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Two decades later and it’s still a tough pill for Outkast fans to swallow.
On one hand, their 2003 double LP Speakerboxx/The Love Below (released 20 years ago on Sept. 23) was a characteristically certified banger that gave us twice the tracks and monster hits like “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move.”
On the other, it was a divide-and-conquer affair, with longtime partners-in-rhyme Big Boi and André 3000 essentially combining solo albums under the guise of an “Outkast” release.
In retrospect, it was the beginning of the end of one of the greatest runs in hip-hop history.
Formed by Atlanta high school friends André Benjamin, aka André 3000, and Antwan Patton, aka Big Boi, in 1992, Outkast crashed the mostly East- and increasingly West Coast-dominated rap scene with 1994’s revelatory platinum release Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The South had something to say, as Benjamin would soon prophesize at the 1995 Source Awards, and Outkast was at the center of the revolution. Singles like “Player’s Ball” and the title track made them instant stars.
Their sophomore release ATLiens (1996) only expanded their reach, going double platinum on the strength of A-sides like “Elevators (Me and You),” “ATLiens” and “Wheels of Steel.” 1998’s Aquemini continued their astronomical trajectory, becoming the first Southern rap album to land the highly coveted 5-mic rating in The Source and producing their biggest single yet, the inescapable backyard boogie “Rosa Parks” (even if the civil rights legend herself was none too thrilled about the nod; she sued them in 1999).
They did it yet again with 2000’s Stankonia, buoyed by the fast-tempoed “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” and another worldwide smash, the apologetic anthem “Mrs. Jackson.”
By the time 2003 rolled around, Outkast was watching the throne, candidates on the Rap Mount Rushmore ballot alongside the likes of Jay-Z and Eminem.
But perhaps bored from that streak of dropping four straight classic rap albums over a stretch of only seven years, Benjamin got the acting bug, and relocated to Los Angeles. (Not immediately successful with initial small roles in the film Hollywood Homicide and on TV’s The Shield, he’d later impress with a lead role in the 2012 Jimi Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side.)
Beyond spreading his wings as a rapper-turned-actor, Benjamin also had a clear desire to experiment, musically. He began work on The Love Below, which fused more pop, folk and jazz with his palette, and found him forgoing his usual rap cadence for crooning. “I had a handful of songs, an idea about making a movie and the idea that each song would represent a character in the movie,” he’d later explain.
Benjamin reportedly informed Big Boi he was working on a solo album after recording five songs; Big Boi, already with a few solo tracks of his own in hand, got to work on Speakerboxxx, which fell more in line with Outkast’s signature funk-laced boom-bap. Between them, the pair recorded an estimated 120 songs before whittling down to a total of 39 tracks. And there still was some crossover. Benjamin produced three tracks of Speakerboxx (“featuring” on “Ghetto Musick” and “Knowing”) while The Love Below’s “Where Are My Panties? (Interlude)” and “Roses” featured vocals from Big Boi.
Upon the album’s announcement, fans naturally freaked. Were they breaking up? Was this merely a contractual obligation and then they were done? The group responded with a dynamite PR strategy: It wasn’t a breakup album, it was “a concept album.” Said Big Boi later, “It was basically just giving two sides of the coin, my perspective and Dre’s perspective.”
It worked. In its first week, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, selling 510,000 copies. It ultimately went certified diamond and 11 times platinum (it’s sold over 5.7 million units as of 2012) and won Album of the Year at the Grammys. “Hey Ya” became their biggest song of all time.
And then they never made another proper studio album together again.
Yes, they did make a blues-inspired soundtrack album to the 2006 film they also costarred in, Idlewild. But that’s exactly what it felt like, a soundtrack, not “an Outkast album.”
They’ve both been busy since. Mostly apart, together occasionally, never in the studio for long enough to make a sixth (seventh) album.
Big Boi hasn’t stopped dropping albums, striking first with the 2010 solo LP Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (its lead single “Royal Flush” featuring Raekwon and André 3000), followed by 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and 2017’s Boomiverse.
André 3000 hasn’t released a full-length work since, though he’s made plenty of high-profile appearances in feature form, from John Legend’s “Green Light” (2008) to Beyoncé’s “Party” (2011) to Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter” (2012) to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Kids…” (2016) to Killer Mike’s “Scientists & Engineers” (2023).
They toured as a unit in 2014 to celebrate their 20th anniversary, playing 40 shows, including a headlining stop at Coachella.
And they’ve probably trended on Twitter (sorry, “X”) once a month for the past 10 years with fans simply begging for another album.
They’ve never announced a breakup of any kind.
So while we lament the shift that Speakerboxxx/The Love Below marked, still, we hold out hope.