While the East and West Coast seemed to be at each other’s throats during the early nineties, there was still a lot of great music being brewed down in the dirty South. Of all the acts to emerge out of the southern states, there were few as unique and diversified as OutKast, the Grammy award-winning duo comprised of rappers Big Boi and Andre 3000. The sound of their voices was unmistakable and their willingness to experiment set them apart from the rest by helping us all to embrace the ‘stank’.
Far from the G-Funk trademark of the West Coast and the mafioso flare that rose out of the East, The Atlanta natives dug deep to provide a soundtrack for their surroundings, one that has captivated audiences around the world and has allowed the group to remain a relevant force in the music world to this day. Instead of choosing sides in the media-dubbed “coastal rap war”, the pair remained true to themselves and competed easily with industry giants, all the while blazing a trail too bright for mainstream media to ignore.
Generations of fans wait with great anticipation for them to start recording their next album, but until they do, we can always look back at a legacy that many artists would wish to call their own. They were more than just a duo to me, more like two great artists that came together as one unstoppable force known as OutKast. This is hip-hop of the nineties.
Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000) met Antwan Patton (a.k.a. Big Boi) at a shopping mall in Atlanta, Georgia when they were both sixteen years old. Both of them attended the same high school and were keen to pursue a career in music. Originally, the pair wanted to be called The Misfits, or 2 Shades Deep, but they soon realised that those names were already being used by other artists. This prompted them to pick the name OutKast after they discovered that ‘outcast’ was a synonym for misfit.
Soon afterwards, they were approached by a local crew of producers known as Organised Noize and began recording rough demo tapes in their basement studio, which most simply referred to as The Dungeon. After creating their fair share of work, Organised Noize was recruited by LaFace Records to produce a few remixes for none other than female R&B legends, TLC. They brought in Andre and Antwan to provide a few verses and before long, LaFace saw fit to sign both OutKast and Organised Noize to a record deal.
Knowing not to separate a good thing, both acts were led into the studio (along with other acts that formed the core of The Dungeon Family) to begin recording OutKast’s debut album and in 1994, the rapping duo began to make their mark on the music industry.
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the name OutKast gave to their first full-length album and as weird as it may sound (or be spelt), it was praised by many mainstream critics including Rolling Stone and The Source. However, despite its success and widespread appeal, there were many haters to match that just didn’t understand the unique sound that OutKast presented. Even record execs at Def Jam didn’t quite understand them at first but nevertheless, it stands as a classic debut that rightfully introduced the dynamic duo.
After touring to promote the album, the pair found a new level of confidence and they carried that into the studio when they recorded their 1996 album, ATLiens. After their previous success, LaFace saw fit to grant the boys more creative control and they took full advantage of this by acquiring their own personal studio to work from and improving on their own beat-making skills to rely less on other producers. They teamed with David Sheats to produce under the name Earthtone Ideas.
Their third album, Aquemini, was released in 1998, named after the combination of each members horoscope (Aquarius and Gemini). They took advantage of a more flexible schedule and worked effortlessly around the clock, taking their time to self-produce a majority of the album’s tracks themselves. Various studio musicians contributed as well to ensure that live instrumentation was used throughout and almost no sampling was needed for this absolute classic that finally earned the coveted ‘five-mic’ rating from The Source.
OutKast finally conquered the mainstream once and for all with their fourth album, Stankonia, released in 2000. It received high praise and cemented the duo’s status as southern rap pioneers. They experimented with a wide variety of musical styles and adapted their voices to suit each song on the track in order to remain unique and inventive and boy did it pay off. They even ventured out to the clubs in Atlanta and handpicked artists they liked to come back to the studio and “vibe” on a few tracks.
Ms Jackson was the second single released and became OutKast’s first pop hit, reaching number one on BillBoard and winning a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Along with a remix of So Fresh, So Clean (that featured none other than the legendary Snoop Dogg), Stankonia paved the way for Big Boi and Andre to dominate mainstream hip-hop at the turn of the century.
Where Are They Now?
Riding high on their newfound success, OutKast took two years to complete their next masterpiece and it was time well spent. Speakerboxx/The Love Below was released in 2003 and skyrocketed up the charts with the single Hey Ya! leading the way. It was designed as two solo albums by each member presented as one double disc album and won the prestigious Grammy Award for Album of the year.
Despite the colossal achievement, the duo decided to put on a pause on their work together in order to work on their solo projects. Although they have reunited many times over the years to perform and do a tour or two, there is no word on when their next album will be recorded or released. Since then, Big Boi has released many solo albums while Andre focused more on his acting, appearing in movies, television shows and voicing his own character on Cartoon Network’s Class of 3000.
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Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com