In case you’ve been living under a rock with no internet connection for the past week (at this point, most rocks are fully wired for wi-fi, right?), OutKast is back! The ATLien rap legends Big Boi and Andre 3000 recently announced their first round of shows in a decade. (Though OutKast’s last public hurrah was 2006’s Idlewild, 3000’s now-famous stage fright had already sidelined him by then, so that the group’s last known public performance was at the 2004 Grammy Awards.) They will headline the Coachella Festival in California in April and New York City’s Governor’s Ball in June, all part of a yet-to-be-announced 40-date tour in celebration of the 20th anniversary of their 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
This 20th anniversary trek is a good time to talk about OutKast’s impact on rap. Big and Andre have been trailblazers since jump, both in the way they took Southern hip-hop from the margins to the mainstream and in the way everything they did built on the oeuvre of their predecessors—the Princes, the Parliaments—while maintaining a singular, inimitable sense of self.
Way before Kanye and A$AP Rocky strapped on haute couture threads and made outre outerwear the norm in rap, Andre and Antwan (well, mostly Andre) were out rocking turbans, kimonos and whatever else struck their fancy. They made a movie to accompany their 2006 album Idlewild (or an album to accompany the movie, depending on how you look at it), years before album-and-a-film projects like Kanye West’s Runaway and Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet. They took home hip-hop’s second Album of the Year Grammy for 2003’s critically acclaimed double album Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which is still listed among the genre’s best-selling albums of all time.
But the footprint OutKast left on the rap game from a musical standpoint is what we want to discuss here. This is a list of Andre and Big Boi’s profound effects on the music and mechanics of hip-hop, sounds they pursued in their work that would go on to weave themselves into the very fabric of mainstream rap today.
To stank them for everything they've done for us.
Written by Craig Jenkins (@CraigSJ)
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OutKast "Git Up, Git Out" (1994)
Trend It Predicted: Hyperlyrical, Unpretentious Conscious Rap
Modern Examples: Kendrick Lamar "Swimming Pools (Drank)," Big K.R.I.T. "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," Macklemore "Thrift Shop"
On the basest level, OutKast can be described as conscious hip-hop. Their albums are full of artist’s renderings of lost souls struggling to make it in the ATL—from the Jazzy Belles of 1996’s ATLiens to the Susie Screws and Sasha Thumpers of 1998’s Aquemini to the Toilet Tishas of 2000's Stankonia. Though the term has come to be used as a pejorative, describing holier-than-though do-gooders dictating the ways the rest of us should live more like them, in Andre and Antwan’s hands, the form fared much better.
OutKast’s take on conscious rap was a knowing, loving one. This is best typified by one of their earliest singles, 1994’s “Git Up, Git Out”, which finds the Dungeon Family generals combating drug abuse and inertia alongside Gipp and Cee-Lo from the Goodie Mob. The song's advice about getting it together is couched in the artists admitting they're works in progress themselves. Cee-Lo admits to dropping out of school, and Andre and Antwan recount wasting prime schooling years laying about smoking pot.
The down-in-it-but-trying-to-get-out feel of “Git Up, Git Out” as well as later tracks like “Aquemini” and “Slump” laid out an apolitical but hyperlyrical brand of streetwise conscious hip-hop whose most recent arbiters are Big K.R.I.T., whose Live from the Underground picked up where Andre and Big Boi left off, chasing fun-loving club brawlers with songs full of aspirational stories of self-improvement like "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" and "If I Fall."
And Kendrick Lamar, whose good kid, m.A.A.d city spoke about inner-city disorder from inside of it. Like recounting the story of a crime spree with dire results from the perspective of those involved rather than preaching about it from a safe distance.
OutKast "Phobia" (1995)
Album: Higher Learning OST
Trend It Predicted: Spoken Word Interludes
Modern Examples: Ty Dolla $ign f/ Nate Howard & Kevin Gates "Intro/These Hoes," Future f/ Big Rube "The Future Is Now," Lupe Fiasco "Ayesha Says"
Blink and you miss it, but “Phobia,” OutKast’s offering for the soundtrack to John Singleton's racially charged 1995 drama Higher Learning is not only one of the great lesser known ‘Kast joints, but also one of the earliest appearances of Dungeon Family alum and Society of Soul member Big Rube.
Rube’s gripping spoken word intro immediately drags the listener into the mindset of destructive, baseless fearfulness at the heart of the movie and the rest of the song, nearly besting Big Boi and Andre’s verses in sheer unmitigated directness. Rube and ‘Kast would link up time and again for thoughtful album centerpieces like Aquemini’s “Liberation” and Stankonia’s title track.
The spoken word steez showcased on OutKast’s Rube tracks was not lost on one Kanye West, who showed up on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry show a few times to kick spoken word versions of early solo career hits "All Falls Down" and "Gold Digger" and tapped G.O.O.D. Music affiliate Malik Yusef for the poignant, poetic outro to 2005’s “Crack Music.” Ye's stream-of-consciousness mid-show speeches on the Yeezus tour are also a modern day analogue.
Ty Dolla $ign, Wale, and many more have released works that feature similar spoken word interludes as well, and Rube himself popped up on the intro to second generation Dungeon Family torchbearer Future’s major label debut album Pluto in 2012.
OutKast "E.T. (Extraterrestrial)" (1996)
Trend It Predicted: Rhyming About Being from Space
Modern Examples: Future "Astronaut Chick," Lil Wayne "IANAHB"
Black music has long been fixated on the cosmos. Sun Ra traveled the Interstellar Low Ways and plundered heliocentric worlds in the late ‘50s & early ‘60s, George Clinton’s funk mob Parliament explored the Mothership Connection in the ‘70s, and Afrika Bambaataa’s Soulsonic Force partied on Planet Rock in the '80s. OutKast got cosmic for a new generation on 1996’s ATLiens, wherein Antwan and Andre ditched the smart-alecky, pothead shit-talk of Southernplayalistic in favor of the wizened retrofuturism that would color the remainder of their career.
It was a good fit for a group that bucked against hip-hop convention every step of the way. (Though they caught hell for it. See: Aquemini’s scathing “Return of the ‘G’” for Andre’s formal response to the haters.) And it made for great iconography and video treatments. (See: the classic clip for "Elevators (Me & You)")
A number of artists have tapped into 'Kast and the Dungeon Family's otherworldly Southern spacecase vibe in the years since. From Lil’ Wayne claiming Martian citizenship at various points in his career (See: his I Am Not a Human Being album series) to Fabo from D4L getting so geeked up that he saw "Spaceships on Bankhead" to Future engaging Astronaut Status in his mixtape days and eventually taking us all to Pluto.
OutKast f/ Raekwon "Skew It on the Bar-B" (1998)
Trend It Predicted: East Coast/Southern Rap Collaborations
Modern Examples: Rick Ross f/ Jay Z "The Devil Is a Lie," Run the Jewels "Banana Clipper," French Montana f/ DJ Khaled, Mavado, Snoop Dogg, Ace Hood & Scarface "Fuck What Happens Tonight"
Relations between Southern and East Coast rap have often been tenuous, from the difficulties Southern artists had getting media coverage in rap's golden era on through last year’s Trinidad Jame$ vs. the City of New York tiff. OutKast extended the olive branch in 1998 with the Raekwon assisted “Skew It on the Bar-B.” It wasn't the first time a Southern group tapped an East Coast MC for a feature or vice versa, but it wasn't long after Aquemini’s release (and millions in sales) that we saw the Jay-Zs, Juveniles, Jermaine Dupris, and Ruff Ryders throwing down on tracks together.
It’s a domino effect that you can see the fruits of in today’s conversation between the Northeast and the South, evidenced by guys like French Montana and A$AP Rocky rolling down South sounds into New York rap as well as the great musical chemistry between NY champs like Jay-Z and Nas and Southern analogues like Scarface and Rick Ross. Meanwhile OutKast affiliate Killer Mike has found great success by teaming up with NY-based producer El-P.
OutKast "Rosa Parks" (1998)
Trend It Predicted: Merging of Country and Rap Music
Modern Examples: Florida-Georgia Line f/ Nelly "Cruise (Remix)," Mike WiLL Made It f/ Miley Cyrus, Juicy J & Wiz Khalifa "23," Colt Ford f/ Jason Aldean "Drivin' Around Song"
Before Miley Cyrus made it her personal business to merge country and rap values on Bangerz, and Nashville singer-songwriters scored chart hits with raps on them, country and rap didn’t mix like yay and lukewarm water. OutKast tried to bridge the gap with the Aquemini single “Rosa Parks,” which flipped a reference to the titular civil rights pioneer into a club banger (that got them into a bit of trouble when her people heard it).
The song takes a sharp turn out of its bedrock of funky acoustic guitar laced boom-bap after the second verse, when most of the beat drops out, replaced by clapping, feet-stomping, hooting, hollering, and a harmonica solo.
There hadn’t been a hoedown in a rap song before "Rosa Parks," but country and hip-hop artists like Bubba Sparxx, Colt Ford, Nelly, Florida-Georgia Line and Tim McGraw made sure it wouldn’t be the last. Sparkxx and Timbaland crafted one of the great country-rap fusion albums in 2001's Deliverance, while Nelly has worked with a number of country singers over the years.
More recently, popular country artists like Jason Aldean, Colt Ford, and others have openly embraced rap artists and hip-hop values in a way that just didn't seem possible a decade prior.
OutKast "B.O.B." (2000)
Trend It Predicted: Merging of Rap Music and Modern EDM
Modern Examples: A$AP Rocky f/ Skrillex "Wild for the Night," Danny Brown f/ Purity Ring "25 Bucks," Nicki Minaj "Starships"
Today we know OutKast’s “B.O.B.” to be one of the best hip-hop songs of its decade, but when it first surfaced the reception was substantially chillier. Not only did the title reference poke at a sensitive spot in United States foreign policy (getting the song banned from MTV and some radio stations when real war broke out in 2003) but it did this over a risky, very avant garde, drum ‘n’ bass beat.
The musical conversation between hip-hop and electronic music dates back to the era when Afrika Bambaataa rocked crowds over Kraftwerk samples, Dr. Dre spun electro in the World Class Wrecking Crew and hip-house...did whatever hip-house was trying to do, but OutKast’s high profile modern EDM/hip-hop hybrid arrived as the “electronica” boom of the late ‘90s and early 2000s spread EDM values out into music it’d never reached before.
It seemed to open up a new round of collusion between the genres. “B.O.B.” stuck out like a sore thumb in 2000, but a decade or so later the barriers between rap and EDM have softened considerably. As a result, we’ve seen scores of cross-genre partnerships like A$AP Rocky tapping Skrillex for “Wild for the Night,” Nicki Minaj and RedOne teaming up for Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded cuts like “Starships,” and James Blake and Chance the Rapper making music together.
OutKast f/ Killer Mike "The Whole World" (2001)
Album: Big Boi and Andre 3000 Present... OutKast
Trend It Predicted: Genre-Defying Southern Pop Music
Modern Examples: Janelle Monae "Dance Apocalyptic," B.o.B "So Good," Goodie Mob "Power"
As OutKast’s mastery of hip-hop began to tighten in the late '90s, their willfulness to subvert the genre’s rules expanded to match. So that by the time their last album (so far? A man can dream) Idlewild rolled along, the duo was kicking rhymes and singing verses over ragtime, jazz, the blues and more. One of the early inklings the group’s sound was ready to explode into a million pieces was “The Whole World,” the Killer Mike assisted carnival romp from 2001’s Big Boi & Andre 3000 Present… OutKast, a greatest hits compilation. “The Whole World” proved that if you rapped or sang hard enough, it wouldn’t matter what kind of left-field instrumentation was looped up underneath.
The song, along with Scooby-Doo soundtrack gem “Land of a Thousand Drums,” Speakerboxx/The Love Below’s calling card “Hey Ya!” and pretty much anything on Idlewild drafted the genre-busting rubric for folks like Janelle Monae, B.o.B, and Goodie Mob alum Cee-Lo and Dangermouse's Gnarls Barkley. Artists who mix and match aspects of funk, '60s rock and jazz alongside rap and R&B stylings.
OutKast "The Rooster" (2003)
Album: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
Trend It Predicted: Frank, Self-Effacing Discussion of Relationship Struggles
Modern Examples: Drake "Marvin's Room," Kanye West "Blood on the Leaves," Nas "Bye Baby"
Big Boi’s Speakerboxx was many things: the anchor to Andre’s left-field flight of fancy The Love Below, an elite-level funk record dressed in a rap record’s clothing, the bridge between two generations of Georgia rap, a rebuttal to anyone suggesting him and Andre weren't equally matched as lyricists, etc. But it never gets enough credit for its grown up assessments of the artist’s relationship struggles.
Following up on Stankonia's "Ms. Jackson," Speakerboxx standouts like “Unhappy” and “The Rooster” delved into the logistics of a strained relationship in ways hip-hop often doesn’t, starting at the end of the argument and detailing the stress around what happens next without playing the muckraking blame game. “The Rooster” opens with Big Boi pissing off the mother of his children after a night on the sofa and waking up to take care of the kids alone, a task that involves more getting peed on than he’d bargained for.
The song’s honest, occasionally emasculating take on relationship politics is one that has been revisited over the years by artists like Kanye, on bleak, wounded breakup albums 808s & Heartbreak and to a lesser extent, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Drake on 2012’s moody, dejected Take Care and Nas, who famously posed with ex-wife Kelis’ mint green wedding dress on the same year’s Life Is Good and mourned the end of the relationship on the harrowing “Bye Baby.” Outkast's delicate touch with regard to matters of the heart paved the way for their descendents to pursue an almost self-flagellating honesty on the mic.
OutKast "Spread" (2003)
Album: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
Trend It Predicted: Rappers Who Sing Their Own Hooks, Singers Who Spit Their Own Raps
Modern Examples: Drake "Marvin's Room," B.o.B "All I Want," Cee-Lo "Fuck You"
In an era of Drakes and Kanyes, it’s hard to remember the full shock of cuing up Andre 3000’s half of 2003’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below to find out he only raps on three of its twenty songs. It's the same shock some Fugees fans experienced when they got home with Lauryn Hill's Miseducation album and heard more heartfelt soulful R&B catharsis than razor-sharp lyrical darts.
Like Lauryn's album, The Love Below was ultimately great enough to stave off everyone's reservations about one of the greatest rappers of the era giving up his primary craft to showcase his taste for jazz, funk, and rock music. "Spread,” for example, showed off Andre's ability to deftly switch from singing to rapping and back with unwavering skill and confidence. It’s “Drake featuring Drake” before Drake.
It wouldn’t be the last time a great rapper would give up rapping for singing. Phonte of Little Brother found new acclaim after his first group's dissolution with The Foreign Exchange’s Leave It All Behind, where he ditched rhymes in favor of crooning over Dutch producer Nicolay's ambient soundscapes, and 3000’s Dungeon Family associate Cee-Lo enjoyed his greatest career successes on numbers like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and The Lady Killer’s “Fuck You,” songs where he traded his brash, spitfire rhyme delivery for silky retro-leaning soul licks.