Outkast's #ATLast Hometown Blowout Brings Erykah Badu, Bun B and More to Atlanta
Janelle Monae, 2 Chainz and a host of Southern rap pioneers were also guests at Outkast's 3-day homecoming concert
"One for the money, yes sir, two for the show/A couple of years ago on Headland and Delowe/Was the start of something good" — Outkast, “Elevators (Me & You)”
Approximately 60,000 Outkast fans gathered in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park over the past three days for a festival dubbed #ATLast, a cheeky reference to the fact that the duo has spent the past five months playing pretty much everywhere but home. This champion-honoring location, framed by the commanding towers of the downtown Atlanta skyline, was the perfect place to celebrate 20 recorded years of a group formed just 10 miles south at the intersection of Headland and Delowe Streets in East Point, Georgia.
In the two decades since their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik dropped, Outkast has sold in excess of 18 million albums in the U.S. (according to Nielsen SoundScan), catapulting them into the rarefied air breathed only by fellow Diamond-certified hip-hop acts such as Eminem and Jay Z. But the duo of Andre "3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton had never been properly celebrated at home on the scale that such achievements deserve.
The idea for #ATLast started out as one show, but the gig sold out so fast that two more were quickly added. Andre 3000 told local radio host Ryan Cameron that it was the first time they've sold out three nights anywhere in their career.
ATLiens, who are a most polite breed, definitely landed in full force over the weekend, some even going so far as to don bright green alien bodysuits. There were a few brave men wearing Dungeon Family-inspired armor, people dressed in Stankonia-era sports gear, homemade and bootleg #ATLast T-shirts (far superior to the official merchandise), and lots of familiar shirt slogans, including "The South Got Something to Say" (a reference to Andre 3000's Source Awards speech in 1995, when he spoke over a chorus of boos), "I Woke Up Like This," and, most poignantly, "Don't Shoot."
Meanwhile, Andre 3000 kept with the tradition he's set onstage throughout this festival season, each time wearing a black jumpsuit with a different phrase printed on it in white. Friday's was, "The hardest time of our lives." On Saturday, "Teacher's [sic] deserve more." Sunday brought the profound, "I forgive you, now your turn."
Future, 2 Chainz and Janelle Monae provided vibrant support for Friday's show, while Childish Gambino and Kid Cudi warmed up the crowd on Saturday. Outkast's legacy runs in the DNA of these acts as well as today's young Atlanta artists. Some who appeared over the weekend weren't even born when the group first got together, like 18-year-old Raury, the spiritual singer behind the deep "God's Whisper" who opened the show on Saturday, and Rae Sremmurd, the 19 and 20-year-old brotherly duo brought out by B.O.B on Sunday who have earned over 16 million views for their summer single "No Flex Zone."
But it was Sunday's two-hour Southern Roundup opener that had the most historical significance, featuring icons like Memphis duo 8Ball & MJG and Texas rapper Bun B. of UGK. Both are enduring contemporaries of Outkast who helped show them that success could be possible early on in their career. Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T. joined Bun B on microphone duties in the absence of the late Pimp C, but the crowd also handily helped with Pimp's verses both during this set and all weekend when Outkast performed "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)," their 2007 collaboration with UGK. "They took us under their wing and we'll never forget that," Andre 3000 said of UGK on Sunday night as Bun B joined them for the song.
"Outkast is the Rolling Stones of rap music," declared Killer Mike, the razor-sharp rapper, Dungeon Family affiliate and collaborator (most notably on the top 20 hit "The Whole World"). "I demand that this festival take place every year!" His set featured "Snappin’ & Trappin'," his guest take on 2000's Stankonia album, and an early predecessor to the trap genre of music that's now known worldwide.
At times, the Southern Roundup felt like a big round of awesome speed dating, with artists putting their best career moments forward in their 5-to-15 minute sets. The lightning round brought out people like Pastor Troy, whose incendiary "Ain't No Mo Play in GA" pumped up crowds all weekend; Bone Crusher, the towering presence behind apocalyptic crunk jam "Never Scared"; Youngbloodz, the duo best known for the Dave Chappelle-skewering "Damn"; Devin the Dude, the Texan with the West Coast smokers' flow; Backbone, a suave and underrated Dungeon Family member; K Camp, the young star behind the infectiously callous rap hit "Cut Her Off"; and Yung Joc, who most recently starred on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.
There was also a tribute to an underappreciated facet of Atlanta rap culture, the DJ, as Outkast's touring jock Cutmaster Swiff led a tag team of eye-defying beat juggling with DJ Nabs, a radio vet who famously toured with Michael Jackson, and Jaycee, a daily jock on V-103. Jaycee's colleague Greg Street also manned the decks in between sets each day, unleashing mixes peppered with old bass and crunk hits that pumped up the crowd. Each night featured about 25 songs culled from the Outkast catalog, starting with eardrum-rattling renditions of "B.O.B.," exploring the solo realms of Speakerboxx/The Love Below, dipping into the old-school highlights of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and diving into the dubbed-out majesty of Aquemini. When Outkast began their festival run at Coachella in April, the world witnessed a bit of a shaky and disjointed start, but the duo's chemistry in Atlanta was on high heat. Both Big Boi and Andre 3000 have also noticeably sharpened their technical rapping abilities, and while the latter has publicly lamented that he does not want to be a middle aged rapper, he still has so much more to offer in this area.
The Atlanta audience proved to be more than fair-weather friends to Outkast, often giving up bigger and more animated responses to older album cuts and street hits above pop supernovas like "Hey Ya." For example, a consistent crowd motivator was "Black Ice (Sky High)," a 1998 collaboration with Dungeon Family associates Goodie Mob performed here with the Mob's Big Gipp, whose sartorial splendor peaked on Sunday with a full-length fur coat, fringed leather/S&M halter top and a black leather tunic that could be mistaken for Young Thug's skirt. Each day, Andre 3000 made sure to shout out Cee-Lo. "You know we got your back always, brother," he said, a brief but sincere reference to the Mob member's recent public troubles.
In a weekend full of surprise moments, none was bigger than when an impossibly high afro attached to the hip-hop queen Erykah Badu strutted out to join them on a first-ever live performance of "Humble Mumble," a futuristic missive from Stankonia.
"I'm wild just like a rock, a stone, a tree," she sang, with notes so high they soared up into the sky. "And I'm free just like the wind, the breeze that blows." She warmly embraced Andre 3000, said, "That's my baby daddy!" And then vanished.
As Sunday's show bowed towards conclusion, Andre 3000 commented on how beautiful it was to see so much Southern expression -- and Atlanta representation in particular -- over the weekend. "People are still trying to understand us," he marveled.
The day's 80% chance of rain was staved off until the second to last number, when Mother Nature provided her own form of confetti to set off "The Whole World" with Killer Mike. The drops continued through the finale, when Dungeon Family members Slimm Calhoun, C-Bone and T-Mo gave a spirited version of "Gangsta Shit" that belied their collective thrill.
The future of Outkast after the rest of their scheduled dates conclude remains as uncertain as ever, but the legacy is forever stamped in the music of Atlanta, and now, on the grounds of its Centennial Park.