Hey Ya!

Hey Ya!

by Chris Nickson

Since 1994 OutKast have been reinventing the rules of hip-hop, blending different styles of music into a Southern style that is wholly their own, soulful, outrageous, and addictive. They've captured the hearts of fans and music critics alike, and have achieved records and scaled heights in the music world that most artists can only dream of.

The full story of

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Since 1994 OutKast have been reinventing the rules of hip-hop, blending different styles of music into a Southern style that is wholly their own, soulful, outrageous, and addictive. They've captured the hearts of fans and music critics alike, and have achieved records and scaled heights in the music world that most artists can only dream of.

The full story of OutKast has never before been told. Now in Hey Ya! you'll go behind the scenes into the world of Big Boi and Andre 3000, from their start as teenage hopefuls in Atlanta to their international rise to fame. Along the way you'll learn about the creative forces that have kept them on the cutting edge of hip-hop for a decade, and keep them pushing forward into tomorrow. From their first breakthrough with "Player's Ball" to their six Grammy wins, their upcoming movie and more, Hey Ya! Is the ultimate look at two of the most creative forces in music today and is the definitive guide to everything OutKast!

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Editorial Reviews

Combining sassy raps, southern soul, and an outrageous exuberance all their own, the musical group OutKast have moved to center stage. Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton first joined hip-hop forces in the early '90s. Since then, they have notched numerous platinum records, awards, and more than their share of controversy. In 1999, they were sued by civil rights activist Rosa Parks for using her name. The suit was dismissed but is under appeal. More recently, they stirred protest among Native Americans for their portrayal of "Indians" in performances. But nothing has squelched the fame of Atlanta's flamboyant, street-savvy rappers. In Hey Ya!, celebrity biography Chris Nickson offers a snappy capsule of the musical alliance of two American originals. Now what's cooler than being cool?

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St. Martin's Press
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First Edition
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5.54(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.64(d)

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Hey Ya!



TO UNDERSTAND OutKast, you have to understand Atlanta and the South. Because that's what shaped the band.

More African-Americans live in the South than anywhere else in the United States. Beginning a century ago, there was an exodus of blacks to the North, especially to cities like Chicago and Detroit, which offered greater opportunities and wages—and an escape from the blinding prejudice that existed widely in the South at the time.

The North, with its cities and industries, was seen as the future, a place of hope, while the South was viewed as backward and even degrading to African-Americans. That lasted into the civil rights era of the 1950s and '60s. Many blacks lived in the country, farming as sharecroppers, where they could barelymake a living, or just scuffling by at other jobs. There were shining exceptions, of course, but for most life was hard—and sometimes dangerous. It's no surprise that the South, specifically the cotton-heavy Mississippi Delta, gave birth to the blues, which, along with jazz and gospel, was the African-American musical form for so many years.

Times do change, and progress happens. By the 1970s, after a Georgia peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter became president in 1976, the image of the South was changing. The South became the Sunbelt. Retirees from the North were attracted by its climate and cheaper cost of living. Industry and commerce began moving in, too, to take advantage of the abundance of labor available—and also the cheaper cost of doing business.

Atlanta was the hub of the South. It was smack in the center of the Southeast, the biggest city around. Yet it was also quite accessible to the East Coast, especially the Northeast, where there is an intense concentration of finance and commercial institutions. Atlanta began to grow like crazy. Major companies opened offices there. The airport expanded, becoming one of the busiest in the world. The city was refurbished in grand style as a cosmopolitan city: a business and shopping Mecca.

It was a new Atlanta, a new Georgia, a new South. And that changing world was the one into which both members of OutKast were born in 1975.

Antwan Patton, known to everyone as Big Boi, is the elder, but only by four months. He was born on February 1, while his partner, Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 or just Dre), first opened his eyes on May 27. Although they'd eventually meet in Atlanta, neither of them began life within the city limits.

For Big Boi, Savannah was home. Situated on the Atlantic Coast, Savannah is a historic city, the home of the nation's oldestAfrican-American congregation: the First African Baptist Church on Montgomery Street at Franklin Square. Some of the city's buildings date back as far as the 1700s.

Antwan was the oldest child in the family, followed by four younger brothers and sisters. His mother, Rowena Patton, was still young when he was born, while his father, Tony Kearse, was in the Marines; he'd eventually rise to the rank of sergeant, although he died in 2003.

It wasn't an easy existence, raising four children on not a lot of money, and for all its charms, Savannah didn't offer a lot of opportunities. When he was young, Antwan had other responsibilities besides his studies and taking care of himself; as the eldest, he had to look after his siblings, too, a heavy cloak to throw on a child. In an interview in Blender, he stated there were widespread substance abuse problems among the adults in his family, and that he, his siblings, and his mother lived in a Motel 6 for a year.

"We used to live off bologna sandwiches from a cooler," he said. "I've been to the lowest low." And in the family there were "drugs and alcohol, domestic abuse—crazy shit."

Antwan had the usual dreams and desires of every boy. Sports offered a way out of a poor lifestyle, and despite his size, he thought about becoming a professional football player. After all, they were the stars, they made the money, they were the heroes. But Antwan was also a good student, a young man who looked forward to attending college in the future. The way the mind worked fascinated him. Possibly because of the size of his family and the amount of time he spent around his brothers and sisters, he considered training to become a child psychologist.

Whatever he thought about, Antwan's ideas were a little outside the box. No matter what, he was determined to make somethingof himself. Interestingly, though, music wasn't in his plans, at least when he was young. That would come a little later.

While Antwan was finding his way around Savannah, Andre was growing up in Decatur, which was, to all intents and purposes, a suburb of Atlanta, located between downtown and Stone Mountain. Named for Stephen Decatur, an American naval hero in the War of 1812, the city still has the comfortable feel of a small town. Andre was an only child, the son of Sharon Benjamin (now Sharon Benjamin-Hodo), and Lawrence Walker. The couple split up while Dre was still a child, and he lived with his mother, who worked on the assembly line at General Motors. It was good, well-paid work, and she bought a house for the pair of them in one of Atlanta's burgeoning suburban subdivisions. Her rules for Andre were strict, and she expected him to obey them, which the self-confessed "mama's boy" did for a long time.

Dre's aspirations to become an architect fell through because "I didn't like math." But one thing Andre did love was music, and from an early age he exposed himself to a lot of it. Not just blues, gospel, soul music, and early hip-hop, although these were a big part of his education. Dre listened to everything.

Georgia was a state that enjoyed a remarkably fertile music scene. James Brown, the godfather of soul, was from Macon and still lived there. Macon had also been the home of one of soul's greatest vocalists, the late Otis Redding, who died in a plane crash in 1967 at the height of his fame. And in a completely different direction, the college town of Athens was the bedrock of an alternative rock scene in the first half of the 1980s, as R.E.M. catapulted from local to national stardom. Dre surely was exposed to these styles and more as he skipped around the radio dial.

But rap was the new style, with pioneers like the Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Grandmaster Flash among the artists who popularized the new music. It was a revolution, one that would literally change the course of music history. Rap grew from a combination of things: reggae, blues, funk, and the bragging of "the dozens," the kind of top-that insults that had been around for generations in the African-American community. The music behind the voices was new, too. Using a pair of turntables and a mixer, skilled DJs culled beats, bass lines, and melodies from older records, working the vinyl into a seamless flow that was a backdrop every bit as important as the rhymed raps themselves. Originating in the Bronx section of New York, rap exploded on record.

It all went into Dre's melting pot. But rap music was his first love. It was inevitable because he essentially grew up with it. Very verbal and articulate, with a quick mind, Dre made a natural rapper. But his ideas extended far beyond words. To him, music was a whole, not segmented the way the industry tried to make it with divisions between pop, rap, soul, and so on.

By the time he was in junior high, Andre was writing say-no-to-drugs raps with a friend, T-Bone. Together they listened to Eric B. and Rakim, whom Andre called "an inspiration." But that ended when T-Bone moved away from music and into sports.

Both Dre and Big Boi were raised in the church, which meant getting dressed up every Sunday and attending services. It was one of the foundations and certainties of life for them. And it was also exposure to another kind of music, the gospel music heard in Baptist churches: jubilant, soulful, and often ecstatic. More than anything, though, church offered a spiritual underpinning that's remained a part of their lives, one that Dre hasspeculated separates Atlanta music from other areas, as so many kids grew up in the church, singing in choirs. And there was also the weight of history around them.

Dre noted that "Atlanta was one of the last places to get out of slavery, and so that striving and sense of struggle comes across immediately in our music."

By the time he was a teenager, Big Boi was getting into music, too. For Antwan, it was the P-Funk of Parliament and George Clinton that blew the roof off, along with Run-D.M.C., one of the major rap acts of the time, the first rap group to cross over to a rock audience with their remake of "Walk This Way" along with the song's originators, hard rock band Aerosmith (the song that helped revitalize Aerosmith's career). If Big Boi hadn't cast his net as wide as Dre, that was just because he'd discovered music later. But Big Boi became hungry for music. After his family moved from Savannah to the East Point area of Atlanta, he went to the free concerts in Grant Park, lapping it all up. He was especially turned on by the deep '70s funk of the Ohio Players. "You just wanted to get up there and jam," Big Boi remembered.

When he was fifteen, Andre began to resent his mother's strict rules and moved out of his mother's house to live with his father in Atlanta. This put Dre in the East Point area of the city, Big Boi's neighborhood, a far cry from the laid-back atmosphere of Decatur. The idea was that his father would instill some discipline in him; instead, he found himself in a bachelor house with few or no rules and began running a little wild for a while.

For his sophomore year of high school, he was about to enroll at Tri-Cities High School. Just coincidentally, that was where Antwan—whose nickname of Big Boi came, ironically, because he was small—happened to be a student.

It was a relatively new school, opened in 1988—89, with a catchment area from the Tri-Cities areas of College Park, Hapeville, and East Point. There were two main areas of study at the school: college preparatory and career technology.

The Tri-Cities area is predominantly African-American, with wages well below the national average. Many of the people in the area are employed in lower-paying service jobs. Many of the students live with a single parent. A fairly large school (in 2003 it boasted over two thousand students), it is a school that takes pride in boosting its pupils academically; in fact, the home of the Tri-Cities Bulldogs received an Inspiration Award in 2003 as America's Most Improved High School.

Even when he started at Tri-Cities, Dre refused to fit easily into any pigeonhole. He was smart, into music, but he was also into things no one would have expected: skateboarding and BMX bikes. The one thing he wasn't into was school. After his father dropped him off at school in the morning, Dre took off around the corner every chance he got.

Although they were in the same class at school, that wasn't where Big Boi and Dre met. They probably knew each other's faces, but the first time they actually spoke was in Atlanta's Lenox Square Mall, where they both happened to be shopping—window-shopping, because neither of them had the money to buy clothes. It was outside the Ralph Lauren store, where they were looking wistfully at the fashions.

From the very first, there was a bond between them. The young men were a little outside the norm, not so much refusing to conform as not even thinking about it.

"When everyone was wearing Starter pants, we were wearing flower print shorts," explained Andre. "We were just a tad bit different."

According to Big Boi, though, "We were preps. We wore loafers, argyle socks, and V-neck sweaters with T-shirts. We were new to the school and we didn't know anybody."

In hip-hop, they were all about bands like Poor Righteous Teachers, KMD, Leaders of the New School, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, and A Tribe Called Quest, who colored outside the lines—and managed it quite successfully. That was a far cry from the booty-shaking music most of the kids in school were listening to. And Antwan went even further. His uncle had introduced him to the music of English singer-songwriter Kate Bush, which moved him in a way he couldn't explain, so "I'd sit and think and play her records for hours."

Both Andre and Antwan wanted to hear the newest beats, so they'd go down to Five Points Flea Market on the weekends to buy mix tapes with the freshest stuff on them from Ron G, a New York DJ .

In so many ways, they were complete opposites.

"They've always been very different people," commented Dre's mother. "You could start by saying Andre is the introvert and Big is the extrovert."

But they came together on music and clothes—clothes that didn't fall into the lines of fashion that everyone else was wearing. Instead, they tried to be individual and stand out.

"We thought we were pretty fly as far as clothes in high school," said Dre. But even more important than image was music. They often sat and watched videos together, eventually deciding that they could do a lot better rapping than most of the rappers they were seeing on television. The first time they actually rapped together was at Big Boi's aunt's house. One of them started and the other picked it up "every four or six bars." Since their talents meshed so well together, the natural thing to dowas form a band. That was what they did, naming it 2 Shades Deep—a name that didn't last too long, as there was already an R&B group called Four Shades Deep. They then briefly became the Misfits, until they heard of a punk/metal band with that name. So they searched for something different, a word that perfectly described being outsiders. With a little help from the dictionary, they found exactly what they needed.

"We came across the word 'outcast' and just kept the pronunciation key spelling of it," explained Andre. And OutKast was born.

Soon they'd walk around each other's kitchens, rhyming and practicing. And it wasn't too long before they were ready to go public with their skills, at an open mic night at Club Fritz, a place in Atlanta's West End. However, the club "had only one Korg mic, with a short-ass cord," said Big Boi, "so we'd pass it back and forth, trying to catch each other's word and pass the mic."

It went well, which set up more open mic nights. But although music was a huge focus for them, it wasn't all-consuming at first. Antwan was doing well at school, with a 3.68 GPA and plans for college. Academics were his way out. His dream of being a child psychologist was still very much alive.

The rapping and writing was strictly part-time. But that doesn't mean it wasn't serious. They were also listening to everything coming out of the local hip-hop scene; they wanted to know their competition and their peers. They weren't impressed by what they heard—there was simply no originality about any of it. The producers were all following the trend of putting together tracks in the East Coast style, which was the fashion. The beats were a little jazzy, the bass lines a little lighter. Itworked if you were A Tribe Called Quest, who'd helped break that ground, but it didn't speak to Georgia.

Where was the Georgia red clay soil? Where was the soul that crept down from Memphis or the funk of James Brown (except in some of the sampled beats)? There was a whole history of African-American music waiting to be explored, and everyone was ignoring it. Almost everyone just wanted to be big, to be tougher than the rest, rather than to be creative. Dre and Big Boi listened and realized that it didn't compute to them.

By 1992 they had their rhymes together, and their ideas were taking shape. What they didn't know was that elsewhere in East Point were a few other guys who also had a vision for hip-hop.

Rico Wade, Pat "Sleepy" Brown, and Ray Murray loved the music. Unlike most people, though, they didn't want to be on the mic. They didn't have the skills or the flow to be rappers. Instead, they used their ears and imagination. Hip-hop had moved from a pair of turntables and a record collection to writing beats and using samples—snippets of other tracks taken and brought into a new creation. Sometimes they were played with digitally, to the point where they were unrecognizable, sometimes they were used straight. But the people who created the tracks were every bit as important to the new music as the rappers themselves—they just stayed more in the background and didn't get all the glory or celebrity. But they were responsible for the sound, people like the Bomb Squad, who worked with Public Enemy, or Dr. Dre out on the West Coast. They shaped the whole feel of hip-hop.

While making the tracks was fine, the sound men needed a rapper on top. And if they were doing something fresh, they didn't want a rapper who was just ripping off another style. They needed someone with originality to match theirs. The difficultywas finding that someone. Taking on the production name of Organized Noize, all they could do was keep working—and keep searching.



In 1989 Atlanta was beginning to enjoy a musical renaissance. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Antonio "L.A." Reid opened LaFace Records—the name was taken from their nicknames. The pair already had an enviable history. As part of the soul/funk band the Deele, Edmonds and Reid had enjoyed several hits, in addition to writing chart successes for other artists like Pebbles and The Whispers. When they relocated to Atlanta, Babyface's career as a solo artist took off (he'd released his first solo disc in 1986), and his Tender Lover spawned four hit singles—not a small feat at all. His successful solo career helped make him a power in the industry and lent a higher profile to the young label, which had a deal with the major Arista label. Edmonds and Reid hadn't forsaken songwriting for their new business venture. In fact, the Midas touch was still very much with them as they penned smashes for Bobby Brown, Sheena Easton, and others.

Although they had a label in Atlanta, Edmonds and Reid took their time signing new acts, going for music they thought would work across the country. Their first major signing was R&B singer Toni Braxton. Her first single, "Love Shoulda Brought You Home," was a hit right out of the box in 1991, and from there she never looked back. Neither did LaFace. They signed acts like Jermaine Jackson, brother of Michael and former member of the Jackson 5, and the female trio TLC, who were Atlanta natives and the first local signing.

The other big player on the Atlanta scene was JermaineDupri. While not yet in his teens, he'd performed on stages with Grandmaster Flash, Run-D.M.C., Whodini, and Cameo. He began working as a producer at the age of fourteen in 1987, when he not only produced, but also got a record deal for the band Silk Tymes Leather. Two years later Dupri had his own production company: So So Def. In 1991 he saw two boys performing at an Atlanta mall and signed them. That was Kris Kross, whose single "Jump" stayed on top of the charts for weeks, as did their debut album. Now with his own So So Def label, distributed by the giant Columbia, Dupri produced a couple of tracks on the TLC debut, before finding another all-female group in town, Xscape (whose alma mater was Tri-Cities High). They performed at Dupri's eighteenth birthday party in 1991 and two years later were looking at their first platinum album, Hummin' Comin' at 'Cha. He also discovered hard-edged female rapper Da Brat and helped give her a massive hit with the single "Funkdafied" (and the album of the same name).

So Hotlanta was really starting to happen in black music and a vital, if more underground, rock scene. Two of the staples of what would become the burgeoning jam band trend—Col. Bruce Hampton and Widespread Panic—were both Georgia-based.



Having things brewing could have made it easier for Big Boi and Dre, but none of what they heard was hitting them to the core. They knew what they wanted to do, what they could do. But they didn't have the studio ability to make it happen. They needed people with that expertise to hook up with and make complete bomb tracks.

The pair of them were into fashion—at least, their interpretation of fashion, which was outside any mainstream. And part offashion has always been the 'do. The hair is as important as the clothes. And that meant investment in hair products. Not just shampoo and conditioner, but more specialized items. And that, in turn, meant trips to the beauty supply store.

Rico Wade of Organized Noize was making ends meet by working in one of those stores: Lamonte's Beauty Supply. Andre and Antwan walked in one day; an ex-girlfriend of Antwan's knew Wade. The conversation turned to music. Wade learned that they were rappers, and they heard about his beats. While every kid on the block wanted to rap, there was something about these two that intrigued Wade enough to invite them to audition for him.

Big Boi and Dre were more than ready. Hanging with them was a new friend, Big Gipp, who was part of Goodie MOb, another new band. Big Gipp had his car with him, an Isuzu Trooper, and they all piled into it. Big Boi and Dre put on the instrumental version of A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario" and proceeded to freestyle back and forth for the next seven minutes. They didn't care about any hooks or choruses; they were simply flowing. Wade was impressed by what he heard—impressed enough to invite the pair over to his basement studio, aptly called "the Dungeon." It wasn't an inspiring place. All the equipment was secondhand, some of it old. The basement itself was completely unfinished, the floor Georgia red clay, with dust everywhere. The only furniture was some beat-up patio chairs; if you wanted to sit, there were the basement steps. But, rough as it was, it was the laboratory of Atlanta hip-hop.



Down in Wade's basement, they waited to hear the music, probably not expecting much creativity. But "from the first timeRico pressed 'play' on the tape, we knew we had our producer," Antwan said, "because the beats were like nothing I had ever heard before."

The rhymes surprised Wade just as much, too. This wasn't the tired old bragging or the cliches. This was different, with its own flow and a style that just screamed Atlanta, right down to the drawl. It didn't owe anything to the East Coast or the West Coast of Dr. Dre and the N.W.A. posse.

It was a given. They all had to work together. And from the first meeting, they knew they were going toward something very special. Now that they had a focus, a goal, and the right people, they were ready to jump into it.

That meant spending a lot of time at Wade's crib, not just hours, but days in the basement working over material. Big Boi and Dre would be there the whole night sometimes, sleeping on the floor, writing, listening to beats, and working on ideas. Nights became days as they started to skip school.

Dre was less academically motivated than his partner, but his mother still wanted him to get his diploma. And since Big Boi was carrying a good G.P.A., there was no way his mother was going to let him throw that away. Once the first rush of working and hearing something different wore off, Antwan realized he didn't want to give up his education, either. In fact, the young men's parents wouldn't let them sign the contract they eventually landed with LaFace until they turned eighteen.

"I finally realized that school was something I needed just as much as music, and I didn't want not having a certain piece of paper to hold me back," Big Boi said emphatically.

By now they were juniors, exploring life more, not legally adults, but feeling like it. Dre was even hanging with the gangstas for a while.

"I do remember Dre in a Cadillac with a Glock, getting high, waiting for niggas to run up," remembered his cousin Angelo. But it was just a brief phase, thankfully, and about to pass.

Antwan stayed in school, but Andre dropped out after eleventh grade. It wasn't a popular decision at home—and maybe not even a wise one, but he did it. There was still a wildness in him that wasn't ready to calm down, and he had to go his own way. He worked jobs he hated to have a little money and spent all his free time in the studio. After their first album came out, Dre did go to Washington High Night School to obtain his G.E.D.

Having access to a studio was a major luxury. Around the country, most aspiring rappers had to hustle and do whatever they could, by any means necessary, to afford studio time. Here they could record whenever they wanted, and they took advantage of it. There was lots of work to be done, and plenty the teenagers could learn from the older producers. In fact, Antwan credited Organized Noize's Ray Murray for bringing him along as an artist.

"Ray ... taught me how to rap," he explained. "I was a writer, and he just showed me things about being an MC. It was more mental than it was showing me specific things. We call him the Yoda."

Even as they were working with OutKast, the sound men in Organized Noize were looking for other projects. They were in contact with labels around town, other producers, and other acts (which would include Goodie MOb). They couldn't put all their eggs in one untried basket. Besides, their abilities were wide-ranging, and they were ambitious. They wanted outlets for the music in their heads. They were hungry and ready to hustle. Like everyone else who was struggling, they were hunting for that big break.

But Andre and Antwan were special to them. They were all tight, and there was a musical bond. Together they could just let their imaginations rip and create something unique. Everyone wants a new sound for their music, but not usually so tweaked that it sounds weird. The OutKast guys, though, were up for anything and everything. Big Boi and Dre spent long hours working at the Dungeon. But so did plenty of other rappers.

"There'd be nine, ten guys and everyone would take turns rhyming over a beat," recalled Big Boi. "It would be your turn to rhyme, and you'd start, and then Rico'd be like, 'Oh, did the pizza come yet?' Break your fucking heart, man. There was a shed out back. That's where I got into some Luke Skywalker shit. I'd sit out there for hours at a time, no music, just writing."

Finally it began to happen for Organized Noize. After a lot of local productions, they came to the attention of LaFace Records, who'd just put out the first TLC album, produced by Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, and De Funky Bunch—all proven talents with strong track records. The label was wanting remixes of some tracks, though, and for those they could afford to take some chances. In fact, it was a good idea to use unknowns for remixes, where imagination and creativity counted.

Maybe it would be the big break, maybe not. But it was the biggest thing to have happened to Organized Noize, and they were all over it. Remixing is an art in itself, and it's not uncommon for big-name producers to be paid literally tens of thousands of dollars to rework a track. The remix is better described as a reinvention. The track is stripped down, and often only fragments of the original are used—a vocal line, a bass line, or a hook. Everything else is built from scratch until the finished product becomes entirely different. It can be aimed at the dancefloor, the chill-out room, or anywhere. The possibilities are infinite. It becomes a work of the producer's imagination, not the artist's.

When there's a lot riding on a piece of work, you give it a huge amount of attention, and that's what Wade, Brown, and Murray did with their assignment. It had to be perfect, it had to flow, it had to sound good—which wasn't always that easy, given that they didn't own a state-of-the-art studio. But they not only knew their equipment, they knew how to use it creatively, how to get sounds out of it.

Finally it was almost done. The track was there, except for one thing—it needed some rapping. And who else were they going to call but OutKast? They were comfortable with them, knew what they could do, and knew they could do it right. This was a huge leap for Dre and Big Boi. After months of working on demos, this was a vault into the big time, a finished track that was going to appear on disc. For them all, this could be a stepping-stone to the big time. Organized Noize knew exactly what they wanted, and worked with OutKast until the disc was perfect. Take after take down in the Dungeon, long hours, but worth every second when they heard the playback and then the final mix.

After they gave it to the label, everyone was flying—but full of fear, too. What if they didn't like it and kicked it back? What if they just thought it was terrible? Just as in life, you didn't get many chances in the music business. Blow it the first time and there might never be a second.

So when the word came that it was accepted, there was a celebration down in the Dungeon. Organized Noize (and OutKast) were going to have a record.



It was the start of the rise of Atlanta. In addition to huge hits for LaFace, Georgia rap had arrived on the national scene, thanks to Arrested Development. They mixed up funk, soul, and blues on "Tennessee," which broke out across the country. On their debut CD, Three Years, Five months and Two Days in the Life of ... they offered positive messages as an alternative to the negativity of gangsta rap. It sold well, with its Southern-fried grooves and deliberate country attitude. To many people, it was one of the most important hip-hop albums of the early '90s. It certainly showed that there was a market for rap that was outside the accepted mainstream. Record buyers were willing to take chances as long as the music was good.

This was something the executives at LaFace realized. And they were looking out for new talent with that ability to hit home all over America. Listening to the TLC remix by Organized Noize, everyone was struck by the rapping. It could have been good luck—or it could have been real talent. There was only one way to know for sure, and that was to hear more of this duo called OutKast.

When Kawan Prather, director of artists and repertoire (the department responsible for signing and developing new talent) for LaFace called, Dre and Big Boi were bouncing. But it was still very far from a done deal. There was no contract yet. First the label wanted to listen to the demos they'd done with Organized Noize.

Those went in, and then they just had to wait. Every day without a call—a call either way—was like an eternity. They just dragged by, making work and school almost impossible. Going in and trying to record was out of the question.

And then Prather called. Could they come in to the office?

The news wasn't what they'd hoped. The label wanted them to perform a showcase, to hear how they sounded onstage. So, backed by a DJ, Dre and Big Boi played in a club. They thought they sounded fine, but the people from LaFace weren't as convinced. In the end, LaFace passed on the band, not because OutKast wasn't good, but because they didn't think OutKast was quite ready yet.

Nobody was happy to be turned down by a hometown label, but Dre and Big Boi weren't about to give up. They believed in what they were doing and the sound they were creating with Organized Noize. They contacted other labels, and Polygram asked them to showcase. Attracting the interest of a locally based label was one thing, but catching the eye of one of the big national labels was a different league altogether. LaFace had money and the backing of the Arista label, but Polygram was a major player, too.

That showcase didn't work out either, but by now a buzz about OutKast was starting to go around. It was looking good for the future, although they'd all hoped that the future would come right now.

Then, when they were least expecting it, they received another call from LaFace. Could they come back into the office?

HEY YA! THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF OUTKAST. Copyright © 2004 by Chris Nickson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Chris Nickson was born and raised in Leeds, England. A well-known music journalist and author, he's written many celebrity biographies as well as being a frequent contributor to numerous music magazines.

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