Methodology

The research used in this paper stem from literature searches conducted during the course of this class. Because of their heavy influence in the hip-hop arena, OutKast has been a topic of many social commentaries and musical editorials. Databases were provided by the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library. The literature consist of mostly qualitative data, which provide an in-depth analysis of the pair’s complex workings.

Introduction

Outkast is an award-winning, diamond-selling hip-hop duo that was created in 1991 in Atlanta, GA comprised of Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and André “André 3000” Benjamin. Known for hits such as “B.O.B”, “Roses”, “Ms. Jackson”, “Hey Ya” and more, the duo has reached both critical acclaim along with commercial success. Their album “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” is certified diamond with over 10 million albums sold and is still the only hip-hop album to win Album of the Year at the Grammys. Outkast, as their name would suggest, is a group unlike any other, drawing influences from funk, jazz, soul, pop, and rock music. The duo is often credited for creating a new sound representative of the South in the midst of the infamous east coast vs west coast feud. With Atlanta today being a mecca for black music and culture, they are the creators of a movement that is still alive and well and has influenced millions of people around the world.

Humble Beginnings

Early Life

André Benjamin, better known as André 3000, was born on May 27, 1975 in Atlanta, GA. Antwan Patton, better known as Big Boi, was born on February 1, 1975, in Savannah, GA. Both Patton and Benjamin struggled with lives of poverty and street life in their early days. Benjamin lived with his mother in a very impoverished area of Atlanta. However, in elementary and middle school, André was bussed to suburban schools in Buckhead to better his education. Here, he was exposed to a broad insight of fashion, synthpop, and unorthodox sounds. Despite this upbringing, André started to rebel in high school by stealing and wanting to live a street life. On the other side of the coin, Patton experienced a different life with his Southern upbringing. He was brought up living with his extended family in the projects of Savannah. However, he would spend summers in Atlanta with his aunt Reneé. When he turned 15, he moved to Atlanta to stay with his aunt so that he could pursue a rap career.

Formation

The duo met each other at Tri-Cities High School in East Point, GA. Being a performing arts school, the two were encouraged to dive into their artistic expression, which happened to be rapping for both. It was noted that they two did not like each other at first, as they would constantly engage in rival rap battles with each other. The confrontational and observatory rhymes from the two propelled them into the forefront of artistry at the school (Driven 2004). This drove Patton and Benjamin to eventually make a connection as a rap duo.

Dungeon Family

The studio that propelled Outkast’s entire career was better known as “The Dungeon.” The Dungeon can be seen in the video of Outkast’s “Player’s Ball.” This space was the unfinished basement of Rico Wade, one of the three creators of Organized Noize. Organized Noize was the genius behind Outkast’s start. Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade, and Ray Murray would be the producer-trio to spark the careers of Outkast and Atlanta-based rap group, Goodie Mob. Rico was the behind-the-scenes guy, Sleepy was creative behind the hooks, and Ray was known as the beats master They used this creative space to escape from the outside madness of Atlanta’s drug and gang industries (The Art of Organized Noize 2016). Patton and Benjamin were introduced to Wade through a family friend. After hearing how the duo fed off of each others, Big Boi and Dré received an immediate invite to join the Dungeon Family.

Debut: A Player's Ball

Big Boi and André 3000 were placed in a position that sparked the Atlanta rap scene (Bynoe 2018). Outkast got their first professional start after being featured on a remix for TLC’s “What About Your Friends.” Music executive Pebbles heard the beats of Organized Noize through another hip-hop group’s record. Soon thereafter, Pebbles introduced Organized Noize and Outkast to her husband, music executive and producer L.A. Reid. Reid was the man behind other Atlanta acts such as Usher and TLC. Being unfamiliar with hip-hop, Reid was primarily hesitant about his first encounters with the producers and duo. He was unsure about whether or not to sign Patton and Benjamin, even after being intrigued about their cultural connections to hip-hop and their creativity. However, after hearing of a possible deal with Mercury Records, Reid reluctantly gave the duo a start with one song on a Christmas album. Thus, “Player’s Ball” was born. Directed by Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, the video for “Player’s Ball” gave audiences a glimpse into the everyday culture of living in Atlanta (The Art of Organized Noize 2016). They were put onto the forefront to lead the Southern rap movement, which was a successful undertaking.

Musical Elements

Outkast truly separated themselves as hip-hop icons through their innovative instrumentation and production elements. The pair always found ways to distinguish themselves in hip-hop, whether that meant incorporating funk-rap fusion on albums like Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik or integrating gangster themes with sci-fi elements like on ATLiens. This innovation helped propel the duo to the front line of rap. Moreover, Outkast tended to include soulful background vocals over traditional rap basslines, which further distinguished their music from East/West coast rap at the time (French 2017, 268). The strong use of Southern themes also added to their ties to the regional identity (Grem 2006, 56).

Patton and Benjamin were heavily influenced by funk and soul, in addition to their rap schemes. They added to funk styles by using Southern elements, forming an innovative rap sequence. Many of the songs throughout their discography had rhythmic arrangements driven by heavy bass lines and “guitar licks” (Ramsby 2013, 207). The duo also showcased their musical depth by performing with notable funk instruments such as drums, the electric guitar, synthesizers, and the electric organ (Ramsby 2013, 208). Evident on early songs are also musical influences from artists such as Curtis Mayfield. Outkast’s “Player’s Ball” is reminiscent of tracks and vibes that had been done decades earlier by Mayfield.

Many producers on the East Coast used prominent songs and incorporated them into the current hip-hop tracks. Organized Noize approached the music producing from a completely creative form that was seen at the time. They emphasized using authentic live instrumentation in their tracks, which is evident when hearing songs such as “Git Up, Git Out” and “Elevators [Me and You].” So, many of the songs included in Outkast’s discography had live artists playing instruments such as bass guitar, electric guitar, horns, organ, drums, and piano (Nichols 2014, 90). Outkast also differentiated themselves by their choice of lyricism. Oftentimes, Outkast tracks can be heard with varying aspects of social consciousness fused with street life (Bradley and Dubois 2010, 401). For example, their song “Rosa Parks” makes a slight homage to the activist’s work. By incorporating lyrics that related to the Civil Rights Movement icon, the duo are able to retain pieces of her and its legacy (Alridge 2005, 230).

Outkast had many influences that contributed to the quality and versatility of their work. Growing up, the duo each had rather unorthodox influences that contributed to their rhyming schemes and expansive perspectives. Big Boi grew up listening to artists such as Kate Bush, which made his style like that of eclectic pop. His aunt was also a singer, who was one of the primary people to push Patton to enter the music scene. Since Andre 3000 was bussed to predominantly white schools, he picked up on the styles of artists such as Madonna and Duran Duran. For these reasons, Patton and Benjamin frequently ventured outside of usual hip-hop dwellings to incorporate several musical styles into their artistry. In the rap world, the duo was influenced by groups such as A Tribe Called Quest and artists like Slick Rick (Bradley and DuBois 2010, 290). As stated previously, the group contained many funk elements. The father of producer Sleepy Brown was a member of the funk group Brick, so many hooks on their songs were reminiscent of traditional funk artistry.

Discography

  • Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
  • ATLiens
  • Aquemini
  • Stankonia
    • This project was a defining moment for the duo as it propelled the artists into superstardom (Bynoe 2018).
  • Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
  • Idlewild

Beyond the Music

In addition to the music industry, Patton and Benjamin have been successful in other realms of entertainment, including acting and fashion. Andre 3000 has been featured in fifteen film productions. His first role was Silk Brown in the movie Hollywood Homicide (2003). In 2005, he starred as Dabu in Be Cool and Jeremiah Mercer in Four Brothers. These films further highlighted Benjamin’s versatility within entertainment. He served many roles in Semi-Pro (2008), and he was featured in many other films such as Charlotte’s Web (2006), Scary Movie 4 (2006), and Battle in Seattle (2007). More recently, Andre 3000 played the role of Jimi Hendrix, famed rockstar, in Jimi: All Is By My Side. He also launched his own fashion line in 2008. Big Boi has been in a number of films himself. His biggest role was in ATL (2006) as Marcus, in which he played a drug lord with a pit bull company. This role related to his real life because he owns his own pit bull breeding business.  Big Boi also starred in movies such as King of the Hill (2006), Who’s Your Caddy? (2006), Star (2017), and Superfly (2018). As a duo, Patton and Benjamin starred in and wrote the soundtrack for the the 2006 film Idlewild. This film further showcased the pair’s versatility in that the tracks were mainly reminiscent of juke joint vibes, a far cry from their usual hip-hop and funk origins.

Solo Careers

The duo disbanded Outkast in 2006. Technically, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below signify their first solo albums because this album consists of two separate albums made into one. Speakerboxxx is almost exclusively works by Big Boi, and The Love Below is almost exclusively works by Andre 3000. This project garnered the pair Grammy awards for Album of the Year and Best Rap Album. Each artist released solo projects in the years thereafter. Big Boi released the following solo albums:

  • Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)
  • Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (2012)
  • Big Grams (2015)
  • Boomiverse (2017)

Andre 3000 recently released an EP titled Look Ma No Hands (2018). In addition, he has been present on many features including Beyonce’s “Party,” UGK’s “International Players Anthem,” Chris Brown’s “Deuces” remix, and John Legend’s “Green Light.” He has been involved in many other hip-hop and R&B songs with various artists.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is apparent that Outkast is one of the most influential Black groups in the history of hip-hop. Even as individuals, their ingenuity assisted in revolutionizing Southern hip-hop. Their role in the Black musical arena cannot be underestimated even as the group separated. From the depths of impoverished culture to the top of American mainstream, Outkast proved to set a precedent for the landscape of modern hip-hop.

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