The Story Behind André 3000 and Big Boi’s Writing Partnership

During their 12-year reign releasing albums, Atlanta duo OutKast, comprised of Big Boi and André 3000, solidified themselves as one of the greatest hip-hop acts, solo or group, of all time. Whether it be their six Grammy awards, their No. 1 album in 2003, their three No. 1 songs, or their diamond RIAA certification, OutKast’s cultural ubiquity also manifested into tangible awards and plaques.

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But, even when five of their six full-length projects reached No. 1 or No. 2 on the Billboard 200, proving consistent greatness, their songwriting practices and methods were consistently changing and evolving over time.

How Big Boi and André Met

When speaking with American Songwriter during a November 2020 interview, Big Boi discussed how he became friends with André 3000, which eventually led to them making music. Both new students at a new high school, the two formed a bond that would last for decades.

“We were new to a school, Tri-Cities High School in East Point in 10th grade,” Big Boi said. “There was a lot of kids from different schools transferred to this one school so nobody really knew each other. It was like a group of guys, it was like maybe five or six of us. And we started hanging out. Then me and Dre, you know, just stuck to each other and were like, you know, brothers. We were just in and out of school just kind of coolin’. He’s one of my best friends.”

Writing Their First Album

Four or five years after they first united at Tri-Cities High in East Point, Georgia, OutKast began to craft their debut studio album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, released in April 1994. When speaking with in a 2016 interview, Big Boi discussed how he and André were able to establish great chemistry during the album-making process for their debut.

Southernplayalistic was definitely eye-to-eye,” he said. “One person would get far and be like, ‘I got it!’ And then it’d be like, ‘Go ahead and lay it.’ Then I’d do my part. ‘Oh shit!’ You’re inspiring your partner, bouncing that energy back and forth. That’s what makes the group so unfuckwithable. You have two sides of the same coin with different points of view. The shit fun, man.”

Album #2 (ATLiens)

Two years after Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, which had a modest reception of a No. 20 peak on the Billboard 200, OutKast would put out their classic follow-up album ATLiens (1996). While making this album, the duo was on tour with fellow Atlanta producer group Organized Noize, who worked with them on most of their music up to that point.

In his aforementioned interview with Spin, Big Boi discussed how Organized Noize influenced his and André’s songwriting approach for their sophomore LP.

“We went on tour and Organized Noize rented out the top floor of the Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta. They were camped out in there with all kinds of beat machines, and by the time we came home, they had already started laying the foundations to the album,” he said. “By that time, we also had already started producing songs like ‘Elevators.’ We learned from being under them for so long. What better way to paint a picture than being able to create the soundscape for your words? We were maturing and coming of age then. Just trying to figure out, ‘Where are we going?'”

During this explorative era, both men relied heavily on spontaneity and a pressure-free environment to come up with their best song ideas.

“A lot of those [songs] just come from casual conversation,” he said. “Just beating on the beat machine, tinkering around with little stuff in the studio, finding a rhythm, and then we’d just kinda sit there…I really wish we had, like, eight Go-Pros in the studio so I could look back at and see how the moments and things, how stuff happens. It’s truly magical in the sense of… the shit comes. That’s why I say it’s a gift. It’s not forced, contrived, or nothing.”

Album #5 (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below)

By the time OutKast arrived at their fifth studio album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003 — which landed on our recent “Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of the 2000s” list — they had completely turned their songwriting process on its head. Instead of making songs together for the project, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was a double album that consisted of either solo André 3000 tracks (The Love Below) or solo Big Boi tracks (Speakerboxxx).

For most of the album’s creation, André and Big Boi worked at their Stankonia Studios in Atlanta. When speaking about this process with Sound on Sound in March 2004, Stankonia studio manager and engineer John Frye said that the two emcees were supportive of each other but never that collaborative.

“I never had any problem working with either one of them,” Frye said. “Yeah, they did start to work more and more separately as the years went on, but they always came together and critiqued each other’s music and made suggestions. It was never a rub. If one was in with me, the other would just come in the next time.

“I think that at the stage of the career that they’re in, they have so much going on it’s difficult for them to stay as focused as they’d like to,” Frye continued. And I think that there’s a part of them that enjoys working solo. They just like to get in that zone and create, and make the records they’re hearing in their heads.”

OutKast’s Uniqueness

Overall, Big Boi and André 3000 paved their own path during their tenure, never letting anyone make decisions for them or influence their songwriting methods. Speaking with T. Cole Rachel of The Creative Independent last year, Big Boi stressed how boundless and revolutionary his tandem with André was, which surely played a part in their overwhelming success.

“We never got caught up by the pressures of what everyone else wanted from us,” he said. “As a group, we never wanted to be doing what everybody else was doing. Obviously, we’re aware of what’s happening with music, but you don’t wanna be in those circles. You wanna create your own circle.”

Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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