Before 2000, OutKast wasn’t known much outside of the rap world, as it was a southern-fried, alien-obsessed duo successfully reconciling gangsta swagga and innovative weirdness. Two breakthrough hits in 2001 brought mainstream attention: “Ms. Jackson,” a #1 hit, and the furiously brain-scrambling “B.O.B.,” which Blender once named the best song of the last two decades. (And it probably is.)
Big Boi and Andre 3000 capitalized on the attention and interest in their next project…this time. Instead of collaborating, they announced that their 2003 album would be a double-disc, with each record being a solo work by each guy. Big Boi’s was a fairly straightforward but bouncy and accessible rap LP called Speakerboxx, while Andre 3000 took on a genre-mixing, genre-bending, genre-defying Marvin Gaye by way of Bobby Digital approach on The Love Below. In short order, he became the hottest star in music: as weird as Prince in the late ’80s, but as likable as Michael Jackson in the early ’80s.
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He also was responsible for the first single off of Speakerboxx/The Love Below: a song called “Hey Ya.” It managed to do what few songs can do in an extremely segmented, niche-oriented popular culture: it became known and liked by absolutely everyone. Young, old, black, white, whatever. Everybody loved the difficult-to-categorize, maddeningly catchy pop pastiche. “Hey Ya” was to 2003-2004 what Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” is to 2010-14 (projected). Rumors swirled about the band taking an extended hiatus to work on their own individual things: Big Boi’s rap career was fine, as his single “The Way You Move” hit #1 as well (replacing “Hey Ya”); Andre 3000 lined up a Cartoon Network show called Class of 3000 and was reportedly going to star in a Jimi Hendrix biopic.
That meant that once again, when OutKast decided to record again in 2006, the stakes and expectations were going to be very high. Sure, they went back on their word and worked together, and then they innovated and tried to do something personally pleasing and completely original, but strangely, the public that had devoured OutKast in 2004 didn’t really care anymore. The big career move was Idlewild, a movie musical set in an African-American nightclub in the 1930s. OutKast provided the anachronistically contemporary soundtrack, a mixture of new songs and older OutKast songs.
The movie was an all-out, bomb, earning just $12 million at the box office. Still, two singles were released from the Idlewild album almost simultaneously, a savvy way to reap the lessons learned from the two-album deal three years earlier: different songs to appeal to the now disparate crowds that had become OutKast converts. “The Mighty O” was for the Andre 3000/pop crowd; “Morris Brown” was thumping rap for Big Boi fans.
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“The Mighty O” was slightly more successful than “Morris Brown,” but not terribly successful by any other measure. It hit #77 on the pop chart and #18 on the rap. “Morris Brown” barely made it to the Hot 100 at #95 and surprisingly missed the rap chart completely. The next two Idlewild attempts did even worse. “Idlewild Blue” spent a week at #100 on the Hot 100, and “Hollywood Divorce,” despite the guest appearances of Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne fizzled out at #20 on the R&B “Bubbling Under” chart. And that’s the last album OutKast ever made.