.” Big Boi was always at hand to complement Andre’s craziness, killing it with his supremely cool flow on “So Fresh, So Clean” and his smackdown with Killer Mike and J-Sweet on “Snappin & Trappin’.”
No two OutKast albums are the same. “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” was especially noteworthy for sparse production and hard-hitting flows reminiscent of Wu-Tang Clan. Interspersed with the “gangsta” vibes are classic moments of g-funk, soul and funny skits that showcase OutKast’s sense of humor and the pride they feel for the good and bad of A-town. Skits persisted in OutKast albums even once they became less-fashionable in the genre, but for OutKast it was inevitable they’d continue as an outlet or just a laugh.
“ATLiens” and “Aquemini” occupied a darker frame of mind lyrically and musically. Only two years into their career, OutKast was already wary of what they represented: “off crooked schemes, it’s just a dream/floating face down in the mainstream.” “Aquemini” received the coveted perfect “5 Mics” score from “The Source” magazine (a tastemaker in hip-hop) on the backs of blistering cuts like “The Art of Storytelling, Parts 1 & 2.”
After years of success and acclaim, the skies weren’t always sunny over Atlanta. Andre and Big’s styles began to grow apart, Big Boi preferring his own style of party hip-hop and Andre experimenting with Prince-influenced pop and jazz. “Stankonia,” in 2000, was another platinum hit and their most high-profile release, but critics would later point to it as the beginning of the end to the 90’s OutKast the world had come to know and fall in love with.
“Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” came out three years later with two incredible tracks, “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move” that survived as some of the biggest singles of the 2000’s, but the hip-hop duo did not. Released as a double solo-album with Big Boi on one side and Andre on the other, it ended OutKast in everything but name. Ironically, it became OutKast’s best-selling album to date.
Perhaps the saddest aftermath of their breakup was their final project, the movie they had long dreamed of having the funds and name-recognition to make. “Idlewild” was the story of Depression-era juke joint in Georgia and its patrons, but despite a few powerful moments it suffered from a lack of direction and ultimately, energy. The soundtrack Big Boi and Andre created was technically the last OutKast release, but along with the movie, is often forgotten as the muddled, forgetful project of two artists ready to move apart.
Big Boi went on to multiple accomplished solo albums. His southern hip-hop celebration “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty,” features one of the most joyous songs of the decade in “Daddy Fat Sax.” 2012’s “Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors” was an ambitious medley of collaborations with a guest list of indie darlings such as Phantogram, Wavves and Jai Paul.
Meanwhile Andre, after a brief hiatus, wandered around on guest spots all over the music world, to T.I. and Jay Z and John Legend, then Kesha. He appeared on the “Great Gatsby” Soundtrack and Frank Ocean’s hugely successful debut, and produced his own animated show on Cartoon Network. He even teamed up with Big Boi again for Raekwon’s single “Royal Flush.” Before reuniting for their current tour at the end of last year, he starred as Jimi Hendrix in the biopic “All Is By My Side,” never getting around to that long hoped-for solo album.
And then the impossible happened – in late 2013 Instagram photos surfaced of the two hanging out, and the line-ups for Coachella and the Governor’s Ball and forty other venues released their lineups with the two again as OutKast. As Big Boi and Andre took the stage at Coachella (in denim suspenders, probably at Andre’s insistence), the magic was there, as they cycled through over two-dozen songs. On stage they literally recreated scenes from the past. Bringing a table and two chairs, they harkened back to the early days when they’d recite lyrics in circles in Big Boi’s aunt’s kitchen. There they were joined by Janelle Monaé for a set that included some of Big Boi’s solo material, and the crowd rejoiced like it was 2003.
Though there hasn’t been word on a new studio album, one can hope the two will find some time on the road to rekindle some old relationships and new sounds. A lot has changed since “Hey Ya!” overjoyed the airwaves, but great music never will, because as “Speakerboxxx” explained, “you light me, and excite me, and you know you got me, baby.”