The musical stylings of Outkast in 1930's jazz style
Even as Outkast hits the mark of 30 million records sold, they're still going strong. Rumors here and there of Andre 3000 (Andre Benjamin) and Big Boi (Antwan Patton) breaking up - to them, it's just the same old tabloid crap. And seeing them together, I actually do believe that it's all crap.
We had the chance to speak with the two members of Outkast while they were promoting their new movie, Idlewild. The film takes them back to their roots in 1930's Georgia, where mob crime ran ramped, alcohol was at a premium, and the jazz clubs were all the rage.
Andre plays the submissive and shy Percival, who works in the family morgue during the day but comes out to play at night in the club Church. Big Boi is the wild and crazy, always looking behind his back, trying to make every deal he can, Rooster - he runs club Church.
Idlewild is written and directed by Bryan Barber, who has been Outkast's music video director for years - that includes their latest hit album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Check out what Andre and Big Boi said about having Bryan on the set and what it was like to make this film.
Here's what they had to say:
What's different about the music business compared to the movie business?
Andre Benjamin: Honestly, I think anything, we try to make sure that we're being true to ourselves, and I guess that's being an artist - but, we also know that it has to sell. So, we want people to come to the theater to see it, but at the end of the day, if people just talk about it and say, 'This is a necessary film and it's something that needed to be made, and had to be made.' It actually had to be made because all the chips were stacked against us, so at the end of the day, if nobody comes to the theater, we just know we had a great time doing it, and somebody will be influenced by it.
What were the challenges of making it into something coherent, with regard to music, dance and general culture?
Big Boi: Well, I guess, one of the major challenges was, when we first started to shoot the film, we were like, 'We don't have all the music ready; we really don't have it all together right now.' They were like, 'Well, don't worry about it, we'll work around it.' So, as soon as we got on the set, after the first week of shooting, we would be shooting on a Monday and they'd be like, 'Well, you know, on Wednesday, we need a song for this scene right here,' and we'd be like, 'I thought y'all was going to give us time.' But, it worked out right in the fact of, we already had some songs already prepared; the storyline was so strong to where you really didn't have to rely all the way on the music like that. So, we got a chance to work on them both, at the same time; but, if we had to do it again, we would definitely have all of the music first.
Andre Benjamin: I think when Bryan was writing the script and he made it in the 30's, I think style wise, he knew that it take the audience to a whole other world. I think it was a great choice because right now, in the times we're living in, especially as black people, you don't get to see people with class on the screen. So, I think it was a great choice, on his part, to do it, just to show that because you don't get to see it. As far as the music, we knew that it was 1930's, so we kept in mind, when we were writing and producing, that this was a period piece, but at the same time, we're Outkast and we've got a responsibility to live up to our fans, so we had to make sure that it was modern as well. I think, when we do that, it brings something new to it, so it pushes it, and it's not just a 1930's pic; I think, once we add some newness to it and we bring it to now, it makes it into something totally different. So, you do have Rooster break out into rhyming on stage in the 1930's, even though Cab Calloway did rhyme, back in those days, but not quite the same rhythm
Big Boi: Us being influenced by every musical genre, and using every aspect of music in our records, that was an advantage we had because we were never biased to one particular type of music. We listen to rock, jazz, blues, pop, country, hip-hop and the whole nine yards, so to go back and throw a little swing in there; I think, previous albums that we've had, we always had a touch of that ragtime feel, and we just had a chance to do what we wanted to do. Like Dre said, it is 30's, but we can still satisfy our fans by doing what we do best.
Andre Benjamin: It's called freakin' it. That's what you do.
Big Boi: Freak that thang.
How much are each of you like the personalities of your characters? Were these characters specifically matched to your own personalities?
Andre Benjamin: Most people have seen Hey, Ya! and Roses, and there's all this energy and this dancing around character. In real life, I'm not dancing around all the time, so I would say Percival is closer to Andre Benjamin. We've known Bryan since we gave him his first shot on our video, so he knows our personalities, he knows our lives, he knows things about us that people don't see, so he pulled from those parts and created these characters, but gave us the room to play in these characters. The side of me that people don't get to see, I did the extreme version of that. No, I'm not moping around like Percival all the time, but in every character you play, you've got to find something that connects to you to make it real. You've got to find some jumping off point.
Big Boi: Yeah, I think there's more than just a little bit. What [Bryan] did was, he took it and exaggerated it, and gave us room to play with it and do whatever we wanted to do with the characters. So, by him knowing the intricate details of certain parts of our lives and how we'd react to situations, he hit right on the bulls eye.
Can you talk about the interaction between you and Terrence Howard and the energy that you bounced off each other?
Big Boi: Well, actually, this was my first film; the first day we shot was the scene on the sidewalk outside, when I was with Zora and the kids, so that was my very first scene I had to shoot. I was so nervous; Ben Vereen was kind of like a mentor the whole time, we would go running through it. He already had me psyched up a little bit because, before Terrence got there, he was like, 'I'm telling you, this guy's going to come in here, he's a veteran actor, he's going to already be in character, he's not going to like you, he's going to treat you like sh*t, don't play into it, he'll try to sucker you in and try to be your friend, just to throw you off. You can't let him take the scene away from you; you have to go toe-to-toe with him.'
Andre Benjamin: It is that competitive on screen, it is.
Big Boi: So, when Terrence showed up, he was in the make-up room and I saw him, and my heart was beating fast, and I was like, 'Oh man, here we go.' So, he turned around and was like, 'Man, what's up, man; I've been checking you out for a long time. Hey, man, wanna hear some songs?' And, he had a guitar; I was like, 'He's trying to sucker me in.' So, I told Ben, 'Man, he's trying to come to my trailer and play songs.' He was like, 'Don't let him do it.' So, I was like, 'Man, I'm going to watch him,' so I let him come in there and we talked and we kicked it, and he was a good guy. So, to go back to the first day of shooting, I was so nervous, to where I turned the nervousness into the anger that I needed for the scene. After we shot a couple of times, Terrence was like, 'Brother, the way you're staring at me, you had me shook up, for real; you looked like you were going to kill me, you really had me going.' And, for him to say that to me, I was just like, 'Ok, alright, cause I know how to do it now.' He made me feel comfortable and, after that, it was all good.
How much were you able to visualize with Bryan?
Andre Benjamin: As far as the extra added values in the movie, we call it that funk; that's the funk you bring to the movie, we are film fans. We knew what kind of game we were playing here, and we knew what type of film we wanted to make; it can't be so straight and narrow all the time, it has to be magical, in some kind of way, at least for this film. So, we were happy about that.
Big Boi: As far as interacting with the flask and the different things that were going on around us, you just had to psyche yourself out, like it was talking back to you cause there was nobody delivering the lines back. I was just talking to a flask that sometimes had Hennessy in it, just to get all the way there; you start talking to it, and then you just really start believing what's going on. I saw the film, for the first time, last night and I was tripped out.
What were the reasons you didn't act more together?
Big Boi: Actually, that was another great call by Bryan; the type of movie that he wanted to make was not the buddy-buddy type of movie, where we were like, 'Hey, what's going on?' Where, if it's two stories being told, and there's a brotherhood that's established and the stories kind of come in, intertwine, and then go out and come back in, I think it's more interesting that way. That way, you got to know each character, individually, and then separated the two, and you saw, really, what was going on.
Andre Benjamin: But, both characters were really tight, though; they didn't have to be in the same space, and that's, honestly, how it is. We've been childhood friends since like 10th grade, before we started doing music, film or any of that. We were just kids, listening to music, gettin' on girls, and that type of thing; that's always going to be there, no matter what happens.
Big Boi: Not for me, I'm married; everything, except for that.
Did you have a chance to talk to the kids who play you guys in the movie?
Big Boi: I think what they did when they cast them was try to see who best represented us, as characters. Actually, I think they studied us; I didn't even get a chance to meet Bobb'e J., the little guy that played me, until after he shot one scene. He was down there shooting and everybody was like, 'Oh, you've got to come see this little boy; he is acting just like you, he's acting crazy.' So, I went over there to check him out, and he was amazing, man. He was so smart, and he had his little sister with him; he was just like a little bitty boy man. He's like 11 years old.
Andre Benjamin: He's about 30 years old. [Laughs]
Where do you see the future of Outkast?
Big Boi: We're glad you asked that question.
Andre Benjamin: As far as the future of Outkast, we're really not saying what we're going to do next; we're concentrating on what we're doing now, which is the Idlewild movie and the Idlewild soundtrack. As far as the rumors, I guess you've got to say that we've been doing it for 12 or 13 years, we ain't shot nobody, we ain't killed nobody, we ain't slapped nobody, we didn't go to jail, we ain't sleepin' with Paris Hilton, so what can you talk about? And, when people say, 'Well, Andre, he's not going on tour,' or 'Andre don't want to be on a record label,' or 'He don't want to be in the music business, as far as a label,' those decisions make people say, 'Well, him and Big Boi are driftin' apart.' But really, that's a personal choice and we both, definitely, understand it. So, we most definitely not breaking up or driftin', we're grown men now, we don't hang out the same; we hang out, but we don't hang out every day, like we used to. We don't live in the same house, like we used to; iIt's kind of like your brother, you grew up with him and now y'all gotta go and get your own house, and you got your own family - you've got kids, I've got my son. It's a new game, but we still trip out like it's 10th grade.
Big Boi: Yeah, exactly, that's one thing that a lot of people just don't know. Sometimes, for a minute, we'd get mad and be like, 'Man, what the f*ck are they sayin'?' Somebody would come and interview us and just really try to paint their own picture. The whole time they're interviewing us, we're talkin' and laughin' and talking about sh*t that happened to us, back when we were 17 or 18. And they go back and write the story like, 'Well, he was so distant and he was not really talking to him and I think he was drinking a Pepsi and he wanted the Coca Cola.' It would be some dumb sh*t, and we'd just be like, 'Man, how can they do that?' They take things you say and try to take it out of context, like 'Well, maybe Dre's mad because Big Boi's married;' just stupid stuff. But, we've been saying for years, it's about the music; our personal lives are our personal lives. Us, as far as individuals, the brotherhood we have, we had the brainchild Outkast; we made that idea, and that principle has never left us. We created this, and nothing music or movies do can break this up - that's my dog, for life.
You can check out the 'dogs for life,' better known as Outkast in Idlewild when it drops into theaters August 25th; it's rated R.