André 3000 and Big Boi performed together as Outkast in Atlanta last weekend, concluding a six-month, globe-spanning festival tour honoring the 20th anniversary of their debut album. In the years before this mostly happy reunion, André had been attached to several rumored Jimi Hendrix biopics, and now one, called Jimi: All Is By My Side, has finally been released in the U.S. He used to rarely sit for interviews, but he's given several lately. Stationed at the Manhattan office of his PR firm, he spoke about why he roots for immigrants, dislikes being a celebrity and the anxieties he shares with his teenage son. Wearing a leather kimono over a white waffle henley, he confirmed that there were once plans to release an Outkast Greatest Hits album this year, but said he didn't know for sure what would come of those plans.
At the beginning of this film, your character is being criticized by a woman for going by a stage name. Later, he drops the stage name and uses his own. You've said recently that fans don't want you, they want a character. Why is playing André 3000 something that works for you? Sometimes when you play characters or you put yourself outside yourself, it gives you a freedom to be something else. And it's just fun, too, especially if you're not like a really outgoing person. It's funny: my personality is really not a performer's personality. I have to really work at being a performer. I grew up an only child, no brothers and sisters, so I basically played by myself. And if you watch early Outkast interviews, Big Boi's doing all the talking. He was the confidence part.
You've been attached to Jimi Hendrix projects for years. Is the Hendrix chapter of your life closed now? It's definitely closed. I never want to go back to it ever again.
Two women furthered Hendrix's career in the late '60s: Keith Richards' girlfriend Linda Keith and Kathy Etchingham. This film takes care to point out that, behind great men, you often find great women. That's true in any case. I don't care who you are. You can be Picasso, you can be Miles Davis, a politician, anybody. Unless you're a homosexual male, there's always a woman around—I mean, even then there's probably a woman around. I think it's because there's a certain closeness there. You let them in more than you would let a dude in, so there's a certain closeness there. And I think women are, like, maternal in a way, so they know the things to tell you or they can see things in you. They can help pull out things.
Is Erykah Badu your Linda Keith? She's been a Linda. Erykah was definitely one of those people. She was definitely a cheerleader. But I mean, I've had a lot of Lindas. You always have different muses at different parts of your life. I've had those muses, people that turn me on to new music, that you never would have gotten in to. And they all affect you. Even just kinda letting you know what it's like to be a woman. To kinda influence what you're doing.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Ah, yeah. Of course. Because I've grown up in this male-dominated world I think I kinda get beside myself sometimes about things, but for the most I am definitely a feminist. I want the equality of things.
You've said that it's "rebellious" to make music about loving women. Are you surprised by a song like K Camp's "Cut Her Off," which is so flagrantly foul toward women? One thing rap has done is let people build up these personalities. Really, most of the guys that say that kind of stuff, it's for pure protection. They've probably been hurt at one point in time or they're tying to build this wall or trying to let future women know: "Don't try it with me." I've been guilty of it, too, in my earlier raps, and I know my mom raised me much better than what I'd been talking. But you do it because you wanna impress people around you, you wanna feel invincible, you wanna feel tough. And that's a part of rap. You never wanna have any kind of weak links. Part of that is you never let a woman be powerful enough to infiltrate and get to you. So to make it seem like it's nothing, it ain't nothin to cut that bitch off—and I mean, I can't speak for K Camp personally—but as a whole, you're always gonna have that armor. It's really armor. And "Cut Her Off" is a great song because it's an emotion, and he's being true about it in that moment, and it sounds great. K Camp really got down last year.
"I like going to the grocery store myself. I never wanna get Michael Jackson big."
Your son Seven is about to turn 17, an age when kids discover sex and weed and a lot about themselves. Do you keep your eyes close on him? Do you let yourself look away? I definitely keep my eyes open, and I only close them when I see he can't handle it. And then I just say, "Hey man, watch yourself." Cause at the end of the day I know I'm not gonna be there at every turn. I know there's gonna be a time when I'm not gonna even be around, period. He will hopefully outlive me. And I want him to just be able to monitor himself. My biggest lesson is just, man: Whatever you do, own it. Know what you're doing and know consequences before you do it. If you're fine with the consequences, it's nothing nobody can tell you. Never do something because somebody else made you do it. Always do it because: "I wanted to do it and you knew what would happen when I did." It's as simple as that.
How has social media shaped Seven's experience as a young man? These kids, their world is on these devices. This is how they see everything, this is how they communicate. This is how they interact with each other. I think it causes anxieties sometimes. They're the same anxieties we had as 16-year-olds, but maybe heightened. I think it makes you pit yourself against other people. You compare, cause everyone's putting up their most beautiful pictures, and you're wondering, "Am I enough?" But at the same time, this generation has progressed so much where race and sexuality are non-issues, which is so cool. When we were coming up, those were issues. So you're gonna win some, you're gonna lose some; you just gotta go with it.
In April, during Outkast's first live performance in eight years, you wore a hat emblazoned with the Mexican flag. What were you trying to say? That hat had a purpose. The Mexican community is given shit about coming across the border, and I like supporting underdogs for some reason. I just do. Nothing is really black and white. You can't just say, "You can't come over here," and it's cool. People are trying to get here for a reason. Every time I'm in LA, Mexican's come up to me, and they may not say much and just [André reaches his hand out to shake mine], "That hat?" Cause they get it.
When you and Big Boi began Outkast, you made it a goal to show people outside of Atlanta that you were proud of where you were from. Twenty years later, touring around the world, do you still feel the same need to express that pride? It's bigger than Atlanta now. It was great for the city when we performed there this past weekend. [Performing] was a bigger experience in Atlanta, I think it meant a lot for the city, and I'm happy. But it's really more of a Southern thing. When we first came out in '93, there was no attention on the South at all. The biggest group before then was Geto Boys and they had one national hit. Before then, the only real Southern rapper was the The D.O.C., who had gone with Dr. Dre so he was considered more of a West Coast rapper. People weren't imitating the South, they were making fun of the South. New York definitely didn't like the South, West Coast kinda tolerated the South cause it was closer to that sound. But when I say it's bigger than the South like, now trap music, which was an Atlanta thing, is worldwide. You got Dutch and English artists that say, "I'm a trap producer" and have never been in the trap before! But it's a certain sound. So I'm kinda like, laughing inside. Nobody wanted to deal with it at first but now everybody deals with it, even some of the greats that we love from New York. You hear Atlanta slang in their songs now, you hear it in their beats now. It's infectious, and I'm happy I'm alive to see it happen.
It was rumored that Epic Records would release some kind of Outkast record this year. Will that happen? I think it was a Greatest Hits album. I don't know if that's gonna come out. It wasn't any urgency to put it out. Honestly, I actually don't know.
On your "Benz Friendz" verse, you threaten to ride a bike. Do you actually ride a bike as transportation in metro Atlanta? I do ride a bike, but not often! I was speaking more about how—and it's been proven, so really someone should do a documentary on it or a book—if Jay Z says, "Motorola two-way pager" in his songs, sales will skyrocket. Run DMC said "My Adidas," sales went up, but they got nothing. It's an uneven exchange. So I'm just trying to say at some point, these companies have to start respecting the power of what we're saying. I think I said, "You don't give a fuck about a Benz, and maybe we need to start talking about you giving me one, for free. Or if not, I'll just ride my bike."
All Is by My Side leaves some questions about Jimi Hendrix unanswered. Would you like to be remembered in that way, as someone that people will never know everything about? I would just like to be remembered as someone that made something I could feel. I think part of the reason people get the mysterious thing from me is just, I'm an entertainer and there's certain parts about that I like and certain parts I don't. And the only thing I have to keep to myself is my personal. You have to hold something. I've never had any kind of social media and I like it that way, because I need to have something. I like washing my own clothes. I like going to the grocery store myself. I never wanna get Michael Jackson big, I don't. I just don't. I actually think it's kinda corny to be a celebrity now.