Kasting A Wide Net
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 soundtrOutKast 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 their film "Idlewild."
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. Patton nods, "We know. 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 last year if the music had been done.
"Because the album had been bumped, the movie has been bumped," Weiss says. "It's 100% about the music. It's not once been a concern from the movie company, they just want to make sure the music is done and out there for TV spots and the film."
Now, after numerous postponements, OutKast is finally 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 Aug. 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."
OutKast's manager Blue Williams calls the film and album a "crowning achievement" for the duo. "It's an ending of sorts, but it's also a leading-off point for both of them," Williams says. "They have accomplished a lot of things. We've sold more with each album. Now we want to have a No. 1 movie and a No. 1 album. Then the time will be right."
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" (2003). "Speakerboxxx" was Patton's album and "The Love Below" was Benjamin's.
It was Williams who discouraged the duo from releasing them as separate albums. "The world wasn't ready to accept a Dre solo record and a Big Boi solo record. After this, they will be." This does not mean the end of OutKast. Williams simply says both have a lot of experiences that they want to channel into their own music. "I just really wanted to set them up the right way."
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' 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."
The duo had meetings with MTV, who Benjamin says loved the film idea for "Aquemini." However, 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.
Williams stresses that "Idlewild" is not a biography-type film like Eminem's "8 Mile" or 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."
"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. Additionally, 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," which leaked in May and is No. 42 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, is a take on Cab Calloway's famous scatting from the 1932 recording "Minnie the Moocher."
The real focus will be on the next two singles, Weiss says: Patton's solo track "Morris Brown," which features Scar and Sleepy Brown (both signed to Patton's Atlanta-based label Purple Ribbon), and Benjamin's solo track "Idlewild Blue: Don't Chu Worry 'Bout Me."
It's been three years since "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," and 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 even has an energy drink, Kryptonite.
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 is 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. You have to go back to the homeboyage."