Outkast: Big Boi, Andre 3000 thrived as duo, then apart

What always distinguished Outkast was their creativity. André 3000 and Big Boi were never content to merely trot out a plodding beat and yell about women and sex. Instead, their goal was to excel at soulful, meaningful, jazz-and-funk-tinged hip-hop.

From the archives: This story originally ran on Feb. 13, 2019, as part of AJC Sepia’s Black History Month series. Outkast remains quiet musically, but their legacy has been immortalized in a 30-foot high mural on the side of the boutique Wish in Little Five Points (453 Moreland Ave. NE). Muralist JEKS painted the homage freehand from a photo taken by hip-hop photographer Jonathan Mannion.

On a cool night in September 2014, Atlanta roared.

A pair of rappers, one lanky and sporting a white wig with matching shades and the other a husky package wrapped in red, black and white, had stepped onstage at Centennial Olympic Park and rewound the clock to the mid-‘90s, when “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” introduced the world to Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, collectively known as Outkast.

Outkast (Andre 3000, left, and Big Boi) played three sold-out reunion shows at Centennial Olympic Park in 2014 for their 20th anniversary. CONTRIBUTED BY ROBB D. COHEN / ROBBSPHOTOS.COM

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The pair, groomed by local production team Organized Noize and eventual kingpins of the Dungeon Family organization (which also included Goodie Mob and Sleepy Brown), was on a stage in Atlanta for the first time since branching into separate careers in 2007.

They had also performed in Georgia at the CounterPoint Music Festival in Rome earlier in 2014, but this night in September — the first of three sold-out shows the reunited Outkast would present in the park — was different. This was a true homecoming.

What always distinguished Outkast was their creativity. Andre 3000 and Big Boi were never content to merely trot out a plodding beat and yell about women and sex. Instead, their goal was to excel at soulful, meaningful, jazz-and-funk-tinged hip-hop.

Between their 1994 debut — the aforementioned “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” — and their sixth album in 2006, “Idlewild,” Outkast experienced a massive cycle of success.

They enjoyed multiplatinum status from albums “ATLiens,” “Aquemini” and “Stankonia” (named for their Atlanta recording studio), which produced the electrifying “B.O.B” and the duo’s first No. 1 crossover hit, the loping relationship analysis, “Ms. Jackson.”

Andre 3000 and Big Boi also earned a sextet of Grammy Awards, the most prestigious a 2004 trophy for album of the year for the ambitious “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” which contained the cultural crossover smash, “Hey Ya!”

Outkast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000 at their Stankonia headquarters in 2003, the same year they released “Speakerboxx/The Love Below.” SUNNY SUNG / AJC FILE PHOTO

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Despite its critical accolades and commercial triumph — the double album marked their first to debut at No. 1 — “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” also spotlighted the initial splintering of Outkast. The album was divided into Big Boi’s “Speakerboxxx,” a stew of Southern hip-hop punctuated with the silky “The Way You Move” (featuring Sleepy Brown) and Andre 3000’s “The Love Below,” which showcased his affection for a more chameleonic sound that shuffled electronic and psychedelic influences in between the more expected pop-funk.

Shortly afterward, the twosome agreed to follow their separate muses, with Big Boi releasing his first solo album, “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty,” in 2010. Andre 3000 dabbled with other artists including Beyonce, Frank Ocean and T.I., while also exploring a desire to act. In 2012, he was cast as Jimi Hendrix in the biopic “Jimi: All Is by My Side,” which was released in 2014, and in 2016, he landed a recurring role on the acclaimed ABC drama “American Crime.”

In recent years, Big Boi, who turned 44 earlier this month, and Andre 3000, 43, have maintained their bond even while continuing to pursue other passions. They did, however, briefly return to the stage together in 2016 for a Dungeon Family reunion as part of One Musicfest at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood.

"Right now he's focusing on different things, and we respect that as a brotherhood," Big Boi told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2017 about his partner. "We text each other every other day. That's my brother. We've done everything there is to do in music. We won the highest prize, we sold the most records. We started when we were 17 years old — let the man breathe a little bit."

For Andre 3000, breathing has meant more acting (he'll appear in the spring movie "High Life" with Robert Pattinson) and pursuing art and design aspirations.

Big Boi has collaborated with electronic duo Phantogram (as Big Grams), shepherded the career of Janelle Monae, released more solo work including 2017's "Boomiverse," dabbled in acting ("Superfly") and opened for Christina Aguilera on her "Liberation" tour.

And then, of course, the biggest gig of his career: performing at Super Bowl 53 with Maroon 5 and Travis Scott at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Back on a hometown stage again.


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