Of the many ultimately unfounded rap rumors that spread virally in 2016, one, which Gucci Mane helped start, was particularly exciting, “I just did a record for OutKast,” Guwop boasted in a Snapchat video in September. But the speculation that a new album or song from the Atlanta duo was on the way was quickly dispelled by a rep for Andre 3000, who said that there was “no Outkast news to report.” (OutKast’s Big Boi later clarified that Gucci was talking about a record for Big’s own upcoming solo album.)
Perhaps one of the reasons that fans and the media ran with Gucci’s comments is because an OutKast offering maybe wasn’t as far-fetched as it seemed. Andre 3000, the generally more reclusive and less musically active half of the legendary duo, was actually quite busy this year.
In addition to backstage meetings with Young Thug and studio sessions with Kaytranada, Andre had the most prolific solo year of his career, with eight guest spots, rivaling 2007’s incredible run on songs like UGK’s “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You),” Devin the Dude’s “What a Job” and the remix to DJ Unk’s “Walk It Out.”
As the year comes to a close, Billboard looks back on Three Stacks’ contributions in 2016.
“30 Hours” (Kanye West, The Life of Pablo)
Andre started the year off with an appearance on Kanye West’s collaboration-heavy The Life of Pablo that an unaware listener could’ve missed. The track, “30 Hours,” ended up being indicative of the album as a whole: It was released, tweaked, and then re-released. That initial drop came just days before the first TLOP release with no sign of Three Stacks. When the full album hit the Web, though, Andre showed up on its tail end — not with a verse, but with sung background vocals. His repeated refrain of “30 hours” was both a thing of beauty and a source of frustration for those eager to hear Andre use his pen more forcefully.
“Solo (Reprise)” (Frank Ocean, Blonde)
Thanks to this track, though it became clear that the second half of the year would satisfy that hunger. Frank Ocean gave the rap legend a stage all his own on “Solo (Reprise),” from Blonde released this past August. Arriving just past the album’s midpoint, the track clocks in at under a minute-and-a-half, but it’s jam-packed with Andre’s intricate rhymes, where he both poetically merges the ideas of being “solo” and “so low,” and is reflective about his surroundings and how they’ve affected him.
“So low that I can admit/When I hear that another kid is shot by the popo/It ain’t an event/No mo’,” he raps, later adding, “After 20 years in, I’m so naïve/I was under the im-/Pression/That everyone wrote they own verses/It’s comin’ back different and, yeah, that shit hurts me/I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving/I’ve stumbled and lived every word/Was I working just way too hard?” It’s the sort of assessment of the state of world and the rap game that’s often been a staple in Andre’s guest verses in recent years.
“the ends” (Travis Scott, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight)
Travis Scott secured a verse from Andre for the opening track of Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, a song where the 41-year-old locked into storytelling mode. The relative brevity of the verse — it lasts about 45 seconds — is balanced out by its potency.
The Atlanta native teleports back to his childhood, and the way that his city was terrorized by Wayne Williams, who murdered some two dozen kids in the ATL area in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Andre paints a vivid scene of the physical and emotional ramifications of the horror: “I came up in the town they were murderin’ kids/And dumped them in the creek up from where I live/Bodies, bodies, bodies sprinkled around/We runnin’ through the sprinkler lookin’ around,” he raps, before closing the anecdote, directly and chillingly, “It coulda been me or coulda been you, too.”
“Decemba (Remix)” (Divine Council, Council World EP)
In a year where Andre lent his voice to what would become some of the most celebrated and popular albums of the year, one guest spot stood out for being unlike the rest in that respect. Andre has been a fan of Divine Council for a bit (he reportedly called in to lend his support during a meeting that he had with L.A. Reid that ultimately lead to their signing to Epic Records) and went a step further with this remix.
Three Stacks pens a cinematic verse here, concocting a tale of sex, crime and chaos, that climaxes in a shootout: “The cops are now rushing in, rushing in, rushing in, rushing in, rushing in/They yelled “get down”/My b—h is face down/And we f–kin’, I’m bustin’ right back at them/She comin’ so hard/They shot through my heart/I got my nut off/So there’ll be a part/Two.” It was also fitting that the music video — which was Andre directed but didn’t appear in — felt like a movie.
“Junie” (Solange, A Seat at the Table)
This appearance, once again, put Andre’s artistic flexibility on display, building on an elasticity he’s honed for decades. Though widely considered one of the greatest rappers of all-time, he has musical range and aspirations that reach beyond writing and reciting raps. Here, he brings his falsetto to the chorus, singing with flair and funk, “Jump on it, on it.” It’s hard not to sing along and tap your feet.
“Kids” (A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service)
Andre has often spoken of the influence Tribe has had on him, telling NPR in 2014 that, “These are the guys that really turned me on to this thing,” and doubling down at Phife Dawg’s memorial in April, praising that, “Outkast would not be Outkast” without Tribe. The admiration turned to collaboration on Tribe’s 2016 comeback album, where Andre and Q-Tip embrace their roles as elder statesmen and address the youth, not with condescension and contempt or but with consideration and care. It’s a stunning example of two artists who began to build their legends when they themselves were merely kids aging gracefully.
“By Design” (Kid Cudi, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’)
Credited as Andre Benjamin on the tracklisting, Dre joins Kid Cudi twice on the latter’s recently released album Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin.’ Kindred spirits in their touch-and-go relationships with fame and the music industry, and their affinity to branch out stylistically within their music, these two play off of one another with ease on this record. Andre’s dominos of internal rhymes on the hook — “Stop dueling with the true thing/I do think when you think too much/You’re removing what’s moving” — are some of his most dynamic in a year full of breathtaking rhymes. He and Cudi also trade bars on the song’s last verse, creating a collaboration that culminates in chemistry leaving you want more. (Luckily, you get it.)
“The Guide” (Kid Cudi, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’)
On the album’s third-to-last track, Andre 3000 reemerges to trade lines with Cudi and also offer some of his own. This time, they tag team on the chorus where Cudi offers some melodic “Oooh”s while Andre asks, “Where you going?” Three Stacks then takes center stage during the second verse, dishing compact narrative rhymes.