André 3000 enters the lavish hotel room wearing huge sunglasses and a stylish hat cocked to the side. Carrying a bottle of artesian water, he smiles broadly and extends his hand. He is magnetic in person, one of the few celebrities who isn’t smaller than you’d imagined. Soon after, his musical partner, Big Boi, bounds in — Coke in one hand and a king-size bag of peanut M&Ms in the other. Forget the rumors of tension after 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below — the first hip-hop record to win the Album of the Year Grammy. This duo’s love for each other is palpable: They laugh, listen carefully to the other — often nodding in agreement — and clearly vibe off each other’s energy. In town to support their big-screen debut as a duo in Idlewild, and the release of the accompanying soundtrack, OutKast rap about Southern hip-hop, illegal downloading off Limewire.com, the mystery of creativity, the genius of Fishbone, and whether Dre will rhyme again.
L.A. WEEKLY: Do you guys ever talk about the symbolism of OutKast? You’re two very different personas collaborating at a time when black maleness is segregated in pop — thugs stay with thugs, artsy Negroes with artsy Negroes . . .
DRE: Yeah, I know what you mean. We never sat down and said, “Okay, this is what we’re gonna do. You be this guy and I’ll be that guy.” We were high school friends. We liked clothes, music and talking about girls. That kind of get-along-gang bond was already there. It’s not like we’re two guys that the record company put together. But you do see that now — groups where [the label] try to make this multicultural-type thing go on. [Big Boi murmurs something, and the two break into hearty laughter.] And that’s cool, you know, because somebody gotta do it.
BIG BOI: Somebody gotta do it.
DRE: And that’s how it go. [They laugh again.]
BIG BOI: A lot of that [perceived difference] comes from the label trying to brand the whole playa and poet thing on us back in the day. We both have a little bit of both of them in us, you know what I’m saying? We got a real bond between us. As much difference as there is, there is also similarity.
How has being from the South contributed to who and where you are now?
DRE: I think we look at music totally different, because we’ve had time to see [hip-hop] go from the East Coast to the West Coast and so on. When you look at American music, from day one it’s all from the South, and it goes this way [motions northward with his hands], so I think it’s kinda a three-sixty, come-back-around thing. And we appreciate all those styles of music — blues, jazz, bebop, field songs . . .
BIG BOI: Rock . . .
DRE: Church hymns, rock & roll — which is still [originally] black — it’s all in OutKast’s music. And because we grew up on New York hip-hop and West Coast hip-hop, we got some of that, too. It’s the full package.
BIG BOI: Exactly.
What’s your response to anti-South bias from northern hip-hop purists?
BIG BOI: [grinning] It’s hatred. Hay-tration. Haterism —
DRE: Hay-trotomy. [They both laugh.]
BIG BOI: Hay . . . hay . . . Hay-trosity! [Their laughter goes up several octaves.] Back when the South wasn’t doing what it’s doing now [on the charts], didn’t nobody care. We was paying attention to what everybody else was doing. And now that you got the South doing our own thing, starting [our] own dance crazes, they got something to say. What [purists] need to realize is that it’s not only about being the best lyricist, it’s about who can make the best songs, the best records. You got people making the music that they love and that [fans] love when they go out; it’s what they listenin’ to on the radio. You can go to any city in America right now and you gon’ hear at least 75 percent of the music will be from the South. All you can do is shake them people hands and let them make the music they wanna make. Can’t be mad now, ’cause we got the ball! [Laughter.]
On the track “Hollywood Divorce” [with Lil’ Wayne and Snoop Dogg] you emphasize that the innovations of black music have always come from the working class — rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop . . .
DRE: Mm-hmm. Always start there. Everythang . . .
Once hip-hop crossed over to white audiences it was marketed as “youth culture,” when originally it was at least as much about class reality and expression.
DRE: It always starts there [the struggling class], but by the time it gets to the mainstream — I mean, now you have rap songs on ringtones. They use it to sell soap. Bebop and jazz started as some niggas in the ’hood going off on they own and freestyling, improvising, you know? Years later, it hit Hollywood, and now it’s in corporate elevators. That’s how it go. But that’s cool, ’cause you always make up some new shit. That’s how it go. I’m just trying to figure out what’s the next new shit.