Solo Albums: N/A
Group Albums: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994) with Outkast, ATLiens (1996) with Outkast, Aquemini (1998) with Outkast
Biggest Hits: "Player's Ball" with Outkast (1993), "Elevators (Me & You)" with Outkast (1996), "ATLiens" with Outkast (1996), "Jazzy Belle" with Outkast (1996)

When Andre Benjamin was still but a teenager, one-half of Atlanta rap group OutKast, on the group's debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, signs of the eclecticism Andre would later develop and refine (not just as part of OutKast's aesthetic, but as part of the one he'd later ride to worldwide solo success) were already there. Where Big Boi played the gruff, southern thug, the thematic muscle of the duo, Andre played the part of the kid nostalgic for places he'd never been and eras he'd never lived through.

It's Andre's distinctive tone— a Southern lilt with a hint of softness—paired with his interest in lyrical gymnastics that truly helped the group stand apart on that first album. Whereas Big Boi exemplified the gruff, candy-paint pimp aesthetic of that moment in Southern rap, it was clear that Andre's head was lost in the clouds, in the best way possible. He was about more than the singles, he was about more than what rap fame had to offer, and this was evident by the way he rhymed, a rap nerd's flow if there ever was one, only enhanced by that rare Southern inflection.

 

He was about more than the singles, he was about more than what rap fame had to offer, and this was evident by the way he rhymed, a rap nerd's flow if there ever was one, only enhanced by that rare Southern inflection.

 

OutKast's second album, ATLiens was no different. In 1996, as East Coast/West Coast gangsta rap dominated every major conversation about the genre, Andre wasn't rapping about violence, or his rivals, but being approached at the mall and being hit up for money, and really, not having all that much. ("True I got more fans than the average man/But not enough loot to last me, to the end of the week/I live by the beat/Like you live check to check, and if you don't move yo feet/Then I don't eat/So we like neck-to-neck.") Andre's raps were dipped in existential philosophy, which goes without mentioning the extraterrestrial themes they used as color.

1998's Aquemini was, in fact, different. Whereas the first two albums had shown that Andre's songwriting creativity and dynamic lyrical skills simply excelled beyond that of his contemporaries, the five-mic album, the finest piece of Southern rap to come out that decade, hell, the finest piece of Southern rap to come out ever, took him from artist making rap to artist making genre-transcendent rap. Pliable and distinct, his flow referenced more poetry and jazz than it did other rappers. He's become a connoisseur's lyricist, one whose understanding of song craft never fell under the shadow of his innate, stunning talent.

No wonder, then, that the albums that followed, as the millennium turned, would become so patently psychedelic again, in form and in what they held lyrically. It's not so much that the '90s took Andre to astral planes, but that Andre had made the plane we're on seem like such a far away place. And we got the pleasure of being right there with him on the trip, every time he stepped to the mic. —Foster Kamer 

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