Return of the ‘Gs': The OutKast Reunion & André 3000’s Return to the Stage
By Paul de Revere
An OutKast reunion tour arrives as unexpected, even dubious, news to anyone familiar with the rap duo’s legacy. For an act of their massive size and pervasive influence, OutKast has only done a few major U.S. tours, co-headlining Moby’s now-defunct Area:One festival tour, a month-long trek with Ludacris as their opener in 2001, and the Smokin’ Grooves Tour in 2002.
Because of this, or in spite of it, plenty of rumors and wishful thinking have surrounded an OutKast reunion since the duo’s formal hiatus in 2007. Even at its peak, calls on the duo to, please, do a proper tour already, weren’t heeded. But why? Live shows, or lack thereof, have been a main creative rift between Andre “André 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, who formed the influential Southern rap act in high school in 1992. So is this reunion tour an opportunistic publicity/cash grab or a genuine, new chapter for OutKast?
In 1992, Patton and Benjamin couldn’t have foreseen just how large they would become, stepping up with their Dungeon Family crew as emissaries of Southern rap to the rest of the hip hop world in the late ’90s — among the first to introduce the very concept. OutKast are one of the most successful rap duos of all time, selling over 25 million units to date, including the diamond-certified Speakerboxx/The Love Below, a split set of two solo records and the only rap record to win an Album of the Year GRAMMY.
But Benjamin’s reluctance to bring that success on the road has been more of a personal issue. In hip hop’s world of hustle and ambition, OutKast have habitually missed the boat on touring opportunities. But given what Benjamin has been up to since OutKast’s 2007 hiatus— movies, television and the occasional dribs and drabs of music, consistent rumors of a proper solo record, mostly low-key guest verses — maybe he’s better suited for screen than stage.
One of the more heralded of Andre’s guest verses appeared on T.I.’s “Sorry”, off last year’s Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head. It was Benjamin’s apology to Big Boi— for whom he played the verse before its release— and OutKast fans for the personal, professional and creative difficulties, directly as a result of the duo’s touring difficulties.
“This the type of s*** that’ll make you call your rap partner and say/‘I’m sorry I’m awkward, my fault for f***in up the tours,’’’ André rapped. “I hated all the attention so I ran from it/f*** it if we did, but I hope we ain’t lose no fans from it/I’m a grown-ass kid, you know I ain’t never care about no damn money.”
The verse shows stark contrast to Big Boi’s career path post-OutKast. Since 2009, Patton’s has been a more traditional hip-hop one: two solo records, lots of guest-verse features, urban radio airplay and, most importantly, lots of touring. Big Boi has played the live dates he no-doubt wanted to do while in OutKast but couldn’t because of Andre.
Still, it really means something when Andrew apologizes in verse. It becomes poignant if you take to heart what co-founding Dungeon Family member as part of Goodie Mob and OutKast collaborator Cee Lo Green said to MTV’s RapFix Live in August.
“[Andre] just said he had a severe case of stage fright and just kind of been away from the game and didn’t know if he could truly live up,” Green said. “I just feel like I’m talking too much personal stuff. I hope he don’t mind.”
While Green —the Dungeon Family’s ambassador to the mainstream these days— isn’t exactly telling tales out of school, Benjamin has a reputation as a private, subdued person, part of why he’s adopted such a low profile since OutKast’s initial hiatus.
Green, of all people, would know. The two have known each other since childhood in Atlanta, longer than Andre has known Big Boi.
“He just said he was bothered by this bar that had been set and maybe he wants to do something different, and he’ll always be his worst competition, his worst critic and maybe he don’t want to live up to what people think he should do,” Green explained. “He’s always been exceptional and ahead of his time, anyway, so anything he decides to do, next year or the year after that, we’ll still be catching with what’s on his mind.”
Similar to the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of OutKast sister group TLC, Benjamin’s creative vision is eccentric to the point of nonchalance toward anything else. He’s a known but often-unacknowledged presence in his native Atlanta concert scene when not on his Hollywood grind for various film/TV roles. He’s been seen occasionally standing in the back at venerable ATL venues, attending shows as stylistically diverse as his own music. For the last several years, Benjamin has been more content as a concert audience member, not performer.
But here he comes walking up to the stage. We know Big Boi is game. Hopefully André is, too. Here’s hoping it works out for everyone financially and artistically in 2014. It’s a long time coming.