- 27 May 19
To celebrate Andre 3000's 44th birthday, we're revisiting a classic interview with the hip hop legend. Back in 2001, Hot Press's James Kelleher caught up with Outkast following their headline set at Creamfields in Punchestown Racecourse...
Andre 3000 had this dream a couple of years back, “just a one-time thing, but it was real freaked out.” He dreamed that he hooked up with Prince in a makeshift candy store in the projects, His Purpleness just sitting at the candylady’s kitchen table, shooting the breeze and politely enquiring after Dre’s cousin. Sad thing was, it turns out Prince was only there to buy drugs from the candylady – he was a junkie. “But I read that Prince, he don’t do no drugs at all. So that’s kinda funny to me.” So what’s Dre dreaming of these days? “Flying. Sometimes I feel like I’m flyin’, when you really get to it, you know?”
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to find out that air travel is uppermost in the Outkast mind – they’ve been doing enough of it of late, on a schedule that’s taken them back and forth to Europe six times in as many months in addition to a punishing US tour. Tonight however, they’re due on the Creamfields main stage in twenty minutes, and Outkast are nowhere to be found. Assorted rumours drift back to Punchestown – stories of delayed flights, lost luggage, temper tantrums and internecine beat-downs fly hither and tither backstage – and it looks like we might be in for a classic no-show. Visions of an empty stage flickering in their eyes (Outkast had recently cancelled a string of European dates on the hazy basis of ‘medical reasons’), the elite diplomats and drivers are called in, collective fingers pulled out. An hour later – the swiss-precision stage rota in tatters – Andre 3000 and Big Boi appear to a clearly very very caned Creamfields audience...
They’ve taken a long time getting here in other ways too. Growing up in Atlanta’s Tri-City High School, Andre Benjamin and Antwan (Big Boi) Patton started out as sworn enemies, slowly gaining respect for each other through a series of rites-of-passage lyrical battles. Signed to LaFace soon after leaving school, Outkast released ‘Player’s Ball’ and watched it quickly rise to a six-week occupancy at the top spot in the rap charts, swiftly followed by a platinum album in the shape of 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Three albums later, they’ve consistently managed to keep a tight grip on hip-hop’s holy grail: massive commercial success coupled with critical and street-level acclaim. At least that’s the story on their home turf, but it wasn’t until last year’s Stankonia and the stellar ‘Ms. Jackson’ single that Outkast began to make waves outside the hip-hop faithful over here.
After they’ve ripped up the Punchestown crowd in the best possible way, breathing deep funk and jeep beats into a festival dominated by four-to-the-floor madness and homemade Mitsubishi boiler suits, Hot Press eventually gets to meet the dirty southerners in the flesh. Big Boi turns up sporting the latest in Outkast’s own-brand clothing range, while Dre... Well, Dre – notorious for his somewhat ‘unorthodox’ sartorial sixth sense – is wearing a furry fuschia pink number, topped off with a gigantic leopardskin hat. While never less than amiable throughout, they nevertheless have the look of two men who’d rather be chewing on a bag of wasps than sitting through yet another round of questions from a handful of eurohacks with sunstroke. So we start ‘em off easily, offering our congratulations on their success in the Black Entertainment Televison Awards earlier this month, to gauge whether they’ve gotten a taste for the trophy life... Big Boi offers “It means a lot to me, you know? It was one of our first major awards besides [US hip-hop bible] The Source awards. It was their first show, they didn’t have like, maybe eight awards and we brought home two of them [best male group and best video]. I think we were the only group to win two – first award of the show, last award of the show, so it was like a mighty little moment for us...” Dre has bigger fish to fry however: “Well, you know, it’s good, but they’re nowhere near as important as the Grammys!”
I tell them that they’re touring Europe hot on the heels of fellow southerner George Dubya Bush, not exactly the most popular man on the continent right now. “He isn’t the most popular man over there either. We hate him, all over the world” says Dre, while Big Boi just slowly shakes his head, motions washing his hands of the whole affair and drawls “Great parents, that’s all you can say...” Does it mean anything to you, who’s in the White House at any given time? “Nah. Nothing at all.”
We assume you’ve been getting a better reception over here? Dre replies enthusiastically: “We’ve been tearing it up! It’s been live – a lot of energy. Tonight was like, one of the best ones.” hotpress blushes. Why Mr. Benjamin, I bet you say that to all the capital cities...
At the end of last year, Stankonia was trampling all over U2 in the US album charts – I ask Dre how it feels to be outselling the Official Biggest Band In The World... Ever™ – it’s a long way from Tri-City. “(A little sarcastic) Special, very special. Blessed! ‘Cos back in school, U2 were coming up with all that shit – Joshua Tree, all that.” Do you feel you got your reward, got what was due to you? “Y’know, it’s well-deserved. As long as people still love the music, that’s what counts. As long as we can do what we want to do, do what we feel, and if that makes us successful, I think that’s great. I don’t think it should be the other way around, y’know, to try to be successful and not really be what you feel.”
This sounds suspiciously like the hip-hop equivalent of the indie standard we-just-do-what-we-do-and-if-anyone-elzzzzzz, so a subject closer to home needs to be pulled out of the bag. Outkast made a famous appearance on MTV’s Cribs, where Big Boi showed an eager camera crew around his mansion’s custom built pole dancing stage (a must for any aspirant homeowner). I enquire if the Outkast merchandising juggernaut will extend to a chain of strip clubs, but it seems they’ve got there before me. “Yeah, we’ve thought about it – you might see ‘The Boom-Boom Room Ireland’, y’know – with the green poles! Shamrocks everywhere. I know you wanna see that!” So how’s the Outkast clothing range going? Big Boi stands up to model the heavily-branded gear: “It’s going well, we’ve got a lot of orders for the first couple of weeks. We’ve got men’s, we got women’s, children’s, lil’ baby’s – we should be hitting Europe soon, so stay tuned.” I point to Dre’s violently-hued trousers, and ask if we’ll be seeing any of those on the rails. “Yeah, they’re gonna be a special line! Stankwear – premium line.”
Despite the Wu-style empire they’ve built up around themselves, Outkast wouldn’t be in a position to tackle any of these spinoffs if it weren’t for their unique musical vision. They’ve been central to the explosion of Atlantan hip-hop through an innovative melding of old school funk and new school flava, positivity colliding head-on with pimp posturing and ATLiens extraterrestrialism. The long list of Outkast collaborators includes such luminaries as Erykah Badu, Goodie Mob and George Clinton – and as soon as I mention the latter, Dre’s eyes light up. “That was an experience. Thang was wild. It’s like, he came in, he had what he was gonna say on his mind, he went in the booth, and he just laid it down, y’know? He had a little bit of inspiration, and just got to it.”
Do you think it’s helped you at all, to be at a distance from the whole West Coast/East Coast divide? Big Boi: “Definitely. While everybody else was concentrating on the feud, the South wasn’t involved in all that. It kinda stayed neutral, gave us a chance to pump the scene while everyone else was bickering. We could just work at trying to make our music better at a distance, down in our little hole...” Do you feel you’ve had to make any serious compromises along the way? Dre: “Probably the only thing we’ve had to compromise is cuss-words, like doing clean versions. In the states, they won’t play cussing on radio or TV, so we gotta do these edits to sell to kids. But over here, I see y’all pretty live – y’all cuss, get nekkid on TV! It’s lovely.” We assume he caught Live At Three on the flight over.
Much has been made of the fact that the Outkast touring machine consists of two very different buses, one for the party people and one for the librarians, or as Big Boi puts it, “Smoking and non-smoking. That’s the only difference. Plus, we got so many people with us now – dancers, and the rest of the band, we had to get two. One for the smokers and one for the non-smokers. It’s all just family, but they’re trying to make it seem like we’re not riding the same bus together, like we’re just smoking the man [here he glances at teetotaller Dre] out. But the man like a clean environment, so we have the two buses, we still kick it all day long.”
It’s time to dig the dirt on our American counterparts: Hot Press asks how they feel about the media in the States, whether they get treated any differently by the European press. Big Boi replies “There’s a lot more questions here, they really get right into it, want to know everything about you. They don’t just ask the same thing over and over. You read interviews with us in the States, they ask all the same questions. It’s good, because you get asked questions that other people don’t think of. It’s definitely thorough!”
At this point, Hot Press falls back on its laurels for a little while, basking in the reflected glory of our ever-inventive journo comrades. Just long enough, in fact, for one of said comrades to posit the question: “And how do you feel about the media in the States?” The fragile edifice of competency is shattered, and Outkast break into uncontrollable laughter.
By the time the dust settles, there’s barely enough time left to ask them if they ever touch base with the fans on the outkast.com chatroom. Big Boi nods: “I like going in there and talking to them every now and again – but they don’t ever believe it’s me. They start asking questions like: [narrows eyes suspiciously] ‘You were just in Florida – what did you have on?!’”
On the way out the door, we bump into two of said fans seeking an audience with the ‘coolest muthafunkas on the planet’ – Chemical Brothers Tom and Ed, looking every bit as starstruck as two schoolgirls that have managed to finagle their way into a Backstreet Boys’ dressing room. Superstar DJs indeed.