Sitting on Chicago’s L train, my phone began buzzing incessantly. I didn’t bother to check it at first; nothing could break my vibe as I commemorated the 20th anniversary of “Players Ball” until my headphones wore thin. But the texts kept coming, and eventually I caved. Then I checked Twitter, began to piece my two and two together and realized that the most celebrated Hip Hop duo in the universe was possibly ending their seven-year hiatus.
The news of OutKast reuniting at Coachella has been inconsistent to say the least. The story, first reported by Billboard, cites two sources close to the group: one says there have been “some conversations,” while the other claims it’s “all systems go.” Dungeon Family crooner Sleepy Brown garnered excitement Wednesday when he took to Instagram to post a photo with the text “OutKast headlining Coachella 2014,” only to delete it a few hours later. Revolt TV said that Coachella is just one of many reunion shows planned for next year, yet it doesn’t cite any sources; this was the same station that falsely guaranteed a secret Jay Z show in Brooklyn back in August.
And this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve heard of OutKast potentially reconciling. Speculation has been rampant since 2007, when Andre told MTV’s Shaheem Reid, “I'm working on a solo album as well because of all the remix work that's been coming out…After we do those solo albums, we're planning on doing another OutKast album. I don't know how long that's gonna be; it could be two years.” It continued as Big Boi dropped Sir Luscious Left Foot in 2010 and picked up again earlier this year when he and Andre hopped on remixes of Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter” and T.I.’s “Sorry.” That didn’t constitute a reunion, Andre released a statement to Spin.com, saying, “These songs are not OutKast collaborations...I never want to mislead our audience.” There were also rumors of a seventh album coming after Andre released a solo LP in 2014; those too have been debunked.
Until something’s official, it’s fair to be wary of the conflicting reports. Though skeptical myself, I know that I’ll impetuously drop four figures to get to California if this does comes to fruition. But stripped of the hype, detached from expectation, what exactly would an OutKast reunion show look like? For a group that hasn’t performed together in a decade, and hasn’t released a unified album since 2000’s Stankonia, there’s a lot to consider.
The Implications Of An OutKast Reunion Show In 2014
“Took a shower, kinda sour cause my favorite group ain't comin with it / But I'm witcha cause you probably goin' through it anyway / But anyhow when in doubt, went on out and bought it / ‘Cause I thought it would be jammin', but examine all the flawsky-wawsky / Awfully sad and it's costly, but that's all she wrote / And I hope I never have to float in that boat...” -Andre 3000, “Rosa Parks”
Before diving into the implications of an OutKast show in 2014, it’s important to take it at surface level: Big Boi and Dre sharing the stage would mean the world to throngs of fiercely loyal fans. Get chills just thinking about the whirring of a spaceship to kick off “ATLiens,” the craterous holes left from foot-stomping on “Rosa Parks,” and the cloud of indo fogging “Crumblin’ Erb.” Every OutKast song takes on a new dimension when performed in concert, be it the energy of the back-and-forth, the kick of guitar and percussion or the aesthetic of sets and dancers. But those songs would take on an even bigger implication in Hip Hop’s current milieu, where concerts lack cohesion, live instrumentation is scant and the theme of afrocentricity is all but absent in the mainstream. An active OutKast will foster competition among emcees far better than a “Control” verse.
A reunion would also make a discernible statement to a genre grappling with the theme of longevity. Maturity has been a thorny subject in Hip Hop this year; Jay Z went from “Big Pimpin” to unconvincing raps about his insecurities as a father, while Eminem went from “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” to shout-apologizing to his mother. Kool G Rap just released a new album with Necro seemingly unnoticed; KRS-One and Rakim have all but disappeared from the public; Lord Jamar is known more for his feud with Macklemore and Yelawolf than for his membership in Brand Nubian. Where 40, 50 and even 60 is a viable age in rock and roll, Hip Hop has yet to field an artist that can maintain a middle-aged career.
OutKast, of course, would make serious headway with that. Big Boi’s most recent LP, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, deploys the same sharp lyricism and experimental production that fans have come to expect since ‘94; Andre’s verse on “Pink Matter” is a brilliant exercise in balancing southern braggadocios with romantic candor. Even at 38, both members of OutKast clearly still have it.
Hip Hop’s always been a young genre, and it is now more than ever in the age of digital immediacy and social media virality. Only three of the top 10 selling solo albums in the genre last year were by artists over the age of 30, and each installment of XXL magazine’s freshman class seems less like a list of burgeoning come-ups and more like an All-Star lineup. For the genre to tackle the concept of mortality with dignity—A Tribe Called Quest just did an alleged final show as an opener for Kanye West, replacing Kendrick Lamar—it needs an OutKast show to command what it deserves. The best live show in Hip Hop would come from 20-year vets.
There’s no doubt that show would sell, too. Big Boi was quick to remind the world that OutKast was reeling in a million dollars each night, and though Idlewild was received tepidly by fans and critics, it is still certified platinum with first week sales over 195,000. And of course, there’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which sold over 11 million copies and spawned two No. 1 singles —“Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move.” All six OutKast albums went platinum; when “the South had somethin’ to say,” everybody listened.
Two Dope Boyz: OutKast’s Continual Exploration Of Duality
“They say Big Boi, can you pull it off without your nigga Dre / I say people, stop the madness ‘cause me and Dre be okay / OutKast, Cell Therapy to cell division / We done split it down the middle so you can see both the visions / Been spittin’ it damn near 10 years, why the fuck would we be quittin’...” -Big Boi, “Tomb Of The Boom.”
The shine starts to fade, though, when you consider if OutKast is really OutKast right now, or rather just Big Boi and Dre in proximity. Though a reunion is feasible, it would be a bit confusing in light of what the two have been saying in recent years. “I don't even consider myself a rapper,” Andre told GQ in 2012. Big Boi corroborated that in a press conference for Vicious Lies: “He could've been on any song he wanted to. I gave the motherfucker about five songs, but I guess he was just too busy. He said he had to do some Gillette shit.” Andre’s expressed issues with stage fright and staying motivated on tour; nothing’s happened in the past seven years to change our perception.
OutKast has always been an exploration of duality. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik tested youth versus expected morality; ATLiens pitted hedonism against conscience; Aquemini was a compromise between the possibilities and realities of life; Stankonia a juxtaposition of Hip Hop’s commercialization and the roots of funk and soul. But the group’s last two albums, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Idlewild, saw duality and chasm manifest in OutKast itself, rather than its thematics. Big Boi clung to alternative Hip Hop and Southern flare, while Andre did everything but. It’s a stylistic difference that could make a reunion show onerous. Fresh off working in a Jimi Hendrix biopic, will 3000 break out his guitar for “Idlewild Blues” and leave Big Boi in the background for “Prototype?” Will Big Boi want to play solo work too? Is this really the OutKast show we’re imagining?
The jury’s still out on how well the duo can come together under the advent of immense expectation. Big Boi’s been consistently performing alone since 2006, and Andre hasn’t consistently seen the stage in 10 years. And settling their newfound musical preferences will be no easy task, either: Big Boi’s Hip Hop has recently been touching on indie rock and electronica; Dre’s been working with jazz, pop and classic rock.
The Mighty O: Managing Expectations Of Andre 3000 & Big Boi’s Return
“Even the sun goes down, heroes eventually die / Horoscopes often lie, and sometimes why / Nothin’ is for sure nothin' is for certain, nothint’ lasts forever / But until they close the curtain, it’s him and I / Aquemini...” -OutKast, “Aquemeni.”
Much of OutKast’s expanding mystique over the past decade can be attributed to the duo’s eschewal and taciturn intention. We glorify Daddy Fat Sax and Andre 3K because we simply haven’t heard from them, and we’ve fetishized songs like “Royal Flush” and “International Players Anthem” because they represent untapped potential. It was so effortless and brilliant when they actually came together, and we’re convinced that they would make an instant five-mic album today if they put the bullshit aside.
What if the most venerated group in the game doesn’t realize expectation? What happens if the two do actually settle their differences, reunite, put together a flawless set list and just don’t sound that good? Can we come to grips with that? On some level, Andre already has.
“I’m a rapper, and I just have to be honest, once you get to a certain point—I’m a fan of hardcore Rap. Sometimes I like stupid gangsta Rap, and I know at a certain age it doesn’t match. I want the raw Rap. At a certain age your life changes, at that point you become something else,” he told Fader last year. “And I never want to be the uncle or grandfather kind of guy, so I’ll just have to shift my qualities elsewhere, find something else to do. I love Rap so much, I don’t wanna taint it with old blood. I don’t want to do that.”
If the reunion show is rusty, there’s no doubt it hinders OutKast’s legacy, albeit very slightly. Then again, it may be necessary to give it another go after Idlewild was a critical flop and one of Hip Hop’s most complete discographies left something to be desired.
A reunion at Coachella also has the potential to be ridden with gimmicks; this is a show 2,000 miles from the group’s origin, a festival that shells out ungodly amounts of money to major-label performers and is best known in Hip Hop for the use of a hologram.
Ultimately, it’s redemption or anticlimax; a risk either way. But OutKast was founded on taking risks and going against the expected. And though the stakes aren’t self-imposed like they were in the ‘90s, unpredictability is certainly not out of character.
For now, we have to be cautiously optimistic. An OutKast reunion show has staggering potential, potential with implications that extend to an entire genre’s culture and an entire career’s vindication. Above all else, a reunion show has to be just that, a return to roots rather than a reappraisal of success. Until the news is official, it all seems so hard to believe, so entangled in weighty complication that it can’t be more than a blogger’s pipe dream. But none of that matters if somehow, someway, that woozy bass plays, those bells chime and the scene gets so thick...2014 gon’ be that year. We hope.
Steven Goldstein is a New York native living in Chicago. He contributes to magazines and websites on Hip Hop and sports, and actually saw Idlewild in theaters. Follow him on Twitter @GoldsteinNU.