One for the money yessir, two for the show.
There aren’t too many things that I, or anybody for that matter, remember about being 2-3 years old, but rolling around Southern California in the backseat of my father’s car reciting these lyrics is one memory that is lodged in my mental. “Elevators” was an anthem for my then 22-year-old father and his best friends and it had, by default, become the same for a 2-year-old little mixed boy.
Being that I was so young, understanding the complexities of God emcee Andre Benjamin aka Andre 3ooo‘s rhymes was at best a long shot. That came later. What did stick out to my sponge of a mind was his ridiculous flow patterns and the effect that his words had on my pops and his boys. 3 Stacks and his fellow Atlanta native partner in rhyme Big Boi had completely taken California, and the country as a whole, by storm with their gritty stories of life in the dirty south. The 90’s were a rough time to be a Hip-Hop head in Atlanta as many who came out of the area attempted to replicate the golden aged rhymes of New York artists or the G-funk inspired sonics of the artists out west. Not Outkast. Comprised of Andre and Big Boy aka Andre Patton, Outkast was a smooth young duo who captivated the country with their suave playastic bars and tales about adventures in the ATL.
Though neither my pops nor I to that point had been down South, we sang along to the tunes of “Jazzy Belle“, “Wheelz of Steel” and “Babylon” with pride. But it was the title track “ATLiens” that caught my attention. I didn’t like fish at all but Grits were and still are my favorite (butter and salt don’t bring sugar to my breakfast table) and I could throw my hands in the air on cue. Dre had officially become my first “favorite rapper ever” (wouldn’t be the last) and his smooth cadences were among my early favorite nursery rhymes.
At first a gritty young dude who dressed modestly, Andre evolved from album to album in ways that were previously unseen in rap. He overcame Hip-Hop. He had mastered the art of rap in every facet by the time the duo reached their 3rd album Stankonia in 2000.
And then it happened.
As I said earlier, at 2-3 years old I couldn’t yet process a lot of Andre’s complex entendres and bars. Then they came out with “Ms. Jackson“, an ode to Dre’s deteriorating relationship with neo-soul singer Erykah Badu. At the time, I could visibly see the traction my dad had to face with my mother and how fiercely he connected to that song. I was able to process it. I was also able to process the words they were saying and how it fit mine and my dad’s life. I saw the struggle it took for him just to be able to be at my “first day of school and graduation” as Dre says. As he evolved into one of the greatest rappers on earth, I quietly was quickly evolving into a little man, and one of his biggest fans.
You can paint a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.
During the visuals of every single released on that album, as well as the cover, it was becoming obvious of the fashion changes in 3 stacks’ style. “The Badu Effect” had taken place and he was wearing dashikis and kofis, ditching the baggy jeans and white tees. The duo was growing apart too. Though remaining good in their personal lives, Dre and Big Boi had grown apart musically. Big Boi opting the evolve with the Southern style they had created and won with, while Andre wanted to experiment with new sounds completely.
Then came Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
This was the album that took Andre 3000 to Pop superstardom, and probably is what led to his decision to stop releasing music. On Rap Radar, L.A. Reid suggested the pressures from the success of the massive hit, “Hey Ya!” and the demand to do more of that sound, likely turned him off to recording for a while. “I think that it was more than what he bargained for” said the man who discovered the duo and I agree. If you listen to that album, which was a double album with Dre getting his own album (The Love Below) and Big Boi his (Speakerboxxx), it highlights the musical differences between the two like never before. It also showcased Andre’s creative new alternative style. Songs like, “She Lives in My Lap” and “Prototype” showcased a new side of Dre. New guitar sounds and croons about scorned love dominated the album and took him to a new level of genius. In that same interview, Reid tells a funny story about how Speakerboxxx was all done and ready to be rolled out when Andre called him and asked how long he had to make enough material to release as a double album. Reid gave him a week.”
And that’s the formula for a diamond selling album. The best in Hip-Hop history.
After that the band broke up and Andre set his eyes on Hollywood where I followed him. Idlewild and Four Brothers were two of my favorite movies and I’ve seen Semi Pro a thousand times. Coffee Black became a pro and Andre became a legend. Though the music stopped, he still delivered genre shaking verses on guest appearances and he became like an enigma. He would hardly show up but when he did he delivered and then some, and to this day I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though I would love an Andre 3000 album, I understand that if his hearts not in it, it wouldn’t be the same.
So when I was tasked with conducting an Andre 3000 birthday piece, I thought, ‘What better way than to reflect?’. As I grew, you grew along and the past 21 years have been a journey. Now throw ya hands in the air and toast a Happy 41st Birthday to Andre 3000, hope those drinks are ice cold.
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