OutKast





Rap duo

Members include André 3000 (born André Benjamin, May 27, 1975, in Georgia; son of Lawrence Walker (a collections agent) and Sharon Benjamin Hodo (a real estate agent); children: Seven (son, with Erykah Badu). Education: Took filmmaking courses at the University of Southern California.), vocals; Big Boi (born Antwan Patton, February 1, 1975, in Savannah, GA; son of Tony Kearse (a Marine Corps officer) and Rowena Patton (a retail supervisor); children: Jordan (daughter), Bamboo (son), Cross (son)), vocals.

OutKast

Addresses:

Office —c/o Arista Records, 6 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

Career

Began writing rap songs while Atlanta high–school students; released first single, "Player's Ball," on LaFace Records, 1993; released first LP, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, 1994; released ATLiens, 1996; released Aquemini, 1998; released Stankonia, 2000; released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 2003. Film appearances by Benjamin include: Hollywood Homicide, 2003; Be Cool, 2004.

Awards:

Grammy Award for best song by a rap duo or group, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 2001, for "Ms. Jackson," and best rap album of the year, 2001, for Stankonia ; Grammy Awards for album of the year, best rap album of the year, 2003, for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and best urban/alternative performance, 2003, for "Hey Ya!"

Sidelights

André "3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton make up OutKast, the Atlanta–bred duo whose exuberant style has reshaped the sound of contemporary rap music. Their fifth release, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, was actually dual solo records from each, and became one of the best–selling records of 2003. It won not only that year's Grammy Award for Best Rap Album of the Year, it took the Album of the Year statue as well.

Propelled by the overwhelming success of André 3000's infectious dance hit, "Hey Ya!"—a third Grammy–winner that year—the CD went on to sell 3.5 million copies. Releasing a pair of solo records under their OutKast name seemed a risky move for the group, which had a loyal fan base and were one of the first successful rap acts to emerge from the Atlanta music scene, but proved once again that Benjamin and Patton had a sixth sense for turning daring musical ideas into hit records. "Every album is a risk," Benjamin told New York Times writer Lola Ogunnaike. "It's not like we make the easiest music to swallow."

Benjamin and Patton were both born in 1975, and would later name both a record release and their boutique label "Aquemini" after a combination of their respective astrological signs—Benjamin, born May 27, is a Gemini, while Patton's February 1 birthdate makes him an Aquarius. Benjamin was the only child of Sharon Benjamin Hodo, a real estate agent, and Lawrence Walker, a collections agent. Patton's mother, Rowena, was a retail supervisor, and his father, Tony Kearse, had been a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He was the first of five children in the family, and initially dreamed of a career in pro football, or child psychology. Benjamin thought about becoming an architect before realizing that it would require him to take an abundance of math classes.

The duo met Tri–Cities High School in East Point, Georgia, a school geared toward the performing arts. It was fashion that initially brought them together: "We were preps," Patton told People writer Chuck Arnold. "We wore loafers, argyle socks, and V–neck sweaters with T–shirts. We were new to the school and we didn't know anybody." But it was music that cemented their friendship: both were fans of alternative hip–hop acts like De La Soul, the Brand Nubians, and A Tribe Called Quest, and also appreciated the genius of George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and other funk greats of the 1970s.

Benjamin and Patton wrote their first rap songs in class together, and began making mix tapes in their spare time. Their first working name was "2 Shades Deep," but they learned it was taken by another act. They then dubbed themselves the Misfits, but found out that was being used as well. Taking the "misfit" idea to the dictionary, "we came across the word outcast," Benjamin recalled in an interview for Jet with Marti Yarbrough, "and just kept the pronunciation key spelling of it."

Around the same time that Benjamin left Tri–Cities High after the eleventh grade, he and Patton met up with an Atlanta–area production team called Organized Noize that had worked with R&B group TLC. OutKast's first single, "Player's Ball," was released by LaFace, the label of Atlanta record mogul Antonio "LA" Reid in 1993, and reached No. 1 on the Billboard rap singles chart the following year. They became the first hip–hop act ever signed to LaFace, but Benjamin and Patton were determined to chart a new course in the urban/rap/hip–hop scene. "When I look at the rap videos, it's pretty much the same video over and over," Benjamin told Newsweek journalist Allison Samuels. "A bunch of women in swimsuits and the guys rapping about money or jewels. Me and Big Boi wanted to change that."

Benjamin and Patton's first full LP, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was released in 1994, and reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B/hip–hop albums chart. It also helped to put Atlanta on the map in the urban–music scene. Before the success of OutKast and fellow Georgians the Goodie Mob, rappers from the South received short shrift in the music industry, which focused on the hard–core movers and shakers from a New York–Los Angeles axis.

OutKast hit No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/hip–hop chart two years later with their second effort, ATLiens. It sold 1.5 million copies, buoyed by the track "Elevators (Me and You)." Their third CD, 1998's Aquemini went multi–platinum, but the single "Rosa Parks" brought a lawsuit from the civil–rights heroine not long after it reached No. 19 a year later. Parks sued the duo and their label for using her name without permission, and the case would eventually go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though Aquemini did not produce any other hit singles, it was enthusiastically received by critics and included on several year–end polls of the best releases of 1998.

Around this same time, Benjamin dropped the "Dre" tag he had used for years in favor of the spacier "André 3000." He also became known for his flamboyant outfits, which included platinum wigs, fake–fur trousers, and an array of colorful suit–and–shirt combinations in eye–popping plaids and patterns. The outrageous wardrobe seemed an update of the funk superstar George Clinton, and Benjamin and Patton also borrowed the word "stank" from the funk heyday of the 1970s. They called their new Atlanta studio Stankonia, and dubbed their fourth release that as well.

The 17 tracks on 2000's Stankonia included the hits "B.O.B. (Bombs over Baghdad)" and "Ms. Jackson," and gave Benjamin and Patton two Grammy Awards, one of them for Best Rap Album of the Year. Once again, critics were ecstatic about the way in which OutKast brought together old–school with a modern twist. This release, noted Newsweek reviewer Lorraine Ali, "continues OutKast's journey into the weird with a sound that lies somewhere between the jamming madness of Parliament–Funkadelic, the creme de menthe vocals of Al Green, and the bumping beats of A Tribe Called Quest."

Stankonia seemed to show the two high–school pals maturing into one of rap music's more contemplative and inventive acts. The warring themes on it, one critic felt, signified the coming–of–age of the genre at a precise moment when its credibility was wavering. "With unassuming brilliance, OutKast has finessed a major rift that now runs through hip–hop," wrote New York Times music critic Jon Pareles. "On one side, the more commercial one, are gangsta characters working ever more familiar variations on tales of gunplay and sex.… On the other side, in a growing backlash, are rappers who see gangsta rap reinforcing the ugliest stereotypes: no longer the defiant power fantasies of inner–city underdogs, but a demeaning show–business shtick that only pretends to be 'keeping it real.'"

Nearly three years passed before Benjamin and Patton returned with a new record—but it was a dual CD that became one of the biggest hits of the year. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below came out on Arista in September of 2003. Speakerboxxx and The Love Below were essentially solo CDs from Benjamin and Patton, but packaged together in a move that was initially viewed as potentially career–damaging. The two records could not have been more different in style, noted Kelefa Sanneh in a New York Times article. " Speakerboxxx is propelled by Big Boi's precise, sticky rhymes, and The Love Below floats along on Andre 3000's not–quite–angelic falsetto singing," Sanneh asserted, and wondered if OutKast fans would be happy with the package.

Critics loved the work, pronouncing it the duo's most daring to date, and fans voted at both cash registers and on Internet download sites. There was some cross–over between the two: Benjamin co–wrote four tracks for Patton's Speakerboxxx, which was the more rap–flavored half of the release. It opened with "GhettoMusick," which Entertainment Weekly critic Will Hermes found "a machine–gun–speed rap reclaiming '80s electrofunk from hipster ironists while targeting low–aiming rappers." Hermes found some missteps in Speakerboxxx, but noted its musical guest stars added to its charms. "Even the old–school tracks have a twist, whether it's Jay–Z rapping the hook of 'Flip Flop Rock,' or 'Reset,' with its dice–roll percussion and sermon by Big Boi's Georgia neighbor Cee–Lo," Hermes concluded.

Patton co–wrote the "Roses" track for Benjamin's The Love Below, which was a more experimental, funk–and jazz–influenced work. The project actually began as soundtrack to a film that Benjamin had co–authored. "It was an experiment, so it was fun for me and it was personal at the same time," he told Jet 's Yarbrough. "Originally it wasn't supposed to be catered to the OutKast fan. It wasn't supposed to be the package that I delivered because people know me for rhyming. The movie was a love story so these songs made sense." Hermes found it, from start to finish, "as strange and rich a trip as pop offers nowadays, a song cycle about love's battle against fear and (self–) deception that's frequently profound, hilarious, and very, very sexy," his Entertainment Weekly review asserted.

The Love Below produced the immensely successful hit single "Hey Ya!" This catchy, exuberant song became the No. 1 downloaded song on Internet music sites, and a minor pop–culture phenomenon as well, with the line "shake it like a Polaroid picture" entering the vernacular and even prompting a cautionary response from Polaroid that their instant–camera photos should actually not be shaken to speed up the drying process. In November of 2003, on a campaign stop in New England, presidential candidate General Wesley Clark even quoted the line in an attempt to show off some pop–culture credibility to younger voters.

Clark also weighed in on the topic that worried OutKast's fans: whether the two solo releases marked the end of the era for the group. But both Benjamin and Patton asserted in many interviews that their partnership was still strong, and they had no plans to part ways. "We were just showing how we'd each grown musically in our own way," Patton said of the two–disc release in the Newsweek interview with Samuels, and told another reporter, the New York Times 's Ogunnaike, that he and Benjamin were sitting on "six albums worth of material. That's plenty to work with."

By mid–February, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below had sold more than three million copies and spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Nominated for six Grammy Awards, it won Album of the Year, Rap Album of the Year, and Best Alternative–Urban Performance for "Hey Ya!"

Patton handles the financial decisions for the business that is OutKast, which absorbs several hours weekly. This frees Benjamin to explore his creative side, such as the screenwriting project. He also started taking clarinet and saxophone lessons, and enrolled in film classes at the University of Southern California. In 2003, he appeared in a small part in the Harrison Ford movie Hollywood Homicide, and was later cast in Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty. He was also producing a Gwen Stefani solo project slated for 2004 release. Benjamin was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in the May 10, 2004, issue.

Both Benjamin and Patton are parents. Patton, who lives in Fayetteville, Georgia, told People 's Arnold, "I'm a soccer dad." He has a daughter and two sons. Benjamin has son with singer Erykah Badu, with whom he shares custody. Badu's mother was the inspiration behind OutKast's first Grammy–winning single, "Ms. Jackson." Mired in sorrow over their breakup, Benjamin wrote a song in which he promised to be a good parent despite the split. As he explained in the People interview, "It was about us not being together [anymore] and thinking, 'Well, what does Erykah's mom think?'" He told Arnold that he and his son's grandmother "laugh and joke about it now. Her mom will still say, 'I should be getting paid for that song.'"

Selected discography

"Player's Ball" (cassette single), LaFace Records, 1993.

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace Records, 1994.

ATLiens, LaFace Records, 1996.

Aquemini, LaFace Records, 1998.

Stankonia, Arista, 2000.

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Arista, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard Bulletin, December 9, 2003, p. 3.

Daily Variety, May 17, 2004, p. 6.

Entertainment Weekly, September 19, 2003, p. 83; December 26, 2003, p. 78; February 6, 2004, p. 16.

Jet, February 2, 2004, p. 58.

Newsweek, October 30, 2000, p. 88; September 22, 2003, p. 86.

New York Times, October 29, 2000, p. 32; September 7, 2003, p. AR87; October 5, 2003, p. AR1.

People, February 16, 2004, p. 87; May 10, 2004.

Time, September 29, 2003, p. 71.

Online

"Clark Faces Late–Night Laugh Test," CBSNews.com , http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/11/19/politics/main584458.shtml (June 18, 2004).

Carol Brennan



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