1991–95: Formation and debut
André 3000 and Big Boi met as teenagers at Atlanta's Lenox Square
shopping center (pictured).
Benjamin and Patton met in 1991 at the Lenox Square shopping mall when they were both sixteen years old. The two lived in the East Point section of Atlanta and attended Tri-Cities High School, an arts based academy. During school, Benjamin and Patton participated in rap battles in the cafeteria. Benjamin's parents were divorced and he was living with his father. Meanwhile, Patton had to move with his four brothers and six sisters from Savannah to Atlanta. Benjamin and Patton eventually teamed up and were pursued by Organized Noize, a group of local producers who would later make hits for TLC. The duo initially wanted to be called "2 Shades Deep" or "The Misfits", but because those names were already taken they later decided to use "OutKast" based on finding "outcast" as synonym for "misfit" in a dictionary. OutKast, Organized Noize, and schoolmates Goodie Mob formed the nucleus of the Dungeon Family organization.
OutKast signed to L.A. And Babyface imprint prior to graduation which would later become LaFace Records in 1992, becoming the label's first hip hop act and making their first appearance on the remix of labelmate TLC's "What About Your Friends". During the holiday season of 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. "Player's Ball" hit number-one on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart. 'Player's Ball' also topped the R&B charts for six weeks.
Their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was issued on April 26, 1994. This initial effort is credited with laying the foundation for southern hip hop and is considered a classic by many. Every track on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was produced by Organized Noize and featured other members of the Dungeon Family. 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 André and Big Boi 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. Within the mess that was the East Coast - West Coast feud, André came up on stage followed by boos from the crowd and said, "But it's like this though, I'm tired of them closed minded folks, it's like we gotta demo tape but don't nobody want to hear it. But it's like this: the South got something to say, that's all I got to say." As eloquently stated by rapper T.I., "Outkast, period. Outkast. That's when it changed. That was the first time when people began to take Southern rap seriously." In the same year, the group contributed "Benz or a Beamer" to the popular New Jersey Drive soundtrack.
1995–99: Breakthrough with ATLiens and Aquemini
After Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was certified platinum, LaFace Records gave OutKast more creative control and advanced money for their follow-up album, which they recorded from 1995 to 1996.
The duo took the opportunity to recreate their image. On a trip to Jamaica with producer Mr. DJ, the two decided to abandon their cornrow hairstyles in favor of a more natural aesthetic, vowing to stop combing their hair. Dungeon Family member Big Rube observed an increase in the duo's confidence after returning from their first tour, remarking, "They started understanding the power they had in their music. They started showing a swagger that certain artists have—the ones that are stars." The two also became more accustomed to playing live, particularly Big Boi, and André 3000 significantly changed his lifestyle, as he adopted a more eccentric fashion sense, became a vegetarian, and stopped smoking marijuana. The members also underwent changes in their personal lives; in 1995, Big Boi's girlfriend gave birth to their first child and André 3000 and Total's Keisha Spivey ended their two-year relationship.
The double platinum album, ATLiens, was released on August 27, 1996. The album exhibited a notably more laid-back, spacey production sound, taking influence from dub and reggae. On ATLiens, André 3000 and Big Boi abandoned the "hard-partying playa characters" of their debut album in favor of more spacey, futuristic personas, and produced many of the songs on their own for the first time. Their tracks have an outer-space feeling to them- a feeling that, ironically, has warmed the community right up to them. Critics praised the group's maturing musical style on the record, which debuted at number two on the U.S. The album would climb to number three on Billboard's top R&B/Hip Hop chart.Billboard 200 chart and sold nearly 350,000 copies in its first two weeks of release. The single "Elevators (Me & You)" reached number 12 and spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. ATLiens further solidified OutKast as the flagship representatives of the 1st generation Dungeon Family and the Southern hip hop movement. The album helped the group earn more recognition among East Coast hip hop fans in the East and West coasts.
For this album, OutKast joined with partner David "Mr. DJ" Sheats to form the Earthtone III production company, which allowed the group to produce some of their own tracks. "ATLiens" was the group's second Top 40 single (following "Player's Ball" from their first album), and reflected the beginning of André's increasingly sober lifestyle: "No drugs or alcohol/so I can get the signal clear," he rhymes about himself in the single "ATLiens".
OutKast's third album Aquemini was released on September 29, 1998. It was also certified double platinum and reached the number-two position on the Billboard 200 album chart in the United States; its title was a combination of the zodiac signs of Big Boi (an Aquarius) and André (a Gemini). Producing more material themselves, both Big Boi and André explored more eclectic subject matter, delving into sounds inspired by soul, trip hop, and electro music. The album featured production by Organized Noize and collaborations with Raekwon, Slick Rick, funk pioneer and musical forebear George Clinton, and Goodie Mob. Outkast forged the connections between Hip Hop and the black freedom struggle with their controversial song "Rosa Parks" featured on the album.
2000–01: Stankonia and Greatest Hits
Originally titled 'Sandbox', the pair's fourth album, Stankonia was released in October 2000 to positive reviews. The album was seen as a change in the group's musical style, as it had a more commercial and mainstream appeal, compared to their previous three albums which were darker and deeper. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 in the U.S., and would eventually be certified quadruple-platinum. Stankonia's first single was "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)", a high-tempo-influenced record. The second single, "Ms. Jackson", combined a pop hook with lyrics about divorce and relationship breakups, particularly André's breakup with singer Erykah Badu; the titular "Ms. Jackson" character being a doppelgänger for Badu's mother. It was at this time that André changed his stage name to the current "André 3000," mostly to avoid being mixed up with Dr. Dre.
The single became their first pop hit, landing the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the number-two position on the UK Singles Chart. The album's final single was the Organized Noize-produced "So Fresh, So Clean", featuring a credited guest appearance from regular guest vocalist and Organized Noize-member Sleepy Brown and garnered a remix featuring Snoop Dogg. 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.
Pitchfork named Stankonia the 4th greatest album released between 2000 and 2004 in its 2005 feature. Later on the webzine selected Stankonia as the 13th best album of the 2000s. And B.O.B. was chosen number one song of the decade by this same webzine.
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. Killer Mike also was featured on the song, gaining some exposure among areas outside of his native Atlanta. The other two new songs were called "Funkin' Around" and "Movin' Cool (The After Party)".
2002–04: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
OutKast spent 2 years working on their 5th effort, before releasing a double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, on September 23, 2003. It is essentially two solo albums, one by each member, packaged as a single release under the OutKast banner; the two members also appear and co produce on each other's discs for a few songs apiece. Big Boi's Speakerboxxx is largely a funk and Dirty South blended party record; André 3000's The Love Below features only brief instances of hip hop, presenting instead elements found in funk, jazz, rock, electronic music, and R&B.
The album is also OutKast's biggest commercial success yet, having debuted on the Billboard 200 albums chart at number-one 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 for 10 million units shipped in December 2004. Its latest certification, in May 2006, reaches 11 million copies in shipping.
The first two singles from the album(s), which were released nearly simultaneously, were Big Boi's "The Way You Move" and Andre 3000's "Hey Ya!" The video's storyline has "The Love Below"—a fictional band with all members, through the use of special effects, played by André—performing in London. "Hey Ya!" was the number one song on the very final weekend of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. It was also number one a week later on the very first weekend of American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest. The singles spent ten weeks at number one on the Hot 100 singles chart, with "Hey Ya!" spending nine weeks and "The Way You Move" taking over for one week in February 2004. These singles were seen as a breakthrough for the hip-hop industry, being among the first hip-hop songs to be widely played on adult contemporary radio stations.
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 video for "Roses" is loosely based on the musicals West Side Story and Grease. It featured sparring 1950s' style gangs, one representing Speakerboxxx, and one representing The Love Below, parodying the widespread arguing among critics and fans as to which half of the album was better. It deviates from these musicals in its final act, however, by featuring Andre 3000 defecating in a bouquet of roses before entering a
Ramping Shop and presenting them to the receptionist. This closing scene was nominated as a finalist for the BET "Realest Music Video of All Time" award. The final singles were André 3000's "Prototype", which was paired with a science fiction-themed video about alien visitors, and Speakerboxxx's "Ghettomusick", which featured both members of OutKast and a sample from a song by Patti LaBelle, who also makes an appearance in the video.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won the Grammy Award for the 2004. OutKast was one of the headlining acts at the show, and gave two performances: Big Boi performed "The Way You Move" with the Outkast backing band during a medley with Earth Wind & Fire, George Clinton and Robert Randolph, while André 3000 performed "Hey Ya!" as the show closer after they had been presented with the Album Of The Year Award.
Big Boi performing in 2006 in Atlanta
Members also began working on a joint film, Idlewild, directed by OutKast music video director Bryan Barber. Idlewild, a Prohibition-era musical film set to a blues-influenced hip-hop soundtrack, was released on August 25, 2006 by Universal Pictures. The Idlewild soundtrack was released August 22, 2006. In an interview for Billboard, Big Boi stated "This is an OutKast album. It isn't like a soundtrack where we go get this person or that person".
Originally planned for early 2005, Idlewild's release date was pushed to December 2005, before being delayed into 2006. The album debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200 chart with first-week sales of 196,000 copies. It also entered at number one on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, at number one on the Top Rap Albums, and at number two on the Top Digital Albums chart. The album dropped to number seven on the Billboard 200, selling 78,000 copies in its second week. It spent nine weeks on the Billboard 200. In the United Kingdom, Idlewild debuted at number 16 on the UK Albums Chart. It fell to number 28 in its second week on the chart. While it charted within the top-twenty in several other countries, the album spent a minimal number of weeks on most charts. On August 26, 2006, the album was certified platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America, following shipments in excess of one million copies in the United States. It was certified gold in sales by the Canadian Recording Industry Association in November 2006.
The first single of the album, "Mighty 'O'", features both André 3000 and Big Boi; the song takes its lyrical hook from the Cab Calloway song "Minnie the Moocher" ("Mighty-ighty-ighty O") and seems to be an example of the album's mix of hip hop and more traditional American jazz and blues. Next, similar to previous OutKast albums such as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, two singles—one solely by Big Boi, the other solely by André 3000—were released simultaneously. The second single, almost exclusively featuring Big Boi, is the marching band–influenced "Morris Brown", featuring guest artists Sleepy Brown and Scar, both artists on Big Boi's Purple Ribbon label. The song's title is a reference to Atlanta's Morris Brown College, with the school's marching band providing the instrumentation.
The third single, André 3000's "Idlewild Blue (Don'tchu Worry 'Bout Me)" delves into the blues genre, complete with a blues-style acoustic guitar riff and a harmonica element reminiscent of Aquemini single "Rosa Parks". In tune with the film, Idlewild reflects OutKast's original style tempered by 1930s influences. The fourth single, "Hollywood Divorce" was released in November 2006, and features verses from Lil' Wayne and Snoop Dogg and is produced by André 3000.
2007–13: Hiatus and solo work
In 2007 after the sixth album under the OutKast name, Idlewild, Big Boi announced plans to release a full-fledged solo album. While he had released a previous solo album in Speakerboxxx, it still was technically under the OutKast name. The album was later titled . The album's first promotional single, "Royal Flush", was released in 2007, and featured Raekwon and André 3000. After many delays and setbacks, the album was finally released internationally on July 5, 2010. Guest artists include singer Janelle Monáe; Big Boi's own new group Vonnegutt; plus established rappers T.I. and B.o.B. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty received general acclaim from most music critics, earning praise for its inventive sound, varied musical style, and Big Boi's lyricism. In a July 2010 interview for The Village Voice, Big Boi revealed that he was working on the follow-up album to Sir Lucious Left Foot, entitled Daddy Fat Sax: Soul Funk Crusader, stating that he was "maybe about six songs into it", and that he was "planning on doing a bunch of sax samples, tenor, soprano, and probably have at least a couple sax players come into the studio for the next record". The project later evolved into the 2012 album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.
André 3000 returned to rapping in 2007, after a hiatus from the genre, appearing on various remixes, including: "Walk It Out", "Throw Some D's", "You", Jay-Z's "30 Something", and original songs such as UGK's "International Players Anthem", Devin the Dude's "What a Job", Fonzworth Bentley's "Everybody", and with Big Boi "Royal Flush" and the leaked single "Lookin For Ya". He also appeared on John Legend's album, Evolver, on the track "Green Light", which was released on October 28, 2008. Prior to the release, Benjamin commented: "It's going to be a surprise for a lot of John Legend fans, because it is a lot more upbeat than John is—than people think John is. I was actually happy to hear it. This is a cool John Legend song." Benjamin has stated that he is making a solo rap album, and that the response to his remixes is part of the motivation for it. In September 2011 it was announced that OutKast was moved to Epic Records following restructuring within Sony Music Entertainment. Epic Records is headed by LA Reid who has worked with Outkast in the past. In 2012, Andre 3000 was cast to play Jimi Hendrix in a biopic film titled Jimi: All Is by My Side, which was later released on September 26, 2014.
In late 2013, it was reported that Outkast would reunite at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2014. This was later confirmed on January 8, 2014, when it was officially announced that the duo would headline the festival on April 11 and 18. It was later announced on January 13, 2014 that Outkast would be performing at more than 40 festivals around the world throughout the spring and summer of 2014 to celebrate their 20th anniversary, including one of the largest festivals in the UK, Bestival. Despite rumors, Big Boi has insisted that the duo are not currently working on a new album together. Outkast returned to Atlanta for their #ATLast homecoming shows over the weekend of September 26, 2014, selling out within minutes of tickets going on sale. The shows had a large variety of openers, ranging from R&B singer Janelle Monáe and rapper/rock artist Kid Cudi to rappers 2 Chainz, Future, Bun B, and Childish Gambino. Outkast's Dungeon Family associates Sleepy Brown and Big Gipp also appeared onstage with the duo, rapping and singing on their respective songs.
At Atlanta's One MusicFest, the Dungeon Family, Goodie Mob, Organized Noise, Killer Mike, and Outkast appeared performing their rap hits.