OutKast, an Atlanta-based hip-hop duo consisting of Andre Benjamin (known as “Dre” and “Andre 3000”) and Antwan Patton (known as “Big Boi”), are widely hailed as one of the most influential and original hip-hop acts to enter the national stage in the late 1990s. The recipient of multiple Grammy Awards, OutKast released eight albums between 1994 and 2008.
Benjamin, who grew up in Decatur, and Patton, a native of Savannah, met as tenth graders at Tri-Cities High School in the East Point area of Atlanta. Their mutual interest in rapping led them to form a group, and they soon began a relationship with Organized Noize, a production team headed by Rico Wade, which operated out of an unfinished basement studio known as “the Dungeon.” Through Wade and the so-called Dungeon Family, the rappers met LaFace Records founders and producers Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, who signed the two to a contract when they were both seventeen years old.
Their first single, the Christmas song “Player’s Ball,” spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard rap charts in 1993. The duo released their first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, in 1994, which yielded two more successful singles. Produced by the Organized Noize team, the album featured a guest appearance by fellow Atlanta hip-hop group Goodie Mob and sold more than a million copies. In 1996 OutKast released ATLiens, which featured several songs produced by the duo, including the hit song “Elevators (Me and You).” With this album Benjamin developed a persona of a mystical, abstemious “poet” that stood in contrast with Patton’s image as a partying, womanizing “player.” The album met with widespread critical and commercial acclaim, selling more than a million and a half copies.
Patton and Benjamin solidified their creative control by producing most of the songs on their next album, Aquemini (1998), which reached sales of 2.5 million copies. The album yielded another hit single for the group, “Rosa Parks,” and the song’s namesake, the civil rights–era legend Rosa Parks, filed a lawsuit against the group, but a judge eventually affirmed OutKast’s right to use her name in the song.
The album Stankonia (2000) represented a tour de force for OutKast and their label LaFace. The album, which sold 4 million copies, was primarily produced by OutKast, and was greeted with near-universal critical acclaim. The single “Ms. Jackson” became their first number-one pop single, and the album garnered five Grammy Award nominations and won two Grammy Awards. Subsequently, they toured as the opening act for hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill, using a live backup band and cementing their position as representatives of hip-hop music’s creative vanguard. Following the release of Stankonia, the pair started their own record label, Aquemini Records, and in mid-2001 (a year that also saw the introduction of another venture, OutKast Clothing) released its first record, by rapper Slimm Calhoun.
OutKast released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003, which proved to be an enormous commercial, critical, and crossover success, earning the duo three Grammy Awards, including the award for Album of the Year, demonstrating the record’s strong appeal to a pop music audience. The album produced two hit singles, “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move.” In 2004 “Hey Ya” achieved multiplatinum status with the Recording Industry of America for number of downloads sold. That same year OutKast received the Atlanta chapter of the Recording Academy’s Atlanta Hero Award, along with producer Dallas Austin, concert promoter Alex Cooley, and pianist Chuck Leavell.
In 2005 the duo released Outskirts: The Lost Remixes, and in 2006 they starred together in the musical film Idlewild, set in the South during the 1930s. That same year they released an album of the same name that was inspired by, but not a soundtrack to, the film.
Benjamin’s acting career began a few years before his work on Idlewild. He moved to Los Angeles, California, in 2002 to pursue an acting career and landed his first small role in the film Hollywood Homicide (2003). He next appeared in the 2005 films Be Cool, Four Brothers, and Revolver (with a U.S. release date of 2007). In 2006 Benjamin began providing the voice of Sunny Bridges in the animated television program Class of 3000 (2006-7), followed by roles in the films Battle in Seattle (2007) and Semi-Pro (2008).