André Benjamin (André 3000)
May 27, 1975 • Georgia
Antwan "Big Boi" Patton
February 1, 1975 • Savannah, Georgia
OutKast's exuberant, infectious single "Hey Ya!" helped push sales of their 2003 release Speakerboxxx/The Love Below past the three-million mark. This Atlanta, Georgia-raised duo, who use the professional tags "André 3000" and "Big Boi," are rap music's most unusual set of collaborators. While André 3000 favors outrageous outfits and listens to jazz, Big Boi remains more of the old-school style of rap megastar. Their dual personalities were showcased on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which was actually a pair of solo records. It became one of the top-selling records of 2003, and also won them the Grammy Award for album of the year.
Making music in high school
OutKast met as high school students in Atlanta. "André 3000" was born André Benjamin in 1975. His father, Lawrence Walker, was a collections agent, while his mom, Sharon Benjamin Hodo, sold real estate. Antwan "Big Boi" Patton was the same age, and the son of a Marine Corps officer dad and a mother who worked as a retail supervisor. Both enrolled at Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Georgia, a school geared toward students hoping for a career in the performing arts. They stood out from the other students, they recalled, initially because of their unusually preppy clothing choices. It was music, however, that cemented their early friendship: both were fans of the more daring vein of hip-hop artists, such as De La Soul, the Brand Nubians, and A Tribe Called Quest; they also loved 1970s funk from the likes of George Clinton and Sly and the Family Stone.
Benjamin and Patton began writing their own raps, which they turned into mix tapes. They initially named their outfit "2 Shades Deep," but learned it had already been taken by another group. They renamed themselves the Misfits, which they also discovered was being used. Looking up "misfit" in the dictionary, they found the synonym "outcast," and decided to use that but keep the dictionary's phonetic "k" spelling.
Benjamin and Patton admitted later to having a bit of a wild streak as teens, and Benjamin dropped out of Tri-Cities High after his junior year. Their ambitions were strong, however, and they looked for a way into the music business. They found it when they met an Atlanta-area production team, Organized Noize, which had worked in-studio with TLC to produce their hit 1994 single "Waterfalls."
"We're from the hood, but that's not where our music stayed."
André Benjamin, New York Times, September 7, 2003.
Debut single went to number 1
OutKast's first single, "Player's Ball," was released as a cassette single on LaFace Records in 1993, and on vinyl the next year. The record climbed to the top of the Billboard rap singles chart and stayed at No. 1 for six weeks. They became the first hip-hop act signed to LaFace, the Atlanta label run by Antonio "L.A." Reid (c. 1958–) that was part of the Arista Records empire. Though they were straightforward rap artists at this early stage in their career, Benjamin and Patton were determined to shake things up. "When I look at the rap videos, it's pretty much the same video over and over," Benjamin explained once to Newsweek writer Allison Samuels. "A bunch of women in swimsuits and the guys rapping about money or jewels. Me and Big Boi wanted to change that."
Rosa Parks vs. OutKast
OutKast has the dubious distinction of being sued by American civil-rights heroine Rosa Parks (1913–). The first single from their 1998 release Aquemini bore her name, though its lyrics did not mention her. Its chorus referred to her historic 1955 refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, where African Americans were expected to sit, which sparked a year-long bus boycott and virtually launched the civil-rights era in the United States. OutKast's song is about the entertainment industry, but its lyrics urge, "A-ha, hush that fuss/Everybody move to the back of the bus."
Parks sued in federal court, naming André ("André 3000") Benjamin, Antwan ("Big Boi") Patton, and their label, Arista, in her suit. Her lawyers argued that by using her name without her permission, OutKast had defamed her and violated her publicity and trademark rights in their song. Lawyers for OutKast and Arista counter-argued that the song was not false advertising, and had not violated her publicity rights; they also claimed that the First Amendment guaranteed the song protection under the freedom of speech rule. Parks' federal suit was dismissed in 1999, but the U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, reinstated some of it, and OutKast's lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the case from going any further. In December of 2003, Supreme Court justices declined to intervene in the matter, paving the way for the a trial set to begin in January of 2005.
OutKast's first full-length record, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was released in 1994, and made it to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B/hip-hop albums chart. They emerged as one of a slew of Atlanta-based groups that were gaining national attention at the time. "Just as Ice Cube had narrated a Westside story and KRS-One told an Eastside version, OutKast ... slanged parables" about their hometown, noted L.A. Weekly writer Michael Datcher. The pair gained even more listeners in 1996 with ATLiens, their follow-up. It featured more of a live-studio sound, favoring real instruments over hi-tech production effects, and had a hit single with "Elevators (Me and You)." It also had a more spaceship-esque mood, which linked them back to Clinton's 1970s-era masterpieces with Parliament-Funkadelic. "When we started doing the more experimental rap, started talking about aliens, that's when more and more white people started coming to the shows," Benjamin told New York Times writer Lola Ogunnaike.
In keeping with the New-Age vibe, Benjamin and Patton formed their own boutique label, which they named "Aquemini." The word was made up from a combination of their respective astrological signs, Gemini and Aquarius. They also used it for the title of their third LP. Aquemini reached the double-platinum sales mark, thanks in part to the single, "Rosa Parks." Benjamin and Patton began heading in a new direction in the late 1990s, ditching some of the hallmarks of rap style for a more soulful sound. Though both had previously worn baggy jeans and athletic jerseys onstage, Benjamin began sporting far more flamboyant outfits, which included long blond wigs, trousers made of fur, turbans, boas, and checkered-print suits in dazzling colors. He also adopted "André 3000" instead of his longtime "Dre" tag. They remained in partnership with Reid, who took them along when he became president of Arista Records.
Stankonia won rap Grammy
OutKast's major crossover achievement came finally in 2000 with their fourth release, Stankonia. The record had a certain psychedelic feel, and produced several hits, among them "Mrs. Jackson," a homage to the grandmother of Benjamin's son with singer Erykah Badu written in the aftermath of a breakup. "I probably would never come out and tell Erykah's mom, 'I'm sorry for what went down,'" he explained about the song's origin in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution interview with Craig Seymour. "But music gives you the chance to say what you want to say. And her mom loved it. She's like, 'Where's my publishing check?'"
Stankonia also put Atlanta on the musical map for good, with the numerous references to the neighborhoods of East Point and Decatur where they grew up. Critics everywhere wrote enthusiastically of it. It even earned a mention in Newsweek, with music writer Lorraine Ali asserting that it "continues OutKast's journey into the weird with a sound that lies somewhere between the jamming madness of Parliament-Funkadelic, the creme de menthe vocals of Al Green and the bumping beats of A Tribe Called Quest."
Stankonia was released in late October of 2000, just after the deadline for releases hoping to be considered for a Grammy Award nomination that year. In early January of 2002, however, it was nominated in five categories, including album of the year. Weeks later, they took home Grammy statues for best rap album of 2001, and best song by a rap duo or group for "Mrs. Jackson."
Released acclaimed dual CD
Nearly three years went by before OutKast released another studio effort. The long-awaited Speakerboxxx/The Love Below made it into stores in late September of 2003, just before the all-important Grammy deadline. It was richly rewarded the following February, winning Grammys for album of the year, best rap album of 2003, and best urban/alternative performance for "Hey Ya!" The dual CD, however, was essentially two separate releases from each OutKast member. Patton's Speakerboxxx was a more traditional rap record, and had a hit that made it onto several charts, "The Way You Move."
Andre's The Love Below was the funkier record of the two. It originally started out as a soundtrack project that Benjamin began for a film, a love story set in Paris. Though some critics faulted it for mixing too many musical styles, others commended both records for their big-picture vision. "With Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, [Benjamin's] lonely Day-Glo lothario and Big Boi's wise-thug MC have made an LP that offers an outsize artistic vision, not focus-group 'perfection,' as the route to a mass audience," declared Entertainment Weekly writer Will Hermes.
The concept-album effort was overshadowed, however, by the massive success of "Hey Ya!" It quickly emerged the biggest hit from The Love Below, and became the No. 1 downloaded song on the Internet. Its success boosted the double-album's sales to 3.5 million copies. Much of the rest of Benjamin's effort was reflective. As he explained to a writer for London's Guardian newspaper, Alexis Petridis: "In hip-hop, people don't talk about their vulnerable or sensitive side a lot because they're trying to keep it real or be tough—they think it makes them look weak. That's what the Love Below means, that bubbling-under feeling that people don't like to talk about, that dudes try to cover up with machismo."
No plans for solo careers
Some OutKast fans worried that the dual-album release marked the beginning of the end for the pair, with each too apart musically now to come together again. Both Benjamin and Patton stressed, however, that they were still a team. As Patton explained to Marti Yarbrough in Jet, "Both records are OutKast records. They're just from two different perspectives." The former high-school pals worked well together, with Patton overseeing the business side of the partnership from his home in Fayetteville, Georgia. Benjamin, meanwhile, had Hollywood ambitions: he appeared in Hollywood Homicide in 2003, and was part of an all-star cast for an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard crime novel, Be Cool, released in 2005. Both Benjamin and Patton had also teamed with an Atlanta filmmaker, Bryan Barber, to work on a musical set in a jazz club during the 1920s.
Benjamin and Patton are both fathers. Benjamin's son with Badu, Seven Sirius, divides his time between his parents' homes. Patton has a daughter and two sons. Patton realizes that OutKast's music might reach listeners in unexpected ways, as he told Datcher in the L.A. Weekly interview. Once, after a concert, a fan approached him and recounted a story of not "going to class, he just wasn't feeling motivated. He told me he listened to [Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik 's] 'Git Up, Git Out' every morning, and that would get him out of the crib so he could go to class," Patton recalled. "He said it helped him graduate from college. That makes me feel good, that we're touching people by just being ourselves and telling our own story."
For More Information
Ali, Lorraine. "So Superfunkyfragelistic! On the Edge with the Weird and Wonderful OutKast." Newsweek (October 30, 2000): p. 88.
Arnold, Chuck. "Grammy's Fun Couple: With Six Nominations, Great Beats and Kaleidoscope Clothes, OutKast—The Hottest Act in America—Is Anything But." People (February 16, 2004): p. 87.
"Court Gives Rosa Parks the Go-Ahead to Sue Over Rappers' Lyrics.' Jet (January 5, 2004): p. 32.
Datcher, Michael. "OutKast's Southern-Fried Hip-Hop Breaks Through." L.A. Weekly (December 4, 1998).
Hermes, Will. "Fully Funktional: OutKast Propel Hip-Hop to New Heights with Their Madly Ambitious, Soul-Sparking Solo CDs." Entertainment Weekly (September 19, 2003): p. 83.
Lester, Paul. "Friday Review." Guardian (London, England) (May 18, 2001): p. 6.
Ogunnaike, Lola. "Outkast, Rap's Odd Couple: Gangsta Meets Granola." New York Times (September 7, 2003): p. AR87.
Petridis, Alexis. "The Friday Interview." Guardian (London, England) (November 7, 2003): p. 8.
Samuels, Allison. "Twins Beneath The Skin: The Two Guys Who Make up the Quirky Hip-Hop Unit Outkast Couldn't Be More Different—And on Their New Album, Each One Gets His Own Disc. Can This Marriage Be Saved?" Newsweek (September 22, 2003): p. 86.
Seymour, Craig. "Steps to Success." Atlanta Journal-Constitution (February 26, 2002): p. E1.
"Southern-Fried Hip-Hop: Down-Home Lyrics and Strong Dance Grooves Are Ingredients of a Tasty Menu." Ebony (January 2004): p. 74.
Tyrangiel, Josh. "Dysfunktion Junction: OutKast, the Planet's Best Rap Duo, Is One Odd Couple." Time (September 29, 2003): p. 71.
Yarbrough, Marti. "OutKast: Music's Favorite Odd Couple Breaks the Hip-Hop Mold." Jet (February 2, 2004): p. 58
"OutKast." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/outkast
"OutKast." UXL Newsmakers. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/outkast
Upon its release in the fall of 2000, Stankonia ushered OutKast—the Atlanta-based duo of Andre “Dre” Benjamin (who also answers to the name “Andre 3000”) and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton—into the center of the hip-hop world. In the rap business, where risk-takers rarely reap the rewards of commercial success, OutKast stand as true music mavericks. Not only did they succeed in creating something different to satisfy their own need for self-expression, they also found fans willing to accept their sound. The double-platinum album, which appealed to college kids and urban youth alike, has received much more than popular acceptance. Critics and peers likewise praised Stankonia, featuring the quasi-political hit “B.O.B.” (“Bombs Over Baghdad”), for its inventiveness and creativity, overwhelmingly calling it the best hip-hop album of the year and crediting OutKast for taking the rap genre to a new level. “’B.O.B.’ was maybe the most exciting thing I heard [in 2000],” stated former Rage Against the Machine singer Zack de la Rocha, as quoted by Spin magazine’s Sacha Jenkins. “It defies definition, and that’s the dopest kind of music. They’re an incredible group.”
Rather than relying on samplers during recording sessions, OutKast instead opted for live instrumentation, along with a varied range of influences that included everything from funk to rock to electronica. “It’s like a picnic,” explained Benjamin to Rolling Stone contributor Mark Binelli. “Your auntie might bring peas; somebody else might bring collard greens. You gotta sit back and say, ’What can I bring to the table that’s gonna make this whole meal right?’ And we felt like, in hip-hop, there wasn’t no driving type music. Everything was real chill and laid-back. We’re trying to crank it back up. I like a lot of techno music, but some of it sounds soft, so I’m trying to make our own American style—harder, like hip-hop, instead of ambient and pretty.” OutKast call their music “slumadelic,” a sort of dance music for the slums.
Benjamin and Patton, who share a love of artists such as George Clinton, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince, became friends after a chance meeting at a mall in the early 1990s. At the time, both were new students in the tenth grade at Tri-Cities High School—also the alma mater of R&B groups TLC and Xscape—in the East Point neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. Despite different backgrounds, the two hit it off immediately. Benjamin, an only child, lived with his mother during his early years before moving in with his father at age 15. In contrast, Patton grew up with several brothers and sisters in Savannah, Georgia, before settling in Atlanta with his family as a teen.
The two friends began rapping together soon thereafter. At school, Benjamin and Patton held impromptu competitions during lunchtime in the cafeteria to try to out-rhyme one another. As their skills progressed, the
Members include Andre “Dre” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton.
Met while in the tenth grade at Tri-Cities High School in Atlanta, GA; signed with the LaFace label and released first single, “Player’s Ball,” 1993; released debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, 1994; released AT- Liens, 1996; released Aquemini, containing the single “Rosa Parks,” 1998; released Stankonia, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Arista Records, 6 W. 57th St., New York City, NY 10019, phone: (800) 6-ARISTA, fax: (212) 830-2248. Website—OutKast Official Website:http://www.outkast.com.
duo set out to break into the hip-hop industry. They met their future producer, Rico Wade, in a parking lot where they rhymed their own version of “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest for him. “Them cats was about sixteen and took the bus up to this little plaza where I owned a beauty supply shop and video store,” Wade, who made his name as one-third of the Organized Noize production team and has produced for the likes of TLC, Eric Clapton, and En Vogue, recalled to Anthony Bozza of Rolling Stone. “They came out with an instrumental of ’Scenario.’ And for seven minutes them cats went back to back. I didn’t even stop them, I was so in awe. I closed the store, we got in my Blazer and went straight to the Dungeon.”
Although Patton and Benjamin planned to visit several producers that day, the Dungeon, a pre-production studio in the basement of an old house, was their first and only stop. According to Benjamin, as quoted by Bozza, “the beats they had were some of the most original music from Atlanta we’d ever heard.” After that day, the two teenagers began frequenting the studio on a regular basis to learn from beat makers like Raymon Murray, also of Organized Noize, as well as other local hopefuls such as Big Gripp and Khujo, who would later form the group Goodie Mob. Benjamin and Patton also formed their own group called 2 Shades Deep. During his junior year, Benjamin dropped out of high school to devote himself entirely to music, while Patton completed his education, graduating with a 3.68 grade point average.
Meanwhile, just prior to Patton’s graduation and with the help of Wade, the duo inked a record deal with the L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds LaFace label. Their first single, “Player’s Ball,” arrived in 1993. An instant hit, the song topped the rap charts for six weeks that year and earned gold status. The following year saw the release of OutKast’s debut full-length set.Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, recorded when Patton and Benjamin were 18 years old and largely produced by Organized Muzik, proved another commercial as well as critical success.
Unlike other rap groups outside Los Angeles or New York, the duo presented themselves as simply who they were, highlighting their Atlanta roots, filtering their lives through their music, and implementing rich, live production techniques. OutKast also struck a balance between positive messages and street stories, a hallmark of their music ever since. The album spawned two hits in addition to “Player’s Ball” : the title track and the song “Get Up and Get Out.” Eagerly soaking in the duo’s tales about life as they saw it and image of self-empowerment, the hip-hop community embraced OutKast. By the end of 1994, Southernplayalisticadil-lacmuzik reached the platinum sales mark.
In 1996, OutKast’s second album, ATLiens, reached the number two position on the rap charts and sold over one-and-a-half million copies, cementing the duo’s status as the soul-bearers of a new, regional style of hip-hop known as the “Dirty South.” The album, an illustration of the pair’s fascination with space travel and the raising of consciousness, spawned another gold single, “Elevators (Me and You).” Around this time Benjamin introduced the outrageous image that he is famous for—wearing large wraps or dresses and platinum wigs and turbans, an appearance that often led to frequent rumors about his sexual identity. But like Parliament’s Bootsy Collins or Jimi Hendrix, Benjamin simply wanted to look like his music. “You gotta know Dre,” Patton said to writer Isaac Guzman in the Los Angeles Times. “Dre could put up some Levi’s and some Jordans in a minute. You never know. It just depends on how he’s feeling. When you’re on stage, you want to look like the music feels.”
OutKast’s ascent continued with the release of their 1998 album Aquemini, which sold over two million copies. Despite rave reviews in publications such as Rolling Stone and the Source, the multiplatinum album was not without controversy. The Grammy-nominated single “Rosa Parks” angered the civil rights matriarch, and her attorneys levied a lawsuit against the group, accusing the duo of exploiting her name for commercial purposes. Although a federal court judge ruled that OutKast had not misused Rosa Parks’ name, her attorneys, who additionally retained the services of attorney Johnnie Cochran, famous for defending former football star O.J. Simpson in his murder case, promised to appeal the decision.
The OutKast/Rosa Parks case remained unresolved as of early 2001, yet Patton and Benjamin insist that they did no wrong. “We won the first decision, so they’re appealing it,” Patton told Jenkins, as stated in Spin’s March 2001 issue. “But everybody knows that there was never any disrespect meant at all. If you know anything about OutKast—if you listen to the song, it’s not about Rosa Parks. When we sing ’everybody move to the back of the bus, ’ we’re just using that as symbolism.”
OutKast returned with their fourth album, the critically acclaimed Stankonia, in the fall of 2000. “Stankonia is this place I imagined where you can open yourself up and be free to express anything,” Benjamin told Sonia Murray in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Indeed, the album departed from typical rap through the inclusion of varied musical elements. The song “B.O.B.,” a political declaration of sorts about not doing anything halfway, prominently featured organs, guitar, and vocals by the Morris Brown College Choir. Other tracks of note included soul jams like “Stanklove” and “Slum Beautiful,” a keyboard-laden song about how money, for better and for worse, changes everything titled “Red Velvet,” and “Humble Mumble,” featuring the vocals of R&B singer Erykah Badu, Benjamin’s former girlfriend with whom he had a son, Seven, in 1997. Although Badu and Benjamin split earlier in 2000, their relationship inspired the lyrics for the track “Ms. Jackson,” an open letter from Benjamin to Badu’s mother in which he promises to take an active role as a father.
Benjamin and Patton, who also started their own label, Aquemini, as well as a line of clothing called OutKast Clothing, attribute their success to enjoying what they do creatively and remaining fans themselves of all types of music. “It’s about learning and paying attention,” Benjamin pointed out to Bozza. “When we listen to records, we sit down and listen to everything from blues to bluegrass to the people that really inspire us, like Jimi Hendrix, Funkadelic and Sly Stone.” Patton added, “We truly love what we do. That’s one thing I can say about us as a team.”
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace/Arista, 1994.
ATLiens, LaFace/Arista, 1996.
Aquemini, LaFace/Arista, 1998.
Stankonia, LaFace/Arista, 2000.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 4, 1999; November 5, 1999; October 30, 2000; October 31, 2000; January 4, 2001.
Billboard, January 23, 1999; April 17, 1999; September 23, 2000; November 4, 2000.
Boston Globe, December 7, 2000.
Jet, April 16, 1999.
Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1998; October 22, 2000; October 28, 2000.
New York Times, October 29, 2000.
People, November 27, 2000.
Rolling Stone, December 10, 1998; December 24, 1998-January 7, 1999; February 4, 1999; May 13, 1999; April 13, 2000; November 23, 2000; December 14-21, 2000; December 28, 2000-January 4, 2001; January 18, 2001.
Spin, March 2001.
USA Today, October 31, 2000; November 3, 2000.
Village Voice, November 7, 2000; December 5, 2000.
Washington Post, December 4, 1998; November 8, 2000; November 10, 2000; December 31, 2000.
Wall of Sound, http://wallofsound.go.com (April 21, 2001).
"OutKast." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/outkast-0
"OutKast." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/outkast-0
From the beginning, hip-hop music has had its nonconformists—free spirits who diverge from the music’s dominant trends and take to heart the creativity, playfulness, and stylistic mixture inherent in the hip-hop genre. Following in the tradition of such groups as the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest is the Atlanta duo OutKast, whose 2000 album, Stankonia, propelled them to mainstream success. The album capped a nine-year career marked by increasingly bold experimentation. While many entrants in the hip-hop arena have faded after one or two creative outings that exhaust their new ideas, OutKast has continued to hold the attention of musically aware hip-hop audiences.
OutKast consists of Atlantans Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “Dre” Benjamin, also known as Andre 3000. Both were native Georgians, born around 1975. They met in an Atlanta mall and discovered that they were both new tenth-grade students at Atlanta’s Tri-Cities High School, as well as admirers of the line of funk running from Sly & the Family Stone to Prince, a line that was one of hip-hop’s direct ancestors. Soon they were holding rhyming competitions in the school’s cafeteria and wondering why Atlanta, with its wealth of local musical talent—their own high school had spawned the R&B groups TLC and Xscape—had not yet spawned a distinctive hip-hop tradition comparable in importance to the competing East Coast and West Coast schools.
The duo met TLC producer Rico Wade in the parking lot of a plaza where he owned two stores, and was impressed with his ability to play several musical instruments live—a contrast with other hip-hop studio wizards whose expertise was exclusively digital. The favorable impression went both ways; Wade was so riveted by their version of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” that he closed both his shops and drove Patton and Benjamin to the Dungeon production studio. Wade’s Organized Noize production team would remain with OutKast and become heavily involved in shaping the duo’s first several albums.
OutKast’s debut single, “Player’s Ball,” was released in 1993. Extolling both pimps and marijuana smoking, it gave evidence of the duo’s innovative ways only in its intricate rhymes. When a complete album, Southern-playalisticadillacmuzik, was released the following year, it contained a wide range of songs, including one that advised “Don’t spend all your time tryin’ to get high.” Entertainment Weekly praised the album, pointing to its “casual funk” sound and delightful rhymes such as “ain’t no thang but a chicken wing.”
At a Glance…
Born Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, c. 1975; born Andre “Dre” Benjamin, c 1975.
Career: Worked with producer Rico Wade of Organized Noize production team, early 1990s; released debut single, “Player’s Ball,” 1993; signed with LaFace label; released debut album, Southemplayalisticadil-lacmuzik, 1994; ATLiens, 1996; Aquemini, 1998; Stankonia, 2000; launched OutKast Clothing line, 2001.
Selected awards: Five Grammy award nominations and two awards for Stankonia, 2001.
Address: Label —Arista Records, 6 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Nevertheless, Patton told the Los Angeles Times, “A lot of people got the message of our first album mixed up. They just heard ‘Player’s Ball’ and thought it was all about the pimps, the cars, and all that mess.”
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik sold more than 850, 000 copies in its first five months of release, giving OutKast considerable creative latitude for their second release, ATLiens. The title is a thoroughly characteristic pun combining the word “aliens” with the conventional three-letter abbreviation for Atlanta. That album diverged from the hip-hop trend of sampling earlier songs wholesale. “While everyone else is content to steal an old hit song and add a new rap verse over it, we always start from scratch,” Patton told the Los Angeles Times. “Picasso had plenty of influences, but you’d never catch him trying to remake another artist’s work in the exact same way. We feel the same.” The comment pointed toward the artistic ambitions of OutKast’s music, but, like funk master George Clinton, the duo had a knack for experimenting without losing a connection with ordinary music fans. USA Today later detected a useful creative tension between Patton’s streetwise perspective and Benjamin’s socially conscious texts. ATLiens sold more than 1.5 million copies.
In concert and on video, Benjamin began to cultivate an outrageous visual style that reminded industry observers of another member of the 1970s funk scene, “Bootsy” Collins. Encountering Benjamin in an Atlanta airport concourse, Atlanta Journal and Constitution writer Sonia Murray described” royal blue pants—fringed at midcalf—with some kind of flowery silver pattern. Then a black-and-orange football jersey. And finally, a floppy red-and-black crocheted hat, tilted to one side, over his meticulously Farrah Fawcett-flipped hair.” The more conservative Patton expressed himself in another way: he took up breeding pit bull dogs. “People discriminate against them before they even get to know them,” he pointed out to the Toronto Sun. “It’s like how white women clutch their purse when they see a black man walking toward them.” He added, “She don’t even know you but she’s scared of you.”
Both sales totals and creative achievement continued to rise with OutKast’s third album, 1998’s Aquemini. OutKast began to show up on newspaper music critics’ year-end best album lists, and the group’s fame began to spread beyond the hip-hop community. Some of the publicity, however, was negative. One of the album’s singles, “Rosa Parks,” was intended as an oblique honor to the civil rights pioneer, still alive and well in Detroit (the lyrics do not mention her specifically, but refer to “the back of the bus” and evoke Parks’s time with a sharp harmonica solo). Parks, perhaps incensed by the profanity used in some of OutKast’s music, charged the duo with unauthorized exploitation of her name for commercial purposes. An initial court decision came down in OutKast’s favor in 1999, but appeals continued.
In March of 1998 Patton and Benjamin purchased an Atlanta studio formerly owned by R&B star Bobby Brown. They renamed it Stankonia, combining a slang term meaning “funky” (”stank”) with “Plutonia,” the name of a futuristic city depicted on a poster in Benjamin’s bedroom. For the duo, the name had overtones of a place with untrammeled creative freedom, and Stankonia became the name of their fourth album, recorded over about a year beginning in the spring of 1999 and released the following year.
A true creative tour de force, Stankonia garnered five Grammy nominations and won two, for best rap album and best rap single. The latter award was for “Ms. Jackson,” a song inspired by the breakup of Benjamin’s relationship with the innovative neo-soul vocalist Erykah Badu. The lyrics address Badu’s mother, promising to remain involved with the upbringing of Benjamin and Badu’s son, Seven. OutKast’s label LaFace/Arista marketed the album heavily among white college music fans, and “Ms. Jackson,” especially, became a huge success across the board, rising to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. The rest of the album was a splendidly varied lot, with the leadoff single “B.O.B.” featuring organs and a college choir on vocals, a rap piece in the mold of Public Enemy (“Gasoline Dreams”), the keyboard-drenched soul piece “Slum Beautiful,” and many other songs that ranged from humorous to deadly serious. Stankonia contained 24 tracks in all, and many buyers found that it took repeated hearings to fully grasp the music.
OutKast released a greatest hits compilation at the end of 2000 in advance of the 2001 Grammy awards. Their energies in 2001 were partly consumed with the launching of a men’s clothing line, OutKast Clothing, intended to put their own imprint on the close symbiosis between hip-hop music and the fashion world.
With Stankonia having sold nearly four million copies, observers wondered what the next level of OutKast’s success might be. Perhaps it would involve the increased incorporation of live instruments into hip-hop—the duo was known for bringing musical instrument instructors along with them on their tour bus. Even before they released Stankonia, Benjamin had predicted a creative renaissance for hip-hop. “I think you’re about to hear some different rhythms, you’re about to hear some different styles,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “I think it’s about to get to live, wild.”
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace, 1994.
ATLiens, LaFace, 1996.
Aquemini, LaFace, 1998.
Stankonia, LaFace, 2000.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 33, Gale, 2002.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 30, 2000, p. Dl; April 4, 2001, p. Dl; February 26, 2002, p. El.
Daily News (New York), November 4, 2000, p. Pulse-23.
Entertainment Weekly, May 27, 1994, p. 88; November 3, 2000, p. 81.
Houston Chronicle, March 7, 1999, p. Zest-9.
Jet, March 26, 2001, p. 54.
Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1996, p. Calendar-78.
Newsweek, October 30, 2000, p. 88.
New York Times, November 19, 1999, p. A28.
St. Petersburg Times, January 27, 1999, p. B2.
Toronto Sun, October 11, 1996, p. 65.
USA Today, November 3, 2000, p. E13.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com
—James M. Manheim
"OutKast." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/outkast
"OutKast." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/outkast
Members: Andre "Dre"/"Andre 3000" Benjamin (Andre Lauren Benjamin, born Atlanta, Georgia, 27 May 1975); Antwan "Big Boi" Patton (Antwan Andre Patton, born Savannah, Georgia, 1 February 1975).
Best-selling album since 1990: Stankonia (2000)
Hit songs since 1990: "Ms. Jackson," "Rosa Parks," "The Whole World"
OutKast, the Atlanta-based rap group, is one of the most eclectic and original forces in hip-hop music. Although their music differs from prevailing hip-hop styles, it is as commercially successful as more formulaic efforts.
Andre "Dre" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton met as competing rappers in high school. They decided to team up and were soon discovered by the production team Organized Noize, an affiliation that facilitated their signing with LaFace Records. OutKast's debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994) revels in a casual, laid-back style, notable in the calm, funky pace of the lead single "Player's Ball." The album went platinum. The follow-up was the futuristic-sounding ATLiens (1996), whose biggest hit was "Elevators (Me & You)." It chronicles the group's ascendance with a sobering summation from Dre: "I live by the beat like you live check to check / If you don't move yo' feet then I don't eat, so we like neck to neck."
Dre and Big Boi began to individualize themselves as unique personalities. Dre dressed like a younger George Clinton. He often performed wearing wigs and an odd array of clothes, including skirts, and his subject matter was philosophical. Big Boi boasted a traditional hip-hop image of athletic gear and mainstream rhyme topics, including the travails of life in the ghetto. OutKast acknowledged these distinctions in the group's third album, Aquemini (1998). The title signifies an amalgam of Big Boi and Dre's astrological signs, Aquarius and Gemini respectively. OutKast began producing most of their own songs on this album, with Organized Noize assuming a supporting role. The effort received a rave review in The Source magazine, which hailed it as a hip-hop classic. The album includes the jazzy "SpottieOttieDopaliscious," the Clinton-featured funk cut "Synthesizer," and a hard-core single with Raekwon, "Skew It on the Bar B." The raucous, folksy, and harmonica-assisted "Rosa Parks" brought controversy. Rosa Parks herself, a central figure in the U.S. civil rights movement, threatened to sue OutKast over the song's content. The case was dismissed in 1999.
After the turn of the millennium, Dre changed his name to "Andre 3000." OutKast released another major album, Stankonia (2000). The work is replete with a variety of sounds, from drum and bass on the political "B.O.B." (which stands for "Bombs over Baghdad"), to salsa on "Humble Mumble," to funk on "Ms. Jackson," a soulful, organ-enhanced apology to an ex-girlfriend's mother. "Ms. Jackson" became a number one pop single. By 2001, OutKast had amassed enough hits to release a greatest hits collection: Big Boi and Dre Present . . . OutKast. A new song on the album, "The Whole World," featuring rapper Killer Mike, is a sweeping statement on the testy state of the universe. In 2002, OutKast won two Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for "Ms. Jackson" and Best Rap Album for Stankonia. In a significant event for the group, OutKast was nominated in the broad categories Album of the Year and Record of the Year. In 2003, they won another Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the song "The Whole World." They also began work on a double album, Speakerbox/The Love Below.
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (LaFace, 1994); ATLiens (LaFace, 1996); Aquemini (LaFace, 1998); Stankonia (LaFace, 2000); Big Boi and Dre Present . . . OutKast (LaFace, 2001).
"Outkast." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/outkast
"Outkast." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/outkast