Andre 3000: reunion rumors and why we should be thankful
If the rumors are true, and I suspect they are, Outkast will headline the Coachella Music Festival this Spring. After an extended hiatus where both members of Outkast pursued individual projects, Outkast could be back in a big way, potentially as the closing headliner of the one of the most notable festivals in the world. But since they’ve been gone, and since it’s easy to forget the gravity of some cultural phenomenons in the music industry because of the breakneck pace of music releases, no doubt accelerated by the rise of electronic music, we often need to be reminded of just how big some musical acts really were.
“Hey Ya” is undoubtedly Outkast’s biggest hit. Find the official Vevo music video for “Hey Ya” and you’ll see it has over 40 million views. Then consider that those 40 million views have only been accrued since that video was posted on YouTube in 2009 and that “Hey Ya” dropped as a single in 2003. Suddenly a picture of this songs popularity emerges. And so, if this significant number of YouTube views tells us anything, it might as well figure into the conversation that this song belongs to André Benjamin more than it could be credited to Outkast as a group. Big Boi doesn’t even appear to have a hand in the production process either (he is not listed with any production credits).
So if all those things are valid, what does it really mean when the first minute of the video for “Hey Ya” brings us into an Ed Sullivan like variety show green-room? Why is Big Boi playing the part of Andre 3000’s pimp-like manager telling two incarnations of Andre to “act like you got some sense.” Why is Andre 3000 dressed up and duplicated on screen, appearing to make up the entire band that’s performing? To answer all these questions about Outkast’s (Andre’s) most popular song, you have to look back to the rest of his stratified career.
Andre 3000 draws a lot of conversation, and rightfully so. Andre has distanced himself from the typical archetype of the type of rapper hailing from Atlanta, Georgia. ATL rap has a flavor to it. It has connotations loaded with a certain type of Southern brashness. Rap from the South and its hip-hop capital, Atlanta, is often undersold as a more nuanced subculture of hip-hop. Influential characters in the southern rap scene embrace a vainglorious gangster persona.
This became the norm for a variety of reasons too complex to delve into here. But by the dawn of the new millenium there’s hood-rich cast of young, talented, charismatic, and undoubtedly cash-driven, black males commanding attention on music charts. I don’t really need to mention Lil Wayne or anything about him for you to understand this period of music and culture, but when he is mentioned, much of what could be said about Wayne applied to hip-hop culture as a whole during his heyday. Wayne reached perhaps the height of his popularity around 2010––the twilight of gangster rap, arguably––after a decade saturated with bullish attempts to glorify material success hip-hop had finally started to provide due to its mainstream success.
Worth mentioning is how in 1996, after the release of Outkast’s second album, ATLiens, Andre began a transformation externally which he felt more accurately matched his inner identity. He started dressing outrageously, wearing vintage clothes with tailored fits that went the opposite direction of XL retro NBA jerseys many hip-hop stars were rocking at the time. In an interview with Source in ‘98 Dre said, “Everybody want to be a thug man, [but] people just scared to [be original]. But everybody waiting on that nigga to do it…So you have to be a strong nigga to take that ridicule.” Clearly Andre had reached a point where being different meant more to him than his success would have if it continued to channel a persona he no longer identified with.
Lately amidst recent swirls of internet rumor shouting, it has surfaced that Outkast is due for a reunion so they can fill one of the three headliner spots at Coachella. If we can put aside the weirdness that was Idlewild, the last iteration of Outkast the public received in the form of recorded music was Speakerboxxx/Love Below. That album is endemic of Outkast’s creative output: unlike most hip hop artists, Outkast has displayed comfort in putting out double albums––a throwback to Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. who both released wildly successful double albums in the 90’s during hip-hop’s rise (Biggie’s was the posthumous Life After Death).
So then why would Benjaman, after all the creative and monetary success by Outkast, leave to pursue personal pet projects like a clothing line (inspired by college football style circa 1935), an acting career, and a solo music career that always seemed to have Andre adding one verse at a time to someone else’s track? I don’t think the answer is simple or even worth wondering about. Andre has demonstrated a need to create outside of the confines of the traditional. After all, The Love Below, featured only a few glimpses of Andre rapping as he had in the past.
First Andre broke out of the mold that confined him to the genre of southern hip hop, then he broke out of being just hip-hop, then he was an actor, a musician, and a designer all at the same time. Someone who has the creative energy to successfully organize and execute such visible creative ventures clearly has a ceaseless mind.
The last question hinges on the hypothetical headlining of Coachella Outkast has been linked to through the internet rumor-mill. How should Outkast fans feel about their potential reemergence? The answer to that is grateful. Even if Outkast never puts out another double record that transgresses their hip-hop roots, finding its way into the pop charts as one of the most influential albums of the decade, fans should rejoice that rumors are even surfacing. Reason being, Outkast has too much pride. Big Boi and Andre collectively have too much pride in their past and their present to be like The Rolling Stones. They will never tour into their 70’s. They’ve already released a greatest hits album. They don’t need Coachella. They don’t need to release another album. For most people who matter, their legacy is already cemented. They definitely know this, which is why we should all cross our fingers and pray that they schedule an appearance in Indio in the Spring of this year. For old time’s sake.