The duo, made up of Atlanta-bred MCs Andre 3000 and Big Boi, hadn’t released a proper album in close to a decade and hadn’t done anything together—shows, features, interviews—in nearly seven years. It wasn’t even clear whether the two were still talking, as Dre was seemingly inching farther away from the limelight, with Big Boi doing the opposite via solo work and film roles. The idea of a reunion was turning into hip-hop folklore, joining ghosts like Dr. Dre’s Detox or a DJ Premier-produced Nas album.
But that changed last week. Suddenly, Outkast was back—and in a big way. They’re expected to play 40 music festival dates over the next year, which is more than any of their fans could have wished for. What sparked the move? Simple: 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, their debut album. The two MCs just want to give something back to those who’ve been riding with them since day one.
And in a recent interview with REVOLT at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Big Boi clarified the group's decision to reunite. "It's for the fans, you know? Can't wait to get onstage with the brother 3 Stacks and kill 'em," Big exclaimed.
Echoing Big's comments, Sleepy Brown, the man behind the velvety hooks on many of Outkast's hits, told REVOLT, “It’s only right. It’s for the fans who’ve been down even when [Outkast] wasn’t doing anything.”
Despite the anniversary year, the move that seemingly came out of nowhere had actually been planned for quite some time, according to Brown, and a level of secrecy among label heads, the duo, and their associates helped it come off as a surprise. That secrecy remains, though, as questions have arisen over what the significance of the reunion actually means for hip-hop. Is one of the greatest groups of all time really getting back together, or is this a farewell tour?
The best way to figure that out would be to monitor the activity going on in Stankonia Studios, the band’s longtime workspace in Atlanta. Both Dre and Big Boi have been recording there as of late, sparking speculation around a new Outkast album. In reality, they’ve been laying tracks down for respective solo projects, according to Mr. DJ, the group’s longtime producer.
He’s not certain, but—brace yourself—he believes 3000 will drop his long-awaited solo album this year. BET’s Stephen Hill hinted at the idea last summer, when he tweeted out that Dre mentioned dropping a new album at the top of 2014. While it may not be coming that soon, a lot of material has been recorded for it, Mr. DJ notes.
Big Boi, meanwhile, also has a fair amount of material recorded for his own solo project, and Mr. DJ was in Stankonia with him just last week laying tracks down for it. The bigger plan at hand, it seems, is for both MCs to go on their 40-date festival run, drop solo projects, and then get back in the studio for a group project. Going on tour, Mr. DJ says, should help rekindle their creative relationship.
“I get the feeling that the energy and camaraderie from the tour will bring everything full circle,” he told REVOLT. “We may make it back in for an album following that.”
Notice the pronoun used there: “we.” If a new Outkast album is in the works, you better believe Mr. DJ will be a part of it. The same goes for Brown and the rest of Dungeon Family, the southern collective made up of Outkast, Goodie Mob, and Rico Wade, among other affiliates. All its members came into the game at the same time, so 2014 marks their 20th anniversary as well.
Goodie Mob member Big Gipp told REVOLT just last week that a full-blown DF reunion is in the works and that many of its members will be joining Outkast on certain tour dates, namely at this year's CounterPoint Festival in Georgia.
Some of the DF members are also planning on releasing new music this year, such as Organized Noize—the production crew made up of Brown, Wade and Ray Murray. The trio, which crafted Outkast's southern-fried funk sound, is planning on releasing an instrumental album and a book on its history this year.
What’s more, Brown has a new solo project coming, which will be straight vintage soul, built for cruising in Cadillacs and making babies. And, of course, there’s also the much-hyped collaboration between Dre and Future, an artist most fans don’t realize got his start in DF (Wade is his cousin). The song, expected to be on Future’s upcoming Honest and titled “Benz Bitch,” is a straight hip-hop track and will feature both artists laying down long verses, according to Mr. DJ.
We know, we know… All of this is almost too good to be true, especially for hip-hop fans who’ve been craving a return to the innovative music of the ’90s.
“It signifies an era for Atlanta and the South,” Brown confirmed. “Everyone in the family is banking on a big year.”
But, as we all know, anticipation can sometimes be dangerous. What if, by some unlikely chance, Outkast’s new album isn’t as mind-blowing as we all expect it to be? If a recent string of forgettable and unfortunate reunions are any indicator, the notion of Outkast's potentially subpar reunion album brings on the broader question of whether just having the duo back together is good enough, or if the reunion must spawn recorded greatness in order for it to be a success. After releasing six across-the-board genius albums, could Outkast ruin its essentially flawless catalogue (i.e. "They were great, except for that last album") with a new offering?
Needless to say, this is something that we, as music fans, and they, as genius musicians, are still trying to figure out. Perhaps if Outkast do end up dropping a less-than-stellar project, it will teach the music world at large to appreciate the moment—to realize how special an onstage reunion (if that's all we get) really is. Or, maybe it'll make us wish they never came back in the first place. That’s the risk that Big and Dre have to take on, and, after years of mulling it over, it seems as though they’ve finally accepted it.
Either way, we'll catch you at one of their forty fest dates; we'll be the ones in the front row.
(Andre 3000 illustrated by Bastien Chauvin, Big Boi illustrated by Dan Evans)