Andre 3000: Renaissance Man

posted February 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM CST | 28 comments

From the ATLien rapper of OutKast to the Funk Soul revisionist of his solo work, from acting in films like Semi-Pro and the forthcoming Battle In Seattle to unveiling his own Benjamin Bixby fashion line this fall, Andre Benjamin is the rare Hip Hop artist who simply refuses to be pigeonholed. In a series of interviews in Los Angeles and his native Atlanta, we spoke with the multi-talented Benjamin on a broad variety of topics ranging from his early artistic influences and the changes in the music scene over the past decade to sociopolitical consciousness in Hip Hop and his secret creative talent.

HipHopDX: Youve always been one of the most eclectic artists in Hip Hop. Who were some of the artists who inspired you when you first started making music?
Andre 3000:
Well, I came into music as a rhymer, and the group that really made me wanna rap was Eric B. & Rakim. There was something about the way Rakim put words together that made me wanna try it. But before that I listened to everything growing up, from Led Zeppelin and INXS to Depeche Mode and Grand Funk Railroad, from Ice Cube and Too Short to Brand Nubian and A Tribe Called Quest. Whether it was Prince, Sly Stone, Funkadelic or Joni Mitchell, I just liked anything that sounded good. I knew that I wanted to be able to make any kind of music I felt like making, but of course you have certain things that people respond to. Theres a brand people expect you to do over and over again, which Im not really a big fan of.

DX: Do you find yourself rebelling against that sort of limiting categorization?
Not intentionally, but I have to keep myself excited. I get bored really easily, so if I feel like Im doing the same thing repeatedly it feels like Im cheating, in a way.

DX: In the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of Hip Hop, youre a storied veteran with 15 years of experience under your belt. For better or worse, how has the game changed most over that time?
Its just a new generation, and its easier to put songs out now. Back when we were signed, to have a record deal was the big think. Record deals really dont mean as much now, because you can use the Internet to get your music out and let people hear it. Record companies arent playing the same role that they used to because physical sales are going down and digital sales are going up. So now record companies are becoming Internet companies.

DX: How did you feel about Radiohead putting their In Rainbows album online and letting people pay whatever they wanted to download it?
Man, that made me feel so good! I bowed to them when I heard about that. Its so cool and I really wish I could do it, but you can only do that when youre not under contract with your record company.

DX: You guys, along with Goodie Mob and Organized Noize, were instrumental in the ATLs early Hip Hop explosion. Was there a particular moment when you realized the scene was about to bubble up on a national level?
It really didnt happen until we started recording Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. We were all just kinda hanging around The Dungeon and making songs, but until we went into the studio And even then, we didnt know. We didnt really know until we hit the road and started to perform the songs, and people started to respond to this Southern kind of sound.

DX: Why do you think todays Hip Hop scene is so lacking in socio-political content compared to when you guys were first starting out?
Times change. I dont think its a good or bad thing. I think people complain about music all the time, but at the end of the day hip-hop is about kids talking about whats going on around them, and what other kids respond to. It lets you know where the community is at the time: If the music isnt so good, maybe theyre more focused of looking great, cars, clothes and all that stuff. You cant be mad at em, 'cause thats just where the neighborhood is. If you want to fix it, you gotta fix the neighborhood.

DX: What kinds of music are you listening to these days?
I hate to say it, but I dont listen to much new music. Ive been listening to a lot of John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. I love 70s music like Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire, the Ohio Players, Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield. I honestly think the 70s had the best sound in music. The 50s and 60s had a crude sound, which gave it a great character, but the 80s were kind of too perfect and overproduced. The 70s had that sound that was in your face, but had real space to it and real reverb. It was the most organic music.

DX: How has it been for you, making the transition from music into acting?
It was natural for me to get into films, but the acting process was unnatural. Im good on the screen, but Im terrible in auditions because I hate having to prove myself. I cant juggle the two, so when Im doing film Im doing film and when Im doing music Im doing music. But Im about to go back into the studio recording, and Im always thinking of song ideas when come home from the set. I will always do music.

DX: Whats your next film, Battle In Seattle, about?
Its me, Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Rodriguez, and its about the protests and riots that took place at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. I play a protestor by the name of Django who kinda keeps protesting fun and lighthearted, even when were getting arrested.

DX: Do you consider yourself a politically conscious person?
Not really. I mean, I have my personal views on things, but my mind changes too much. Its probably not a good thing to use my celebrity [for political purposes], because a lot of people vote a certain way just because one of their favorite celebrities said this candidate or that candidate was cool. They dont take the time to figure out whos the best candidate for them. I say do your research, because there are plenty of websites that break down where each candidate stands on the issues. See what you like, and dont just vote a certain way because your favorite movie star or talk show host says theyre doing it.

DX: Other than music, is there anything in particular youre obsessed with?
Im not really much of a collector, but I definitely love clothes. Im always searching for cool itemsjackets, trousers, boots and Im an avid eBay shopper. I have certain shops I love in Atlanta, New York and L.A. that Ill visit when Im in town.

DX: What do you look for to define your fashion choices?
Things that are special to me, and that I cant really find in stores. Of course, certain things will always be made, like button-downs and polos and stuff like that. But the first collection of my clothing line, called Benjamin Bixby, is inspired by 1935 football [fashions]. I searched eBay to these old jerseys Id never seen, and thought theyd look cool with a pair of jeans. So I went to Hong Kong and Italy and had things made based on how these old jerseys were made. Ill look for boots or plaid pants, basically things that make me feel like an individual and not like Im wearing the same thing everyone else is wearing from off the shelf. The line is coming out this fall, and will be carried in Barneys stores.

DX: There are always rumors of beef between you and Big Boi. Whats the current status of Outkast?
Were both working on solo records, then after we finish those were doing another OutKast album.

DX: Whats your solo album gonna sound like?
I really dont know yet. Ive only written two songs in my head and havent really started recording. Im just tinkering around now, so Im really excited to see what its gonna sound like myself. Im hoping itll be ready this fall.

DX: Were you disappointed by the reaction to Idlewild?
Of course, but I actually knew before we released the album the response it was gonna get. I had a feeling about it, because it had a purpose, but it didnt feel like all our other albums. The opportunities that we couldve had to make it a better album, the record company didnt step up.

DX: Is there any creative art form youve longed to explore, but havent had a chance yet?
Yes! Its funny, because before music, acting, clothing lines or anything, I used to draw and paint. Thats actually what my mom thought I would be doing when I grew up. When I was about to graduate from high school, I got letters from colleges like Savannah College of Art & Design wanting me to attend their schools. I want to be able to do enough pieces where I could travel around to show them at art galleries, but I just dont have as much time as I used to.

DX: Speaking of which, youre doing OutKast, a solo career, acting and running your own fashion line. How do you find time to balance it all?
You dont. You just kinda live crazily, then you get old and look back and say, Wow, Ive done a lot of [stuff]! You only get one chance, so you gotta do as much as you can.

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