Originally created 02/06/01

Atlanta duo stay true to their roots



ATLANTA - Don't label OutKast just a rap act.

The funky, soulful Atlanta duo list influences ranging from Tom Petty to Anita Baker to Parliament Funkadelic, and that hybrid sound comes through clearly on the already double-platinum Stankonia, hailed by many critics as one of the best albums of 2000.

"I got a lot of inspiration from Marley, Bobby Womack, NWA, Geto Boys, Eric B. and Rakim, the Fat Boys, Genesis, the Police, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers," said Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, who makes up OutKast with Andre "Dre" Benjamin.

"As long as it sounds good and it's jammin', you gotta like it. Music is universal," he said during the recent shooting of the video So Fresh, So Clean in an Atlanta church.

While many rap albums focus on money, cars and women, Stankonia tries to touch on deeper themes. Ms. Jackson - a hit on urban stations that is getting heavy rotation on pop radio and MTV - is an apology to the maternal grandmothers of Big Boi and Dre's children (their babies' "mama's mama"). Red Velvet criticizes materialism in hip hop, warning rappers not to die for "some diamonds and a Bentley"; the newest Mercedes will "lose its value as soon as you drive off the lot."

Since their first album in 1994, when the two were still teen-agers, they have tried to evolve without becoming an over-produced studio act that can't re-create their sound live. And they like staying right where they began, in Atlanta.

Now 25, the two struck up a friendship in 10th grade at Atlanta's Tri-Cities High School. They both bounced around, living with different relatives around East Point and Decatur. Together, they began writing rhymes and listening to beats.

"Music is my happiness," Dre said. "In school I was like the quiet type. I wasn't in the in-crowd. Music gave me the voice."

They signed with Atlanta-based LaFace Records in 1993 and put out Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik the next year.

They credit music and their relatives - especially Big Boi's aunt and Dre's mother - with keeping them out of serious trouble.

"They were rebellious children ... but when you lay a good foundation, you trust they'll take the right path," said Dre's mother, Sharon Benjamin-Hodo.

Since the October release of Stankonia, the two haven't had as much time at home as they would like. This month, a European promotional tour came on the heels of their appearance at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. They plan to launch a U.S. tour in March.

"We can travel the world, but home is where it's at," said Dre. "We're not trying to be something we're not. There's a vibe to Atlanta, so we're staying right here."

After Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, OutKast released ATLiens in 1996 and the double-platinum Aquemini in 1998, which included the Grammy-nominated song Rosa Parks. Big Boi and Dre say they try to keep pushing the envelope with frenetic lyrics and a lot of instrumentation.

Now with Arista Records, they have formed their own label, Aquemini, and their own Atlanta studio, Stankonia Recording.

Stankonia?

"That's a word we made up joking around. ... You know, if it's stank, it's good, it's funky," Dre explained. "Stankonia is the place, the capital, we want to bring listeners to."

Despite their wild outfits and flamboyant image on stage and sometimes in clubs, Dre and Big Boi pride themselves on being approachable and down-to-earth.

Longtime friends came to the video shoot at downtown's St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

Princess Duncan, who has been braiding Big Boi's hair since 1996, said they inspired her to open a beauty salon. "Even if they weren't No. 1 on the charts, I'm proud of them because of who they are as people," said Ms. Duncan, 23.

Dre's 3-year-old son, Seven, came to the shoot. His mother is Grammy-winning singer Erykah Badu, Dre's ex-girlfriend.

"I hope he gets a fair chance seeing that his parents are entertainers," Dre said. "I'm very strict with him. I want to teach him responsibility because it was the hardest obstacle I had to overcome because I've been free-spirited all my life."

Making cameo appearances on the video: Big Gipp and other members of the Goodie Mob, Organized Noize, Big Rube, Chilli of TLC and comedian Bruce Bruce.

Big Boi says it's still about "pure love for the music."

"When we sat down we knew this is what we wanted to do for life," he said. "Every day it was all about that. Now, we just go in the studio, and like mad scientists we just mix it up."