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.
Will that involve you getting back to rapping?
DRE: Well, as long as the beat jamming and I can write something to it, you know, I’ll rap. It’s just that, when I went through the period of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, I was writing a whole bunch of songs, and melodies were just coming out of me. And I still have that. Really, it’s the time, man. At the time, rap was kinda at a low point, you know? So it was natural for me to kinda just scoot over here and do this [other] style of songs.
Who still has the power to put you in that fan-boy zone?
DRE: I’m in a state of limbo right now. All the stuff I used to listen to, I still love it, and I’m amazed that it happened, but I don’t even feel it the same way like I used to. It’s almost like you gotta make something new to be excited about something ’cause all your old records, they don’t sound the same.
BIG BOI: I was about to say the same thing. Nirvana? I was really on them heavy, but it don’t even sound the same no more.
DRE: You can still jam it but . . .
BIG BOI: It don’t affect you the same. You done wore it out.
DRE: I find myself being excited by new artists, their whole plight. I’m looking at them like, aw man, and I can feel the excitement. When I’m at a [Atlanta rapper] T.I. show, and I see the crowd going crazy, I’m happy ’cause I remember when we were starting out. Or you look at a Lil’ Wayne, and right now he killin’ it . . .
BIG BOI: That boy be spittin’ too. That boy can spit.
DRE: And he got a mean pen. I really appreciate that, man. As far as the craft of rhyming and actually being creative and clever with ya wordplay, some of these boys killing it. Even just some of the flamboyant attitude. You look at a song like [Young Dro & T.I.’s] “Shoulder Lean.” I was just up in New York, and the DJs was on the radio dissin’ it. They was like, “What is he talkin’ ’bout?” [Dre paraphrases the song.] ‘Don’t nobody live ’round my grandmama but some junkies.’ . . . I was like, he telling you what’s going on.
BIG BOI: He telling you what the fuck is going on where he live and he talkin’ ’bout it from the heart. You can tell.
DRE: I hate when people break down rap songs — and they do this to Southern music a lot — and they say it’s simple and elementary. But it’s just telling you where it’s at. The problem ain’t the music, it’s what’s going on in the world. If you don’t like it, you gotta change what’s happening in the hood. But that’s what’s going on. It’s a whole buncha “Shoulder Lean.” They gon’ let you know we partyin’, we jammin’ . . .
BIG BOI: Bouncin’ . . .
DRE: Basically, what they saying, man, is, “I been in the hood for so long, I finally got a chance and I’m happy as hell.” That’s why they hollerin’, “I’m rich!” [Big Boi laughs loudly and claps his hands together.] They happy, man!
After 25 years, critics still dissect rap like it’s poetry lying on a page, and we don’t —
DRE: Listen to the voice.
BIG BOI: Listen to the man tone, listen to the feeling of what he sayin’.
DRE: Blues songs may not be the best songs in the world lyrically, but man, you know in they throat they serious about what they talkin’ about. That’s what it is about Southern music. It’s almost like what’s going on now is what the blues was back then. It’s real simple, repetitious, but you feel it.
One of the cool things about Idlewild is the range of musical eras and genres represented in the casting — Ben Vereen, Macy Gray, Patti LaBelle and Mr. Angelo Moore from Fishbone.
DRE: [They’re] gonna go down in history as some of the best performers in the world. You gotta bow down to Fishbone. You got to.
How do you feel about illegal downloading? A lot of the soundtrack is already up online.
BIG BOI: For real? Like how many songs?
DRE: Yeaaaahhhh, that Limewizzy!
BIG BOI: I don’t care. I mean, it’s a promotional tool. The record company doing that shit anyway. That’s who doing it. But the whole record is up there, the whole 19 tracks?
I think it’s 17 or 18.
DRE: There it is!
BIG BOI: Oh, shit!
Do each of you have a favorite verse by the other?
BIG BOI: I could tell you one in particular that was gangsta as hell when I heard it – “A Day in the Life of André Benjamin” off [the last album]. I was like, he ain’t gotta rap shit else after that! That shit was so fly to me and was so real. [He folds his arms and shakes his head.] Killed it!
DRE: Man, it’s so many. You got so many goddamn verses.
BIG BOI: Mm-hmm. I’m a rapping fool. Trying to tell you! A rapping fool.
DRE: Big Boi probably got the most superb goddamn rhythm out of any rapper. Any rapper. It’s almost like he was tap dancing. If he was a horn player, he’d be doing a whole bunch of scattin’. And all on rhythm, not missing a beat.
BIG BOI: I’m saying, man, thank you. Damn.
Over time, do you improve at closing the gap between what you first hear in your head and what you get down on paper or in the studio?
BIG BOI: Kind of, but not really, because we’re still students of the music. We’re still learning, still looking for that moment. Even if you think you got the dopest verse in the world, the dopest melody or dopest song, it still ain’t never good enough when you put it down. You’re still like, damn, I don’t really know if this is any good, until people around you [say], man you buggin’! What the fuck is wrong with you? Or we take it to one another and he’ll be like, man, that’s a muthafuckin’ smash! But the best thing to do is always just get your idea out. Never just sit on your ideas ’cause you might fuck around and forget some shit.
DRE: That’s the tormenting part about it, like if you hear this whole amazing thing in your head, and you get to the studio and have it sound like shit? You’ll be like, man . . .
BIG BOI: What the fuck was I thinking?
DRE: I just knew this was gon’ work! [Laughs.] But then a lot of times what happens is, you had to have that [first thing] in your head to get to another point. Or, because it didn’t work that way, you had to change it, and it ends up being so unconventional that it turns into something totally new and fresh that’s even better.
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BIG BOI: That be that shit where you be like, how the fuck did I come up with this? You in a trance almost. And that’s why we don’t make deadlines. You can’t force that kind of thing.
DRE: The only thing you can do is try your best.
BIG BOI: Apply yourself every now and then.
DRE: You gotta get out there and work, you know? You can pray all day, but you got to get up off your knees every now and then and go do something.