Name a rapper that Andre 3000 ain’t influenced.
Andre 3000 is one half of the best duo in rap history. Jay Z has gone on record dubbing the ATLien “a genius”. Eminem stamped him as best rapper. What Outkast has achieved in the world of Hip Hop for rap in itself is spectacular. Outkast was one of the firsts groups to manifest the idea of “epic” hip hop instrumentals that didn’t involve a common continuous loop but, rather, incorporating build-ups and live instrumentation. Outkast debuted their first single, “Player’s Ball” in 1993 and at the 1995 Source Awards, Andre 3000 declared that “the South has something to say” after winning an award for Best New Rap Group, responding to the boos being echoed in the room due to negativity surrounding the East Coast vs. West Coast tension. The soon to be prophet continued to pave his ground. With the meeting of the minds collaboration with the popular alternative group, Gorillaz and with GQ breaking the story of Andre 3000’s highly anticipated solo album; he continues to innovate through experimenting with his passion for music.
Their debut LP, Southernplayalisticadillamuzik was followed up by their second album, Atliens, which dropped in 1996 with the duo building their own sound, it was filled with electric funk, soul, jazz and hip hop, accompanied with their thick southern slang and accents. When Aquemini dropped in 1998, Outkast finally secured their bookmark in the hip hop history books with a phenomenal breakthrough record. Andre’s musical genius proved to stand out as it was this groundbreaking album with a sound beyond its years. It built a foundation to uphold their legacy, an undeniably flawless declaration that they weren’t shooting for the stars, they were aiming for a galaxy.
The duo started to experiment with their limitations and shattered through walls of creativity, enhancing a formula that included various styles/genres of music and it is, in my opinion, one of the top 5 albums in rap of our time. It’s also the album that showcased why Andre 3000 is one my top 5 favorite emcees ever. His lyrics may be a bit much for the average mind to reach but the majority of his lyrical density is definitely not so much of a rapper cliché. Andre 3000 was a trailblazer in a sense that he was indeed one of the firsts to introduce androgyny in Hip Hop where he was wearing skirts, singing in falsetto and wearing wigs and it made him seem female-ish and/or “gay”. Hip hop began to alienate him, but the funny thing about this is, as his clothing became more abstract, his lyrical technique improved (the irony) and on the opening track “Return of the G” he snapped, responding to his critics:
Them niggas that get the wrong impression of expression
Then the question is Big Boi what’s up with Andre?
Is he in a cult? Is he on drugs? Is he gay?
When y’all gon’ break up? When y’all gon’ wake up?
Nigga I’m feelin’ better than ever what’s wrong with you?
In the title track, Aquemini:
Twice upon a time there was a boy who died twice
and lived happily ever after but that’s another chapter
live from home of the brave with dirty dollars
& beauty parlors & baby bottles & bowling ball Impalas
& street scholars that’s majoring in culinary arts
You know how to work bread cheese & dough
from scratch but see the catch is you can get caught
Know what ya sellin’ what ya bought so cut that big talk
Let’s walk to the bridge now meet me halfway
now you may see some children dead off in the pathway
it’s them poor babies walkin’ slowly to the candy lady
It’s lookin’ bad need some hope
like the words maybe, if, or probably more than a hobby
when my turntables get wobbly they don’t fall
I’m sorry y’all I often drift I’m talkin’ gift
so when it comes you never look the horse inside it’s grill
of course you know I feel like the bearer of bad news
Don’t want to be it but it’s needed so what have you
Now question is every nigga with dreads for the cause?
Is every nigga with golds for the fall? Naw
So don’t get caught in appearance
it’s Outkast Aquemini another Black experience Okay.”
More than anything, Andre melts into a spoken word messenger with his avant reflective delivery of the verse above. It’s him becoming more comfortable with himself speaking on the normals of everyday life rather than trying to floss. We found Andre indemnifying his views on woman, love, explaining his everyday struggles and more than anything, fleshing out his inner storytelling emcee. My favorite line is “street scholars majoring in culinary arts”; it’s so simple, yet so overflowing in novelty, he’s finding the commonalities inside of drug dealing and labels it in comparison with the similarities of a chef and “cooking up”. The way he dabbles with the metaphors above is unmatched with any rapper in hip hop. This whole verse above to me was what pushed him into the light as more of a lyricist. He walks the line with a good balance of being socially conscious and having street credibility. He possessed depth and reason in his music but without doing it like KRS-One, where it’s not coming off authoritative and preachy but rather making people dance. There was definitely influence by George Clinton; as he is also an artist who took similar risk but found his niche. He’s what every rapper wishes to be: comfortable enough in their own skin, he does it without fault and is a flexible and polished emcee.
Outkast’s fourth studio album, Stankonia was released in 2000 and because of the hit Single “Ms. Jackson”, the album helped them garner mainstream success as well as debut ranking at number 2 on the U.S Billboard 200 chart. It was also around this time that Andre 3000 would publicly state he was bored with rap. In 2003, the platinum hip hop group, Outkast debuted Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, it was a project where both rappers dropped solo albums and Andre’s solo project didn’t exactly fall under the terms of what one might qualify as “Hip Hop”. He experimented with this album; it encompassed a bevy of R&B, soul, and funk, essentially a non-rap album. Actually, there was only one song where he was rapping and that was the last record on that album, a song dedicated to Erykah Badu called “A Life in the Day of Benjamin André”. He dipped his paintbrush in a different array of extremely daring musical expressions and the board for the Grammys found this Outkast LP fitting enough to be awarded as the Album of the Year. He began to appear in movies, TV shows, and even had his own TV show plus mediated a clothing line. Once the mainstream media started praising him, he never truly returned back to rapping. He stopped spitting consistently just in more measured doses. But he remains dope as ever.
I remember it so vividly. I praised Andre 3000 every time I would engage in a conversation about the top 5 emcees and everyone would give me strange looks. He returned to rap pastures around 2007 after his hiatus, causing lyrical assault on various remixes including “Walk It Out”, “International Players Anthem”, “Throw Some D’s” and that was when everyone started quoting his lyrics and calling him a genius. He became very picky with his collaborations and when he did pursue a beat he made it a point to shine regardless. And his guest appearances never stopped being impressive. His contributions to music have been mind boggling and innovative, he’s unconsciously added to the growth and maturity of the rap game in such a positive way, giving life to a new generation of rappers who are willingly able to truly, freely connect with not only their audience but themselves. Because of his imagery and musical range, he’s been mentioned in the same vein as the one and only Prince himself, and with all the barriers he’s managed to pass in his 19 years in the industry, it’s hard to argue a claim like that would be an exaggeration. I guess Lil Wayne said it best “gotta stand out like Andre 3K.”