by: Michael Shields
We take a look back at a Summer presumed to belong to hip-hop’s most outstanding duo….
When I first heard the news of an impending Outkast tour last Spring, a commemorative excursion intended to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of their first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, I was overcome with emotion. It’s over, I thought. They are going to own the summer. It….IS….ON! Although Summer these days is chock-full of worthwhile music festivals and notable acts impetuously touring the globe, with word of Outkast’s return there was nothing I was looking forward to more than my inevitable convergence with Andre 3000 and Big Boi. There was no way I was missing this….
Expeditiously, Outkast lined up a festival-heavy tour, nearly forty dates in all. They were going to be everywhere. In what amounted to a victory lap, one last thank you to all their fans, Outkast were setting out to re-stake their claim as hip-hop’s most outstanding duo. To remind everyone why they are heralded as gods within hip-hop’s domain. For twenty years now, both together as a duo or through their separate careers, Andre 3000 and Big Boi have been blazing trails, elevating an art form to frenetic heights, and subsisting as eccentric freaks of nature whilst collecting six Grammy Awards and selling more than twenty-five million albums. It was high-time to celebrate this conquest and their continued innovation.
Unfortunately, the tour got off to a rocky start in the sun-scorched fields of Indio at The Coachella Music & Arts Festival. What was supposed to be the kick-off party, the lighting of the fuse that would burn all Summer long, turned quickly into a headscratcher. Whether you chalk it up to a warm-up show for a group that hasn’t played together in ten years, or that the crowd at Coachella just isn’t what it used to be (kids these days….), Outkast far from ignited the stage. In fact, they came out stale and uninspired.
What the quiet, unaffected crowd at Coachella witnessed sparked an outbreak of over 90,000 tweets in twenty-four hours. By Monday afternoon, that recorded set had been watched more than 1.8 million times on YouTube. A set that bottomed out to the point where Andre 3000 earnestly asked the crowd if they were still alive went viral, and confounded fans across the country eagerly awaiting Outkast to descend upon their city.
We would find out later, in an interview Andre 3000 did with Jon Caramanica of the New York Times1, that Andre was nervous (his idols Paul McCartney and Prince were to be in attendance), unprepared (“I kind of fluffed through rehearsals”), and still reeling from the recent loss of his parents. It showed. And as the tour progressed, something else was becoming readily apparent, something completely devastating to die-hard Outkast fans. Something that wasn’t simply off-putting, but that began to tarnish the reunion tour’s impact altogether. It became abundantly clear that Andre 3000 wasn’t into it.
“Honestly, I never planned to go onstage again in that way. If I feel like I’m getting to a place where it’s mimicking or a caricature, I just want to move on. But I felt like: Let me do it now ’cause these kids [in the audience], it feels good to know that they’re happy. I really don’t actually get anything from performing. – Andre 3000
The signs were written upon on the wall. Well more aptly put, the signs were, literally, on Andre 3000’s jumpsuit. Each evening Andre 3000 took the stage he wore a black jumpsuit accomidating a message sketched across the front of it. “Everything is Temporary”, read the one he wore at Sasquatch!, while at BottleRock, it read, “I’ve never had f@cebook, twitter@r, or inst@gram.” At Governor’s Ball in New York the jumpsuit read simply, “Art or Fart?” In addition to the loquacious jumpsuits, Andre would regularly have a price tag hanging from it, once tellingly reading “Sold Out.” Another time just reading “Sold.”
“I remember, at like 25, saying, “I don’t want to be a 40-year-old rapper.” I’m 39 now, and I’m still standing by that. I’m such a fan that I don’t want to infiltrate it with old blood…” – Andre 3000
It was easy to assume that Andre had something to say. That he was disgruntled. That he was going through the motions and he wanted you to know it (“Sold”). That this tour was far more about money, an estimated sixty million dollars in earnings to play the hits, than about anything else. While I appreciate Andre’s candor, his willingness to mock the system he was openly exploiting, there is no doubt the credibility of the tour suffered as one-half of Outkast flaunted their detachment. It is hard for one to not let this general indifference seep into their concert experience. This is where the reunion began falling short. But not all was lost….
I caught up with Outkast in New York, at the Governor’s Ball on Randall’s Island. I had of course heard word of the sterile kick-off to their re-emergence, but I was also aware things had improved. Whatever the case, there was no way I was going to miss a chance to see Outkast reunited, fully conscious that it could presumably be the final time this would occur. Under the starry night skies on a humid evening, as the New York City skyline loomed radiantly in the distance, they indeed played the hits. And if Andre 3000 wasn’t feeling it, you couldn’t tell. From the moment that the stage erupted with the blazing beat of “Bombs over Baghdad,” it was on. For the next hour and a half, through all the classics, through “Gasoline Dreams,” “Rosa Parks,” the syrupy-thick “Aquemini,” to the elegance of “Prototype,” “Roses,” the barnburner that is “So Fresh and So Clean,” and unto “The Whole World” to close the set, all was right in the world, in this glorious Outkast Summer. For one last time I was basking in the eclectic tracks of one of the all time greatest acts, and nothing else mattered. Not the “Sold” tag, the ambivalence of much of the crowd, or the unsung shows previous to that nights. Nothing mattered but the music.
Before this 20th Anniversary tour comes to a close, Outkast will make one very important stop, a critical home-coming. On September 27th Outkast returns to Atlanta, to curate a one day festival in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park2. Whatever has happened on this tour prior to this evening is prologue, as when Outkast returns to ATL – to where the Stank was birthed – I have no doubt that even Andre won’t feel that this exercise, this lengthy money-haul of a tour, was all for not. Because Atlanta is Outkast, and Outkast is Atlanta, The journey to ATL may have been rife with bumps and bruises, but the most worthy ones are, and there is no doubt in my mind that when Outkast touches ground back home, its going to be a momentous Player’s Ball, where Coachella isn’t even a speck in their rearview mirror, and Outkast rides off into the sunset, legacy intact.