July 14, 2006

Outkast casts wide net with album, movie

By Tamara Conniff

NEW YORK (Billboard) - OutKast duo Antwan Patton and Andre
Benjamin are sitting in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in
Beverly Hills picking at pancakes. They need to figure out the
track listing for their upcoming soundtrack album, the
companion to the film "Idlewild," in which they co-star.

Zomba Label Group president/CEO Barry Weiss, pen in hand,
writes out different scenarios. Patton keeps picking at his
breakfast. Weiss leans back on the couch and says with a laugh,
"We need to figure this out! We need this album to be done!"
Patton and Benjamin smile. "We know," Patton says. "We're
getting there."

Patton, aka "Big Boi," and Benjamin, aka "Andre 3000," are
perfectionists as much as they are innovators. "Idlewild" would
have been released to theaters last year -- if the music had
been done.

Now, after numerous postponements, OutKast is ready -- sort
of. They still keep going back in the studio to "tweak" some
tracks. But come hell or high water, the LaFace/Zomba album
will be released August 22, with the film hitting theaters
three days later.

"This is probably the first musical that didn't have the
music done before it was shot," Benjamin says. "That has been
the biggest lesson I've learned in this whole thing. Next time,
we'll do the music first."


To do a film/album package has been a longtime dream for
OutKast. "Idlewild" (Universal/HBO), directed by OutKast's
friend and video director Bryan Barber, has been in the works
since the group's 1998 album "Aquemini."

"We had a movie called 'Aquemini' (in development) with
Bryan," Patton recalls. "It was crazy. We were so excited, but
we had no idea what it took to put it all together."

Benjamin says with a laugh, "We didn't know it takes two
years to put a movie out, and we had a script three months
before 'Aquemini' came out."

Also at that time, OutKast, though critically acclaimed,
hadn't yet broken through with multiplatinum "Stankonia" (2000)
and "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" (2003).

"We made a lot of progress since 'Aquemini,"' Benjamin
says. "We were young. We were trying to put all of our friends
in the movie!"

The duo had meetings with MTV, who Benjamin says loved the
film idea for "Aquemini." But the network wanted to buy the
project and cast Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes, who had more
star power than OutKast.

"We're like, 'But this is our movie!"' Benjamin says. "So,
it didn't work out. You have to have some appeal to get people
in the theater, and we weren't big enough at the time, so I can
understand why MTV would say that."

Patton sighs. "We were heartbroken."


Not to be deterred, OutKast and Barber kept working on
ideas, and "Idlewild" was born.

The film is set in Prohibition-era Georgia and follows two
childhood friends and the business of running a speakeasy.

"The characters are loosely based on our personalities,"
Patton says.

Benjamin concurs. "The characters are an extreme version of
what we are."

There is a lifelong bond between the two main film
characters even though they don't spend every second together.
In fact, there are only three or four scenes that feature them
together. The same is true in real life: Patton and Benjamin
often record separately. Patton goes on tour, and Benjamin no
longer does.

"It's not like 'Beverly Hills Cop' or 'Rush Hour' where
it's a buddy type of thing," Patton says.

It's also not a traditional musical. Benjamin and Patton do
not spontaneously break into song. The songs are used in
performance settings or as background music.

During the film's production, the duo would hit the studio
after a day of filming to write music for a scene. Then, of
course, they would change their minds and rewrite it. The bulk
of the writing happened after the film wrapped, when they could
just be OutKast, instead of Patton and Benjamin, the actors.

"We went into the studio and did what we normally do,"
Patton says. "But we kept in mind that it was a 1930s movie. We
tried to keep ourselves hip and fresh, but at the same time
keep that 1930s frame musically, so it all fit together."

For example, the first single, "Mighty O," is a take on Cab
Calloway's famous scatting from the 1932 recording "Minnie the


In the three years since "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,"
both artists have been busy with side projects. Benjamin has
been honing his acting chops, including a starring role in last
year's "Four Brothers." Patton runs his own record label, owns
a real estate company and markets an energy drink, Kryptonite.

Both Patton and Benjamin have wanted to do solo projects.
Fans have long noticed the duo veering in different musical
directions, most noticeably with the double album
"Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." "Speakerboxxx" was Patton's
album and "The Love Below" was Benjamin's.

But one of the biggest misconceptions is that the pair
never record together. Just thinking about all the rumors
floating around on the Internet and in the tabloids makes
Benjamin shake his head in disgust. "People say we are never in
the studio together, and that's just not true."

The duo are simply untraditional because they both have
home studios.

"It's like working your hut," Benjamin says. "I produce a
song, then take it to Big Boi and say, 'Check this out, what do
you think about this?' Sometimes you want to at least get the
idea out and not have to worry about if it's good enough. It's
more like a confidence thing ... I just think people have blown
it out of proportion about us not being on a song together just
because we're not singing or rapping."

Even though they may go in different directions musically,
Patton and Benjamin, who attended the same high school in
Atlanta, are friends 'til death do them part.

"We've been friends since we were in 10th grade. At the end
of the day with no records, no movies, no nothing -- we are
friends, we are homeboys," Benjamin says. "I know I'm going to
know this man until I'm pretty much out of here. I know his
kids, he knows my kids. We all hang out together. We're talking
about Antwon and Andre. That is something that was born, not
out of music, but from hanging out in high school. We just
decided to do music one day. We weren't two guys that a record
company put together."