A C T I I
B R O T H E R S F R O M A N O T H E R
There’s a knock at the trailer door and Big Boi is slightly annoyed, for his stroll down video lane is being disrupted. But when he sees his partner Dre enter the trailer, Big Boi’s frown immediately dissolves. And Dre’s ever-present smile enlarges as he steps through the ‘wassups?’ of his crew to greet the brother he never had. In his right hand he has a vegetarian dish for his own consumption and in his left, a gift for Boi, the rock ‘n roll pictorial book, Not Fade Away.
Dre has the appearance of a true artist. Observing his sleek, inch-or-two-over-six-foot figure glide through the video set reveals a freedom that goes beyond his carefree smile, Parliament-style pants and bare back, which serves as a landscape for a tattoo of a man embracing a woman breastfeeding her child. For Dre, it’s about how he sees the world, not how the world sees him. How he wants to be heard, not how the world wants to hear him.
Dre is quick to credit his partner for being a true MC, but labels himself a writer. “Big Boi freestyles, I don’t,” Dre admits. “Because I think too much. But I’ll write one verse that’ll crush your whole album.” While breaking between albums, Dre spends his time writing song lyrics and melodies, raps and poems, even short stories. Dre can be a recluse at times. It’s natural to him because he grew up an only child to separated parents. While he’s always viewed by his Dungeon Family (Goodie MOb, Organized Noize, Witch Doctor) as one of the boys, he can’t help but periodically remove himself to spend time alone. It’s as though he’s catering to all his Gemini faces. He’ll visit Big Boi’s trailer, mob deep with everybody from D.F. members to video hoes, engage in a few jokes (mainly toward his eccentric character), discuss the recent goings-on and then vanish. You’ll only know he was gone by his return.
While Dre constantly makes it known that his inspiration for free expression is his eccentric musical favorites, (he lunches with George Clinton whenever their schedules permit) it’s never been heard so clearly and frequently as on Stankonia. “If I had to go to a school of music, it would be like George Clinton first period, Prince second period, Jimi Hendrix third period, Sly, James Brown—them like all my tops,” Dre says with a dish of rice and vegetables seated on his yellow-and-purple pants that look like they were borrowed from Hendrix’s wardrobe.
“Them niggas blew people’s mind. At the time Funkadelic came out, it was Aretha Franklin and regular James Brown. These niggas are doing noise with guitars and shit—it wasn’t about what people wanted to hear, it was about the music they wanted to make. It ain’t just like they regular R&B artists, and that’s the type of shit I be attracted to. So I want to be that type of artist.”
Big Boi, on the other hand, is that Southern fly guy. The one with the meanest threads, the hottest jewelry, the newest whip. The one with the gang of exotic weed and buckets of cognac. Ladies surround him and guys want to hang around him. A street kid turned ghetto superstar. He’s gracious to whomever is in his presence, a perfect gentleman, even when enjoying the sights inside his usual place of leisure—the strip club. But don’t test him. His Smith & Wesson stays loaded.
Big Boi was reared in a very large family and has grown accustomed to being surrounded by folk. He’s an Aquarius, the water bearer, sign of generosity. He keeps his weed-head friends high, his alcohol-loving boys leaning and his entire clique in the constant company of the sweetest Atlanta peaches. He likes to see everybody around him happy—male and female. He often invites everybody over to his house to chill in the “Boom Boom Room,” a large room that resembles a Seventies acid chamber full of mirrors and a stripper pole. He and his boys sit back and bask in the bliss of intoxicating smoke, liquid, music and women.
Question: Was it the influence of Andre that overpowered Big Boi into taking the greatest gamble of his career? Back in the trailer, before Dre could fully extend the surprise book to his A-town affiliate, Big Boi beat him to the punch. “Already got it,” he blurted, before matching Dre’s smile size.
“That’s what we both listen to,” offers Big Boi. “Dre play the guitar so Hendrix is his icon, but Parliament is all I listen to—old soul. I don’t even listen to rap like that.”
So Big Boi and Andre, though not identical, are certainly no clashing twosome. They may travel at different speeds and take dissimilar routes, but they arrive at the same destination at the same time.
While many link OutKast’s “weirdness” to the outlandishly dressed Dre, Dre’s quick to credit Boi for the group’s success. “He’s most definitely OutKast’s anchor,” he says between bites. “He keep his ear to the street. If it was left up to me, I probably be in space somewhere doing music. Big Boi kinda keep it grounded.”
Indeed, Big Boi is the one with the group’s ghetto pass. But just as Dre couldn’t be accepted so easily by the streets without his other 50 percent, ’Kast wouldn’t be scoped in such a special light without Andre. “Yeah, we just connect together, we got a lot of the same influences,” says Boi. “A lot of people don’t know that. Gospel, rock, hip-hop—we’re everything rolled up into one.”