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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

This is Outkast week, article via MTV.com...

Outkast - Black Dog/Black Wolf
By Joseph Patel

http://www.mtv.com/bands/o/outkast/news_feature_030929/index.jhtml

Full article:

Outkast's Andre 3000 walked into the MTV Radio lounge about as cool as anyone wearing blue flood trousers, a pinstripe shirt and suspenders can be. That's to say, he was "ice cold" cool, to borrow a phrase from his current hit single, "Hey Ya!." His partner in rhyme, Big Boi, followed behind him a few seconds later. He was the antithesis of Dre's psychedelic vintage style, with his baggy camouflage pants and loose-hanging sports jersey. While Andre slinked his skinny frame up to a stool in the room, Big Boi kind of rumbled there, like a bull, clutching a greasy box of fried chicken from a nearby Popeyes.

"Anyone want some chicken? Y'all can have what ya want," Big said in a low mumble.

"You givin' 'em your chicken?" Andre asked, surprised, cocking his head to the side.

"Chicken, sure. Biscuits, too," Big answered. Just some of that Southern hospitality, he seemed to be saying. Andre had no interest in the grease, the chicken, the biscuits or the comfort of this food — he's a vegan, going on eight years.

"You want some?" Big Boi asked, staring at Andre. There was a long pause, then laughter as Andre just shook his head.

It was a small moment in a thousand that happen each day in the lives of Andre and Big Boi, but not an insignificant one, because, for one thing, this easygoing and familiar moment hardly paints the portrait of a group in turmoil.

Yet many have been presenting such a picture of the duo. The press has seized upon the "Outkast Go Their Separate Ways!" story like sharks on fresh sea turtles dropped in their tank. The conceptual divide of the duo's new double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, actually comprised of two solo efforts, and the accompanying cover, a royal looking Big Boi adorned with a hustler-friendly, extravagant fur coat on one side, a white-capped Andre in a glam-rap pose on the other, led to the easy hook. Some magazines would follow suit, featuring two different covers with the two different members. And they all asked the question, "Is this a prelude to breaking up?"

"We did something separated, [but] the unity is still here..."

"It's on, brother," Big Boi boomed. "We did something kind of separated to show you the separate visions. It's still the group. The unity is still here." He hit Andre 3000 on the arm, then said, "They thought we were gonna break up, Dre!"

"We've had photo shoots where the entire time, we're together taking pictures," Dre explained in a slow, country manner that's all flat-as-flapjacks vowels and syrupy consonants. "We get the magazine covers back and they just happen to pick the picture where we're both looking away from each other. I understand it but ... no, we're not breaking up. This is just one project, one album. We thought it'd be a great idea."

Indeed, splitting the new Outkast album in two wasn't a precursor to their demise, a signal that these two lifelong friends had suddenly grown sick of each other; it was just another grand — and risky — idea in a career full of bold choices. The move has not only forced the hip-hop community, which embraces change only incrementally, to reconsider what can be a successful album, it's also reinvigorated the creative spirit of both Dre and Big Boi after their last album, Stankonia, drained it out of them. Rather than breaking them apart, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below will probably save them.

"People are always playing this game safely," Big Boi said, shaking his head. The rapper is a solid, 5'6'' mass of feistiness, and if Andre's accent is cat-like sleek, then Big's is pure bulldog. "You know, if you've been winning for a long time, you say, 'I got a formula and it works.' With us, we want to come in and create, and whatever happens, happens. We were wondering what it would sound like if you had me in one kitchen cooking and Dre in the other kitchen cooking. We did it just to make it more exciting. It was a challenge doing it this way. Otherwise you do the same sh-- all the time. We switchin' and changin'. You don't want to do something to just get by."

Some people would disagree. One magazine even asked if on this latest album — where Andre lives out his Prince playboy fantasy and Big Boi acts like a newly single hustler — the group has gone too far musically.

"With Outkast music, it's not the easiest thing to swallow," Dre said. "It's always on that fence — people can hate it or they can love it. Or they could say, 'They have gone too far.' "

"What is too far in doing music?" Big Boi asked.

But is that where Outkast have gone on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below? Big Boi's single, "The Way You Move," is a smooth, soulful anthem lionizing the female form, while Andre's song has transcended hip-hop and attracted fans of rock and pop radio. If that's "too far," then they'll take it. "I'm not a pop writer," Andre said, "but I do want everybody in the world to get a chance to listen to my music."

What many ignore when they say Outkast have overstepped their bounds or infer that they've grown tired of making music with each other is just how strong the relationship between Andre and Big Boi is. Outkast are not a pair of guys who happened to run into each other in the studio one day only to discover a professional mission. They have known each other since their formative years at Tri-Cities High School in Atlanta, where they were best friends who discovered in each other what they liked about themselves: a desire to do things differently and subvert the mainstream.

One way this manifested itself early on was in their fashion sense. Neither Andre nor Big Boi were afraid of putting their own fingerprints on the styles of the day. They dressed like preppies (in the era of Boyz II Men, new jack swing!) with pressed Girbaud jeans and collared shirts. But they would always add a new wrinkle to the look.

"We would cut our clothes up and dye them different colors and say we bought them from Australia or wherever," Big Boi said with a laugh. "Just so people at school could be like, 'Damn, where'd you get that?' We had our own little style. We'd color our hair. Folks was diggin' it. Anything to get a rise out of anybody. That's when we started rapping, too. Two Shades Deep was the name of the group. I was Black Dog and Dre was Black Wolf. Became Outkast right after that."

Big Boi gets downright indignant if people suggest that he and Dre no longer see eye to eye. "It's a brotherhood, man," he said. "You click up with somebody you don't hardly know but at the same time, you got the same fascination with the same things and the personalities click. We started out as just homeboys first. I slept on his bedroom floor the last two years of high school damn near. We came up with the whole vision for the group together. We grew up together and learned those things together — that's how the sound came about. It's like it manifested in both of us and we spit it out in all different types of ways. But we brothers first, before the group. We brothers."

Big Boi gets downright indignant if people suggest that he and Dre no longer see eye to eye. "It's a brotherhood, man," he said. "You click up with somebody you don't hardly know but at the same time, you got the same fascination with the same things and the personalities click. We started out as just homeboys first. I slept on his bedroom floor the last two years of high school damn near. We came up with the whole vision for the group together. We grew up together and learned those things together — that's how the sound came about. It's like it manifested in both of us and we spit it out in all different types of ways. But we brothers first, before the group. We brothers."

While Big Boi and Andre share the desire to approach things from a unique perspective, in all other ways they're different. Big Boi is the homeboy of the crew, the populist who most adheres to the traditional styles of hip-hop, like throwback jerseys, 20-inch rims on his SUV and girls with the badunkadunk. Andre is the loner, the one who rhymes about inner emotions and outer space, the one who can throw on a purple fur coat and make it look masculine in the tradition of George Clinton and Prince.

That yin-and-yang fit has made Outkast's previous four albums, from their 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, to 2000's break-out hit, Stankonia, stand out from the typical sounds of hip-hop. And through it all they've managed to connect with people — Stankonia, as avant-garde a hip-hop album as you'll ever hear, has sold 4 million copies in the U.S.

The success of Stankonia allowed the duo to step back and do things a little differently for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Big Boi explored his roots, his communal, Southern-funk side. The song "Tomb of the Boom" is the epitome of this, a hardcore-beat roundtable that features Ludacris, Big Gipp of the Goodie Mob and a new group discovered by Big Boi called Konkrete. "I wanted to do something like 'The Symphony' with Marley Marl," Big Boi explained. "Just MCs from the South, straight street MCs ready to bust on a hard-ass ghetto beat."

On his side, Andre played with the kaleidoscope of the black musical diaspora, touching on jazz, doo-wop, soul and blues, often in the same song. He wrapped the tracks around a fictional story he created in his head, set in Paris, about a man afflicted with lust who finally falls in love. Musically, what stands out is his withdrawal from any actual rapping; instead, Andre sings most of his lines in a down-home falsetto.

"It wasn't a conscious thing where I said, I don't want to rap no more," Andre said. "Even on early Outkast albums I've always felt [sung] melodies. I guess the melodies just took over more and more, and then next thing [I know] I was writing full songs. I was real excited about that, it was a challenge to me to step into that arena and see if I could shake my tail. I was pretty stuck on [that story]. But I didn't want to hear a bunch of love raps. To say what I wanted to say, it'd come out better in song."

Once again, Outkast's experimentation seems to be working — both for themselves and for the fans. In conceiving the album, the two came up with a story line for a new movie, which will be produced for HBO and based on the songs from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It's a rap fairy tale that finds Andre searching for love and Big Boi living out a gangsta-pimp fantasy — much like the themes on their own albums. The soundtrack to the film, which begins shooting early next year for a fall release, will mix some of the songs that missed the cut for these discs, as well as new cuts Andre and Big Boi are working on together. "I want to put my creative energy into different things now," Andre divulged. "Restaurants, things like that. I want to see fly stuff everywhere."

The first week Speakerboxxx/The Love Below showed up in stores, it sold 509,000 copies, topping the Billboard albums chart and besting a list of high-profile debuts that week from Dave Matthews, Limp Bizkit, R. Kelly and Eminem protégé Obie Trice. It proved Outkast's place in the pantheon of pop was not an anomaly that began and ended with Stankonia.

"It's always amazing to me," Andre said, smiling. "You never know what people are going to like. I've seen the best of them, boys I've loved, go by the wayside. I don't know if it's them or the audience. Maybe it's the times. One thing I do know, nobody will stay on top forever. Once you get that in your mind, it won't be such a crash. You just gotta keep on keepin' on, keep doing what you want to do."

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