Hip-hop is growing up.
“I think rap music is a young people’s music,” Andre “3000” Benjamin told reporters last weekend after what may go down as the final performance from his group Outkast in Atlatnta.
The decision for him and longtime partner Antwan “Big Boi” Patton to call it quits has caused quite a stir around the music industry — if not for the fact that they went out relatively on top after their last proper album in 2003, then because their influence on all of the rap world still resonates.
Ole Miss senior and Tupelo native Justin Long was present for the epic curtain-close on Outkast’s career.
“It was like watching a historic last stand,” he said of the three-day festival. “Hip-hop, especially being so centered in Atlanta right now, owes Outkast an outpouring of gratitude like Derek Jeter got from his crowd in Yankee Stadium.”
Understanding how Outkast’s DNA exists in the make-up on most of hip-hop’s leading stars requires an understanding of how and from where the group began.
Their 1995 single “Elevators (Me & You)” outlines the beginnings of the group explicitly.
“A couple years ago on Headland and Delowe was the start of something good,” Andre, also known as “Three Stacks” (slang for 3000), raps on the record.
Right at that intersection in the East Point neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1992, the two high school classmates set out to record rap music together, eventually signing a recording contract at the budding LaFace Records headed by Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
The secret to the success of Outkast’s introduction to rap’s mainstream, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” is its supporting cast—Atlanta’s Dungeon Family collective. Organized Noize, a trio of young producers closely related to LaFace Records cultivated a diverse group of talent in the basement of Noize member Rico Wade, affectionately dubbed “The Dungeon.”
Built around Outkast, The Dungeon Family through the years has included acts like Killer Mike, Bubba Sparxxx, Future and early Outkast counterpart Goodie Mob, who debuted on Outkast single “Git Up, Git Out.” Cee-Lo Green, the lead member of Goodie Mob, begins the inspirational anthem with a fiery verse about taking responsibility for one’s own success. Standing as an example of self-fulfilling prophecy, Green represents the long list of artists related to ‘Kast that were able to spin their association into a successful career of their own. More than a decade before triumphs such as writing and producing The Pussycat Dolls’ debut single “Don’t Cha” or his chart-shattering “F*** You (Forget You).”
Rising from a time in rap in which regional loyalty was a factor that alienated most rappers from one another, Outkast’s early material failed to catch on outside of Southern markets. At the 1995 Source Awards in New York City, the group received the award for Best New Artist while being caught in a storm of “boos” from the hostile East Coast crowd.
Stepping up to the mic, Andre famously remarked, “The South got something to say,” before marching off stage.
For the remainder of the ‘90s, Outkast made a career of reinventing themselves between albums, melding the street-centric themes commonly littered throughout hip-hop albums with the Afrocentric funk native to 1970’s collective Parliament-Funkadelic. With each Outkast album came wilder science-fiction-inspired outfits, album art and sounds.
Outkast’s world sits at the intersection between blaxploitation-style pimp narratives and intergalactic romance novels. The thread that brings these two seemingly incompatible realms together is the intricate back-and-forth lyricism that anchors many Outkast records. Known for infusing music with liberating ideology and imagery, George Clinton’s P-Funk movement, and its legacy exist in Outkast outside of the realm of just music.
While Clinton’s group encouraged fans to join them in space by climbing aboard the “Mothership Connection,” Outkast and the rest of the Dungeon evoked invitations for their “ATLiens” onto the “Trans DF Express” to a land far away known as “Stankonia.” In instances in which rhyming is absent, Andre’s knack for dense songwriting allows his singing voice to matchup with a wealth of producers and guest-vocalists like longtime collaborators Sleepy Brown, Erykah Badu and Joi.
No matter how much the group was able to accomplish together, their greatest success story comes from their 2003 effort “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” a critical and commercial giant that allowed Andre 3000 and Big Boi to create two solo albums packaged together as a double-disc release.
The album won the group a Best Rap Album and Album of the Year at the 2004 Grammys and garnered an RIAA certification of diamond album sales (figures for double-disc releases are counted twice). Remarkably, “Hey Ya!,” Andre’s single, and “The Way You Move,” Big Boi’s single, both enjoyed tenures as the number one song on Billboard Top 100 list.
The group’s separation was more than just a clever creative gesture. They continued with the format for the soundtrack of their 2006 musical feature film, “Idlewild.” Working as solo artists since then, the duo delighted longtime fans after announcing that they would spend 2014 performing at various festivals.
Farewells in hip-hop are few and far between.
While staples in other genres, like The Rolling Stones or B.B. King, tour well beyond the age of rap artists that are bowing out, many rappers are outstaying their welcome on the touring circuit, unable to grasp the idea that audiences no longer are infatuated with their craft.
Outkast is a group with a high demand, and a large amount of current acts like Big K.R.I.T, Curren$y, Raury and B.o.B. hold the torch they once lit. In the sport of legitimizing Southern rap for the masses, Outkast is a champion. Their jerseys should be hung in the rafters.