Interview: Andre 3000

Photographer 2), Jonathan Mannion
March 05, 2012

These days, when Andre 3000 shows up on a song, it feels like a bolt of lightning. In the history of hip-hop there are a lot of artists that could reasonably be called the greatest ever for different reasons—but Andre, due to some combination of his insane songwriting talent and penchant for reclusiveness, occupies a pretty unique place. We got on the phone with him and ended up speaking about what it means to get older in rap, his thoughts on nostalgia, and, of course, Outkast.

"DoYaThing," your collaboration with the Gorillaz and James Murphy recently came out. Now there's a 13-minute version as well. Can you tell me how that came about? It's a funny thing, like the first half of the song that's being played now on the internet, we tackled that part of the song in one day. I think we'd just come from lunch and we were just sitting around. Damon [Albarn] actually said that he was riding in the street on his bike and he ran into a really famous producer, and this famous producer, you know, he's well known around town about his great great great ideas. So it's just funny because Damon asked this producer, you know, "How's it going today man?" And his reply was kind of like, Man, everything in my world is perfect. Like, I can do no wrong. Like a real kind of—not conceited, but an, Everything-I-do-is-excellent answer. And so I was like, Wow, he sound like he must be the shit. We started playing and I was messing around, so those vocals that you hear on the end—I was actually in the control room on the microphone. I wasn't even in the vocal booth. I was running around the studio and I was sweating and running and we were playing. You can actually hear me. Later, I say, "I run away from the mic." I was actually running away from the mic and running back to the mic. It was just really a freestyle thing. It was fun, so we just kept it. We knew it was tastefully vulgar, but we thought it was appropriate, and of course we couldn't release it under the Converse banner because it was tastefully vulgar, but I thought it was just a good moment. And that's what music is about, capturing those moments.

You're in a place in your career where you can do pretty much whatever you want. How do you decide who to collaborate with? Most of the time it has to be the music. The music has to kinda move me in some kind of way. Sometimes it's emotionally, sometimes it's just being there supporting another person. Even the Chris Brown remix—of course I love the beat, but at that time a lot of people were on Chris Brown as a human being. And I know he'd gone through his troubles or whatever and I just was like—I just wanted to stand by him and be like, Hey, you know, you can't really charge a man forever and condemn a man forever. So it's really just like a support thing. I thought it was a cool thing to do.

Every time you do one of these remixes, it feels like you're really saying something, and not just doing empty preaching to your audience I definitely don't want to be preaching but sometimes—it's all thoughts, it's a whole thought. That's all it is, is thoughts.

Does writing come easy to you now? I write all the time. Like I write down thoughts that I think would be interesting or things that are kind of just concerning me at the time. Sometimes I write them on a napkin, sometimes I type them in my phone. And when it comes time to do music, I go through and see what thoughts work for this song.

Are you writing them in rhyme form? Or are they notes? Both. Sometimes they're in rhyme and sentence, and sometimes they're just a thought. Sometimes it's a melody. With phones now they have the recorder on it, so I can sing melodies or I can say lyrics right into my phone.

In the last couple years, it seems like you've been excited about rap and rapping again. I've been excited about what new artists are bringing to rap. I notice how it's really just a continuous conversation, a lineage thing. In high school it was all about A Tribe Called Quest and Souls of Mischief, and Too Short and 8Ball & MJG and UGK for us. And we just kept the torch going. Now I talk to Drake, and I know he had to be like ten when he was listening to what we were doing. You just never know who's listening until you hear a connection. I didn't even know Drake dug my music, I just liked him as a rapper because I felt he had a balance. I didn't even know that he grew up listening to me. But it's cool to know that it's a real lineage thing. I'm happy to see Kanye and Wayne and Drake and all these new artists. They inspire me in a way because they reach back and they say, "Hey, we want to get you on these songs." I don't rap every day. I don't sit around writing raps like that. And when these artists call, it's kind of like they get me going. And I really wanna just be good for them. I want to impress them or have them be happy to say, "Okay, he did well on my song." I don't want to be messing their song up.

Any time you do a guest verse its treated like audio gold. Does that put pressure on you? I hate to be in that place, but it's a blessing and a curse because I love to be asked to do these things. Now people judge every word so strongly. Even if it's just an okay verse, they'll say this and that. I hate when that happens. I guess the novelty of it is more exciting than what's actually there.

So people get too caught up in the idea that you're doing a verse and make a decision before they've really listened to it? No, no. I think true fans—they listen for the words and they pay attention to that. But I think overall it becomes like, "Oh, okay, what's going to happen now?" It becomes an event. And that's scary. It's scary when people are just waiting for your next verses. So when I'm writing it's a scary thing to know that even if I'm saying a verse, I know that people are listening now. At one point in time, I would have more fun when people weren't listening. You're always better when people aren't watching the experiment.

Can you pinpoint when the expectation started weighing on you? Not specifically. Any time I'm on a song now it's kind of like, Oh, what's the verse? I'm judged pretty hard. I think we're living in that kind of world now. I would almost hate to be a new artist right now because people judge you so hard.

You get judged against the entire history of rap, on top of everything else. Yeah. And if you don't have titanium skin, you'll really fall. Especially if you read the internet. I don't even read the internet anymore. I just don't. Because it's too much. I mean praise and people shooting at you. It's just too much. You should just be doing it.

In the interview you did with GQ the other day, you mentioned that it's better to be on deadline, or else you'll never get anything done. How does that work with this solo album? Are you putting yourself on a deadline? I'm actually putting myself on deadlines more than ever. I don't have someone policing that. Even in Outkast there were no police. But now it's just time. I'm at a place now where my deadline is my own self. I'm looking at it like, Okay, I don't want to be like 40 years old and to haven't done this album. And I don't have a sense of time. When people say, Man, we haven't heard from you in like five years, or seen you, to me, it feels like a year. I don't have a good sense of time, but I do know I'm not a spring chicken anymore. I have to get my ideas out before I just let them go away. That's how ideas work. All the songs are written, we all just get them as gifts. And if you don't act upon your ideas they'll go to somebody else. I've seen so many ideas that I just sat on that other people have done years later, and I'm like, Wow, I could have done that. I just didn't do it.

Is the rap industry more open to multiple generations of rappers now? Yeah, I think in certain ways. We're getting into that place where it's like rock and roll stars. People still go watch the Rolling Stones. People love them. I think there's a sense of nostalgia. And that's one thing—I don't really subscribe to it though. I don't like nostalgia, really. So I don't like that people just hang with you because you were a certain thing at one point in time, so you stood for a certain thing. I do accept the blessings, but at the same time, to me, it's all about the now. I want to be doing what I'm doing now, and be accepted for what it is now. I love that people love what we were doing, but I think right now we're in a time where older rappers can tour. I'm a rapper, and I just have to be honest, once you get to a certain point—I'm a fan of hardcore rap. Sometimes I like stupid gangsta rap, and I know at a certain age it doesn't match. I want the raw rap. At a certain age your life changes, at that point you become something else. And I never want to be the uncle or grandfather kind of guy, so I'll just have to shift my qualities elsewhere, find something else to do. I love rap so much, I don't wanna taint it with old blood. I don't want to do that. Like, I want to hear the new guys, and that's why I support the new guys. We don't have new flows. None of us old guys have new flows. None of us. The young guys have the new flows. The only thing that we have is years of experience. That's all we have.

Do you feel like you learn from newer artists? Yeah, of course. I'm learning what people are listening to now. Learning what the younger heads are into. The funny thing about hip-hop—it's such a young thing, just like rock and roll in certain ways, early rock and roll. Hip-hop is about being hip. And at a certain age, you're not as hip to a certain crowd, and you lose hipness. And I think it's a thing that people don't talk about enough, but it's a real thing. I have to ask my son sometimes, like, what's cool? Make sure you don't become that old flow guy. I've seen it happen and it's a real thing. You know, people that I love and adore, their flows have just gotten dated, and there's nothing you can do about it. It's almost like watching your dad. Your dad moves to a completely different rhythm than what you move to. And that's how flows are because we grew up on a different rhythm. And so the younger heads are growing up on different rhythms so they rap differently. I'm not trying to keep up with the younger guys at all. Right now, I'm just trying to—I'm basically an aging rapper just trying to have fun knowing that time is limited.

You haven't really appeared in any music videos or performed live in awhile. Yeah. Well, when you're at this age you go through this thing. Well, me personally—I go through I still wanna do it? I've done it for years, since I was like 17, 18 years old. You try to find what you love to do, which I'm doing now. I never really knew if I wanted to step back into the arena, if I wanted to really be in the business. When I would get these calls from artists, I felt great about it. At the same time, I never wanted to tease people in a way where I'd be in the video and then they won't see me for another ten years or anything. So, you know, when I would talk to these artists and we'd agree that we'd do these songs, we would all be in agreement that it was just vocals. There was no visual or anything. Every artist I work with from Beyonce, from Young Jeezy and Jay-Z, from BoB, it was all understood before my first rhyme was written that there was going to be no videos. And I always felt like—you know, I haven't been in even in a video with Big Boi—it's kind of disrespectful of me if I can just jump in a video with a new artist and I haven't even jumped in the video with my own partner. So I always said, I'm not going to fully jump back into it until I really do it. I'm not going to play around. If it's not my project or an Outkast thing, or you know, if I'm supporting Big Boi, then it just didn't make sense for me. It just didn't feel right doing it. So it's a loyalty to myself and trying to make sure I really wanted to be in the business again.

A music video used to be such an event. Is it also about taking some of that excitement back? Yeah, maybe. I don't know. Things have changed now. There's so much content. People record everything. People will record [themselves] sitting on the toilet seat just talking. I don't know what's an event anymore. The only thing I know how to do is go with what I know, and I just feel like—it just didn't seem like a right time to do it. For me to jump in videos, if I wasn't sure I was prepared to back it up. I always felt like, if I'm going to jump in the video, there's going to be an album coming.

Any time you do an interview or there's an announcement about something that you're doing that's not Outkast, everyone asks about when the next Outkast project is coming. And every time, words get misconstrued, or casual statements get blown out of proportion. Is it difficult for you to have to talk about it every time? It's expected. I guess the unfortunate thing is how the internet is today—is that it's all about shock and it's all about getting attention. So they always take out the parts that seem shocking and blast it. Sensationalize whatever they want to sensationalize. It's always been, No, there are not any plans right now. We're not on the roster or on a schedule with a label to put out an Outkast album. I can't say if or when we will, but I'm going to be in Outkast forever in some kind of way. I can't really say Outkast is over so it always trips me out when these things get on the internet, and [people] go, Andre said there's going to be no more Outkast. And then me and Big Boi get on the phone like, Oh, that's unfortunate that they said that kind of thing. But I just have to say that because we're in the information age, and there's a lot of misinformation—you may have tweets from somebody saying, I saw them together, or I saw them in the studio. And there even may be close friends that are just so excited about seeing me and Big Boi together, they may say we're in the studio together. It's totally not true. Like, I may stop by the studio to hear what Big Boi's doing for his album, just to say hey as a friend and see what's going on. And next thing you know it's, Oh, they're in the studio together. No, not at all. There's no plans for an Outkast album right now. Next year will be 20 years as Outkast, which is—I'm still amazed at it. I'm happy that we've been around that long. Happy that we have people that still care about Outkast. There's a lot of guys that came out around the same time that are not around anymore. So it's really a blessing. So I think when I hear things on the internet that Outkast is over, I think, that's a shame. Because I don't have the power to stop Outkast, you know? I didn't start Outkast by myself. I don't have the power to stop Outkast. If we do another Outkast album one day, I would be super happy. Because I'll know that the vibe is right, and we'll put our all into it. But if we never do another Outkast album, you know, I won't be sad because we've been blessed. We've been around.

You guys have had a better career than most artists ever have, and you're still going. Right. Maybe one day it'll happen. I just hate when people say, Well, they said it's over. It's all about vibe, man.

Interview: Andre 3000