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Rap Biographies: Outkast

Their Southern roots to conjure up a mixture of sounds varying from soul to funk and even rock - to produce a sound that provides a glimpse of the true nature of hip-hop. They manage a flowing motion in their songs that captivates anyone who dares lend an ear to it, taking you back to a time where rappers where a brand of artist true to the soul of the streets, like blood running through the veins of the ghetto...

OutKast is a American hip hop duo based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Their original musical style was a mixture of Dirty South and G-Funk; since then, funk, soul, electronica, and rock elements have been added to the mix. The duo is André "André 3000" Benjamin (formerly known as "Dre") and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, both from the Atlanta area.

OutKast is currently one of the most successful hip-hop groups of all time (the others being The Fugees, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) having sold 20 million copies of their six releases: four studio albums, a greatest hits release, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, a double album containing a solo album from each member of the duo.

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is one of only three hip hop albums to go diamond, the other two being MC Hammer's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em and The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death.

Benjamin and Patton went to Tri-Cities High School together in East Point, Georgia, and battled each other lyrically on a regular basis. They eventually teamed up, and were pursued by Organized Noize, a group of local producers who would later make hits for TLC and Xscape. OutKast, Organized Noize, and schoolmates Goodie Mob formed the nucleus of the Dungeon Family organization.

OutKast signed to LaFace Records in 1992, becoming the label's first hip hop act and making their first appearance on the remix of labelmates TLC's "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg". In 1993, they released their first single, "Player's Ball". The song's funky style, much of it accomplished with live instrumentation, was a hit with audiences, and "Player's Ball" hit #1 on the Billboard Rap Chart. Their full length debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was issued the next year; follow-up singles included the title track and "Git Up, Git Out", a politically charged collaboration with Goodie Mob that was later sampled by Macy Gray for her 1999 hit "Do Something". On this early material, both Benjamin and Patton contrast lyrical content reflecting the lifestyles of pimps and gangsters with politically conscious material commenting on the status of African Americans in the South. OutKast won Best New Rap Group at the Source Awards in 1995.

ATLiens was OutKast's second album, released in 1996. The album hit #2 on the US album charts, and helped the group earn more recognition among East Coast hip hop fans in the East and West coasts, many of whom usually panned southern hip hop artists. "ATLiens" was the group's first Top 40 single, and reflected the beginning of Benjamin's increasingly sober lifestyle: "No drugs or alcohol/so I can get the signal clear", he rhymes about himself. "Elevators (Me and You)", OutKast's first self-produced single, became the group's first Top 20 hit the same year.

OutKast's third album Aquemini (1998) also reached the #2 position on the charts; its title was a combination of the zodiac signs of Patton (an Aquarius) and Benjamin (a Gemini). The album was widely praised as an innovative, unique and refreshing album full of hip hop with a progressive vision, both artistic and musically. When reviewed by The Source magazine, it received the much-coveted "5 Mic" rating - the equivalent of a 5-Star or 5/5 rating from another publication. Producing more material themselves, both Patton and Benjamin explored more eclectic subject matter, delving into more innovative sounds inspired by soul, trip hop, and electro music. The album featured collaborations with Organized Noize, Raekwon, funk legend and musical forebear George Clinton, and the Goodie Mob.

In 1999, OutKast and LaFace Records were sued by the late Rosa Parks over the album's most successful radio single, which bore Parks' name as its title. The lawsuit alleged that the song misappropriated Parks' name, and also objected to some of the song's obscene language. The song's lyrics were largely unrelated to Parks, save for a line in the chorus: "Ah ha, hush that fuss / Everybody move to the back of the bus", which OutKast maintained was intended as homage. The initial lawsuit was dismissed. Parks' representation hired the late lawyer Johnnie Cochran to appeal the decision in 2001, but the appeal was denied on First Amendment grounds. In 2003, the Supreme Court allowed Parks' lawyers to proceed with the lawsuit. In 2004, the judge in the case appointed an impartial representative for Parks after her family expressed concerns that her caretakers and her lawyers were pursuing the case based on their own financial interest. Later that same year, the members of OutKast were dropped as co-defendants, and Parks' lawyers continued to seek action against LaFace and parent company BMG. The suit was finally settled on April 14, 2005, with neither OutKast nor their label having to admit any wrongdoing.

The limited edition alternate album cover for Stankonia, art by André. This image, depicting a nude black woman, appears on the label of the CD, and similar images appeared on the CD labels for the three OutKast albums that preceeded Stankonia.

The pair's fourth album, Stankonia was released to excellent reviews in October 2000. It debuted at #2 on the album charts and would eventually go quadruple-platinum. Stankonia's first single was "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)", a high-tempo jungle-influenced record. The second single, "Ms. Jackson", was about divorce and relationship breakups, particularly Benjamin's breakup with R&B singer Erykah Badu; the titular "Ms. Jackson" being Badu's mother. The single became their first pop crossover hit, landing the #1 position on the US pop singles chart, and the #2 position on the UK pop chart. The album's final single was the Organized Noize-produced "So Fresh, So Clean", featuring a credited guest appearance from regular guest vocalist Sleepy Brown. All three singles' videos had heavy MTV2 airplay, and OutKast won two 2001 Grammy Awards, one for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for "Ms. Jackson", and another for Stankonia as Best Rap Album.

During the recording of Stankonia, OutKast joined with partner Mr. DJ to form the Earthtone III production company, and began producing tracks for the artists on their Aquemini Records imprint through Columbia, including Slimm Cutta Calhoun and Killer Mike, who made his debut appearance on Stankonia's "Snappin' & Trappin".

In December 2001, OutKast released a greatest hits album, Big Boi And Dre Present...OutKast, which also contained three new tracks. One of these new tracks was the single "The Whole World", which won a 2002 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The following year, the group and Killer Mike contributed the lead single "Land of a Million Drums" to the Scooby-Doo soundtrack.

In September 2003 OutKast released a double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It is essentially two solo albums, one by each member, packaged as a single release under the OutKast banner. Patton's Speakerboxxx is, for the most part, a party record, tempered by more politically-minded tracks like "War". Benjamin's The Love Below is a sprawling and ambitious work that featured only brief instances of hip hop, presenting instead funk and pop music inspired by Prince, James Brown, the late Rick James, Sly Stone, and the late Frank Zappa. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has received what is perhaps the duo's most rapturous critical reception to date; both discs were considered highly innovative and accomplished. The album is also OutKast's biggest commercial success yet, having debuted on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart at #1 and stayed there for several weeks. The album eventually sold over five million copies, and, as double-album sales count double for Recording Industry Association of America certification, the album was certified diamond (10 million units shipped) in December 2004.

The first two singles from the album(s), which were released nearly simultaneously, were Patton's "The Way You Move" and Benjamin's "Hey Ya!". Both immediately exploded at radio: "Move" initially becoming enormous on urban radio, then later pop and rhythmic, and "Hey Ya!" becoming a smash crossover hit on pop, rhythmic, AC, and alternative rock radio then later on urban stations. "Hey Ya!" was also one of the first songs to become a hit on the Apple iTunes Music Store, replacing "Stacy's Mom" at #1 and staying there for months. Despite a fall release, the songs' music videos (which were often aired segued together) became two of 2003's most played on MTV, VH1, MTV2, and BET, both having entered heavy rotation on all four channels at one point or another. The digital video channels, MTV Jams and VH1 Soul also gave both videos the heaviest of play, MTV Jams having played each almost once an hour at their peaks. Together, the singles spent ten weeks at number one on the Hot 100 singles chart, with "Hey Ya!" spending nine and "The Way You Move" briefly taking over in February 2004.

Concerned with over-saturation, OutKast's next official single was not released until the summer of 2004. "Roses", a track featuring both members from The Love Below half of the album, did not meet the level of success as either of its predecessors, but it became a modest-sized hit on urban radio and the American music video networks. The final singles were André's "Prototype", which was paired with an unusual science fiction-themed video about alien visitors, and Speakerboxxx's' "Ghetto Musick", which featured both members of OutKast and a sample from a Patti LaBelle song.

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won the Grammy Award for the 2004 'Album of the Year. OutKast was one of the headlining acts at the show, and gave two performances: Patton performed "The Way You Move" during a medley with George Clinton & P-Funk and Robert Randolph and the Family Band, while Benjamin performed "Hey Ya!" as the show closer. In February 2004, Benjamin's performance, which featured dancers moving wildly around a green teepee in war paint and feathered headdresses, was criticized by the Native American Cultural Center, which called for a boycott of OutKast and of CBS, the broadcaster of the awards show. CBS later apologized.

OutKast's Big Boi recently founded Purple Ribbon Ent. (formerly Aquemini Records) to be distributed by Virgin Records. Its first signees were Sleepy Brown, Bubba Sparxxx, Killer Mike, and others. Big Boi has released a group album/compliation, titled Big Boi Presents ... The Purple Ribbon All-Stars - Got Purp? Vol. 2.

The next OutKast album will be the soundtrack to Idlewild and is due sometime in 2006, with another LP called The Hard 10 to follow a year later. Big Boi's second solo record is also expected after Ten The Hard Way, and as of September 2005 is already about fourteen songs deep. The first single from Idlewild will be called "The Train".

OutKast's blend of gritty Southern soul, fluid raps, and the rolling G-funk of their Organized Noize production crew epitomized the Atlanta wing of hip-hop's rising force, the Dirty South, during the late '90s. Along with Goodie Mob, OutKast took Southern hip-hop in bold, innovative new directions: less reliance on aggression, more positivity and melody, thicker arrangements, and intricate lyrics. After Dre and Big Boi hit number one on the rap charts with their first single, "Player's Ball," the duo embarked on a run of platinum albums spiked with several hit singles, enjoying numerous critical accolades in addition to their commercial success.

Andre Benjamin (Dre) and Antwan Patton (Big Boi) attended the same high school in the Atlanta borough of East Point, and several lyrical battles made each gain respect for the other's skills. They formed OutKast, and were pursued by Organized Noize Productions, hitmakers for TLC and Xscape. Signed to the local LaFace label just after high school, OutKast recorded and released Player's Ball, then watched the single rise to number one on the rap charts. It slipped from the top spot only after six weeks, was certified gold, and created a buzz for a full-length release. That album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, hit the Top 20 in 1994 and was certified platinum by the end of the year. Dre and Big Boi also won Best New Rap Group of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards. OutKast returned with a new album in 1996, releasing ATLiens that August; it hit number two and went platinum with help from the gold-selling single "Elevators (Me & You)" (number 12 pop, number one rap), as well as the Top 40 title track. Aquemini followed in 1998, also hitting number two and going double-platinum.

There were no huge hit singles this time around, but critics lavishly praised the album's unified, progressive vision, hailing it as a great leap forward and including it on many year-end polls. Unfortunately, in a somewhat bizarre turn of events, OutKast was sued over the album's lead single "Rosa Parks" by none other than the civil rights pioneer herself, who claimed that the group had unlawfully appropriated her name to promote their music, also objecting to some of the song's language. The initial court decision dismissed the suit in late 1999. Dre modified his name to Andre 3000 before the group issued its hotly anticipated fourth album, Stankonia, in late 2000. Riding the momentum of uniformly excellent reviews and the stellar singles "B.O.B." and "Ms. Jackson," Stankonia debuted at number two and went triple platinum in just a few months; meanwhile, "Ms. Jackson" became their first number one pop single the following February.

OutKast consistently provides superb lyrics laced over bumpin tracks which have earned them platinum albums, #1 hit singles, awards, and respect in the world of rap. In 1994 the duo entered the hip hop scene with the Organized Noize (TLC, EnVogue, Goodie Mob) produced platinum album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. It debuted at #3 on the R&B Billboard Chart, received a 4.5 mic rating (out of 5) from The Source Magazine, and the group received a Source Award for Best New Group or Duo. The album's first single, "Player's Ball", went gold in a matter of weeks, holding down the #1 spot on the Billboard Rap Chart for over six consecutive weeks. In short, OutKast made the industry stop and respect that rap can flow from the dirty south.

OutKast came right back with their sophomore album, ATLiens, which sold 1.5 million units. ATLiens reached platinum status within a few weeks of its release when it entered the Billboard Top 200 at #2 (directly behind Pearl Jam). The album, also produced by ONP, marked the very impressive production debut by Big Boi and Dre who crafted the first release off ATLiens, "Elevators." The single stayed at #1 for weeks, reached platinum status, and had hip hop heads across the nation chanting "Me & you, your momma and your cousin too, rollin down the strip on vogues, comin up slammin cadillac doors."

This time Big Boi and Dre have taken their craft to an even higher level producing 9 out 14 tracks on Aquemini. "It's all about growing," Big Boi explains why they took their project in their own hands. "We started producing on the second album and felt like people appreciated what we were doin' so we had to crank it up on this one." And crank it up they do. Aquemini takes you on a hip-hop, street, spiritual, and musical journey. There is something for everyone on this album which is confirmed by the variety of guests who appear on the album: Erykah Badu, George Clinton, Raekwon from the WuTang Clan, and Goodie Mob, just to name a few.

"Aquemini is the meeting of two worlds. The world of Aquarius & Gemini (Big Boi & Dre's signs respectively)," Explains Dre on the meaning of title. "It's simply that two people can come together as one and create." Hence, the playa and the poet. "Balance is key," adds Big Boi, the playa of the duo. "Balance in the music and balance with me & Dre." Just as OutKast has grown musically, so have they individually. "I'm more street, hard-core hip hop, and Dre's more extraterrestrial." Big Boi describes. The two also have very different appearances. "Dre looks like the music and I look like the message."

Although you might find the two ordering from different menus (Dre is a vegan and Big Boi is likely to be found at MoJo's Chicken Wing Shack) or going in different directions when they leave the studio, their direction in music is clear and united. "Even the sun goes down, heroes eventually die, horoscopes often lie and sometimes 'y', nothing is for sure, nothing is for certain, nothing last forever, but until they close the curtain, it's him and I, Aquemini" "On this album we wanted to excel creatively and experiment more," Big Boi explains the concept behind the album aside from dismantling rumors of an OutKast break up, "Aquemini is a balance of the heavy music on the first album and the heavy lyrical content on the second. It's our best album yet!"

With tracks like "SpottieOttieDopalicious" done with all live music comparable to "Funky Ride" on the first album, "Mamasita" which carries strong New York flavor with a southern twist, and "Da Art of Storytellin (Part 1)" that provides an upbeat smooth groove in a seventies feel, it's easy to agree this is their best album yet.

The first single, "Rosa Parks" is a "back alley, southern blue grass, hoe down jam session" describes Big Boi excitedly. The track opens up with tight head bobbin' production as Big Boi and Dre rhyme skillfully over the hype beat. Then it takes you back to everyone's southern roots with a harmonica interlude that will have you out of your seat and slappin your knee. "We are tryin to bring the good time back," says Big Boi. The unforgettable hook "Ah ha, hush that fuss, everybody move to the back of the bus, do you wanna bump and slump wit us, we the type of people make the club get crunk" is destined to keep the party going.

OutKast continues to take it to the streets with "Skew It On The Bar-B" featuring Raekwon from The WuTang Clan. Dre explains they've always admired Raekwon's lyrical style. "Big Boi met him in Lenox Mall, told him about the record and he said he wanted to get down on it." The track is laced with a hard hitting thump beat with a quick witty hook between all three verses, "Ol' School playas to new school fools, Kast keep it jumpin like Kangaroo's, Well skew it on the bar-b, we ain't trying to lose, say I be got damn it, they done changed the rules."

Of course tradition holds true on this album, it wouldn't be an OutKast record without a song with Gold labelmates Goodie Mob. Khujo, T-Mo, and Big Gipp lend their lyrics to "Ya'll Scared" as Cee-Lo, along with Erykah Badu (Dre's soul mate and mother of his 8 month old son Seven), Big Rube and Joi & Peach from the group Heroin lend their talents to the spiritual, enlightening track "Liberation." The record was so well received, "once we laid our parts down, everyone wanted to be a part of the song." So much, explains Dre, "when Erykah heard the song she wanted us to let her use it for her album."

"It was destiny for George Clinton to be on 'Synthesizer'", says Dre. "Synthesizer" is the funky, new age millennium track on "Aquemini." "George Clinton is funk," adds Big Boi, "and there's always funk in the cadillac." Other guest include Cool Breeze and Sleepy Brown from the Organized Noize camp, Backbone, and Masada, the first female to rap on an OutKast record.

Big Boi and Dre came together at Atlanta's Tri-City high school where OutKast was born. They signed a contract with LaFace Records just prior to graduation and began their exceptional career in the rap game. The depth, emotion and intricacy of OutKast's words can be partially explained in the fact that they've lived the city life since childhood. Dre (Andre Benjamin) grew up in a single parent home moving from place to place within southwest Atlanta until he was 15 and went to live with his father. It was during his adolescence that Andre fell victim to a negative lifestyle like many urban youth as a means of survival. Big Boi's (Antoine Patton) story is similar, moving from Savannah to Atlanta thirteen years ago to join Andre in the ranks of the young, gifted, black and untapped as he ran the Atlanta city streets as well.
Clearly on a changed and correct path, the duo have ventured into their own business creating Earthtone Production for which they are actively seeking new talent. In addition, Big Boi owns and runs Pitfall Kennels, a lucrative business where he breeds and sells Pitbull dogs and Dre is persuing his visual talents via painting with Andre Classic Paintings.

The playa and the poet have elevated their game for the third time with Aquemini. Musically, individually, and collectively Big Boi and Dre are coming strong and impressive with their third and possibly best effort. Dre's lyrics from the title track clearly describes the group's feelings on the music, the look, and the entire project: "Don't get caught up in the appearance, It's OutKast Aquemini, another black experience."
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