With OutKast playing Coachella tonight, and a gang of festivals this summer, Decatur, Georgia native Jarren Benton recalls what it was like when OutKast first debuted and why they need to come home.
Before 1994, the Atlanta hip-hop scene was mainly known for booty shake music, like Kilo and Raheem the Dream, or groups like ABC, Kriss Kross, and TLC. This type of music had its place, but Atlanta was not getting the same lyrical respect like L.A. and New York was in the ‘90s. As a kid growing up here during that time, my exposure to hip-hop, outside of national shows like Yo MTV Raps! and Rap City, was Georgia State college radio, 88.5, and "The Fresh Party" another local radio show. Of course the radio stations were playing the artists like Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, Ice Cube, and whatever else was popular at the time. But again, the overall sound and style coming out of popular Atlanta artists was basically the same.
And then OutKast came out.
OutKast were all Atlanta, but serious lyricists. I felt like, “Finally. Atlanta can compete.” I was inspired.
OutKast were our first hometown heroes. I remember the first time I heard them: It was when I saw the video for “Players’ Ball” on an episode of Rap City. They had on Atlanta jerseys, kangols, and were riding Cadillacs. I knew immediately they were from Atlanta, my city. They showed off Atlanta street signs and landmarks. They were repping so hard. I was immediately captivated by their style. They didn’t sound like “typical” Atlanta artists, but they used our lingo and our content, mixed with the cadence and flow of L.A. and New York rappers. They were all Atlanta, but with serious lyricists. I felt like, “Finally. Atlanta can compete.” I was inspired.
I remember April 26, 1994, the day Southernplayalisticadillackmuzik dropped. I was on punishment for a whole month, for getting caught using hallucinogenic drugs and stealing a gun, but that’s another story, and all I wanted to do was go buy this CD. Even though I was on punishment, my mom took me to Wherehouse Music and I got it. Since I was on lock down, the only thing I could do was listen to music.
At the time, I was heavily influenced by the West Coast sound, mostly Dr. Dre and Snoop, but I was completely blown away by the album. I had not heard anything like that come out of Atlanta. It embodied hip-hop, from the lyrics, the music, the scratching, but still such a southern drawl and vibe to it. I was influenced by lyrical rappers so finally hearing other rappers with similar influences that were staying true to their roots was dope. And it wasn’t just me that was captivated. The whole city knew we had something special; you would hear OutKast bumping in almost every car that passed by.
Little did we know it was really the beginning of a movement: The Dungeon Family era. At the time, the East Coast sound revolved around hardcore spitters, and the West Coast sound had lots of funk influences with violent gritty tales of street life, mostly in L.A. The Dungeon Family production brought a whole ‘nother soulful sound to the table. Content wise, OutKast was telling some street tales too but mixed with spirituality and the raising of consciousness.
Back then, there was no social media and artists weren’t putting out as much material as they do today. We had to wait for new shit. So while we were waiting on another OutKast album, Goodie Mob dropped their first album, Soul Food. They had the same impact, and it was basically like a snowball effect. We had something special.
We got in a cypher with Andre and all the members of Goodie Mob. We rapped for them, they bobbed their heads, but that was it.
By the time Goodie Mob came out, I was 14 years old and in a group called Pressure, and we were heavily inspired by them. Our manager got us an interview on a college radio station, and OutKast and Goodie Mob were on after us. They weren’t huge at the time but still well-known here. After the interviews were over I asked Andre if we could rap for them. They were real cool about it.
So we got in a cypher with Andre and all the members of Goodie Mob. We rapped for them, they bobbed their heads, but that was it. We went home with our minds blown. After that, our manager established a relationship with Rico Wade and after listening to some of our tracks he invited us to the Dungeon Family studio. Nothing came of that meeting, but looking back it’s crazy, considering the level OutKast is on now, that I was even in that space.
There has definitely been a void with the absence of OutKast, Goodie Mob, and The Dungeon Family. I anticipated every one of their albums. They were always innovative. The energy they brought to the city and the impact they had hasn’t been duplicated—no matter how big other Atlanta artists get. When they announced they were doing the festival tour this year, hip-hop fans all over the world were excited. But if they touch down in Atlanta, especially if it’s with the Dungeon Family and Goodie Mob, it’s going to be a magical moment. We've been waiting for this.