"If y'all want my brother to come back onstage, say 'Coooommme baaaack Andreeee!'"
"Come baaaack Aaandrayyy!"
"Commmmeee baaaack Andreee!"
"Come baaaack Aaandrayyy!!!"
Big Boi is not the focus of the evening (or this subsequent review, sorry). His solo portion of the night's hit-packed set fills the aisles with "The Way You Move" and "Kryptonite." But even in his cubist camouflage outfit and neon brass knuckle microphone, this most talented showman cannot compete with the enigma doing god knows what offstage (moping? Meditating? Chatting up a stagehand?) It's time to bring him back out, and Big Boi maintains the night's ceaseless momentum with a winking call for André 3000, his musical partner, fellow Dungeon Family affiliate and erstwhile rap godhead, to return to the mic.
Together they are Outkast, one of hip-hop's most successful and celebrated groups with over 35 million records sold. This is a figure doubly impressive when you consider they're from Atlanta, a key town in hip-hop's often marginalized south. The group are celebrating their 20th anniversary, but it's really more like 12th: Big Boi went solo and flexed his unsung eccentricities on two albums. André 3000 retreated from the rap game following 2006's Idlewild, though he has snuck onto a number of stunning remixes and features (the night's set stuck entirely to the Outkast years.) André's solo album has joined the pantheon of unreleased hip-hop blockbusters, but his neurosis over audience expectations might lead him to shelve it indefinitely and stick to a tepid acting career (which if there was any justice would look like Bowie's)
3000 also seems to have taken notice that he is increasingly regarded as one of the best rappers ever, a pure entertainer with an extravagance few in any genre can match. These infrequent re-emergences on other people's songs indicated that he doesn't want to be forgotten, and that it's still special for us when he does it.
It would be a mistake to believe André regards Outkast as a hollow institution. Perhaps he just sees it as something in the past that should end on a peak, without their older selves draining the accomplishments of their funkiness.
The pair are certainly not jumping into each other's arms. They stay mostly separate for hits like "Ms. Jackson," "Roses," and "Rosa Parks." When they march in a circle inside the set's giant video screen cube to the tune of "Aquemini," it's real how much has visibly changed between André and Big Boi since they recorded that tune of solidarity. But there were also moments when the rehearsed camaraderie melted away for something real and true, and led Andre to muse on his beginnings in rap and what the music means to him. Like when UGK's Bun B came out for "International Players Anthem," and he marvelled "I've been listening to [UGK] since I was in high school." Three rappers from the South, playing Toronto to thousands. Some things cut through.
The distance between the two rappers has fed reviews suggesting a clinical, calculated union, not to mention the enormous red price tag reading "SOLD OUT" André wears attached to his costume. Throughout the performance he would drop entire bars from songs while Big Boi proved he could rap even faster than on record. Occasionally, André would even bitterly confront the audience's expectations: the gorgeous pink-and-purple aura of "Prototype" was quickly deflated after a begrudging promise to stop singing and start rapping again. This was a person who would rather be anywhere than onstage, if that's what you wanted to see.
And yet just a bit north of the tag, his shiny black jumpsuit read "o.k., hand over the cure and stop playin'." André 3000 was present, and not just between the lines. He's remade Prince's "SLAVE" period for himself, under the shadow of the current wave of slush fund reunion tours which he may feel he's participating in. With his cooled demeanour and that distracting price tag, André confronts and extinguishes the words it spells out, and innoculates his legacy. And when his entertainer instincts kick in with Big Boi's they both leave you suspiciously eyeing the joint you just hit.
It would be a mistake to believe André regards Outkast as a hollow institution. Perhaps he just sees it as something in the past that should end on a peak, without their older selves draining the accomplishments of their funkiness. Hip-hop is not interested in twilight years.
Could Outkast fix that? The audience was enamoured with something more than nostalgia. They made us dance in ten different ways with twenty different sounds. Big Boi's British accent and Andre's bizarre, hilarious banter thrilled every time. And we were never once asked for more energy. When the show came to its end and the place filled with the brawny singalong "The Whole World," André took off his black sunglasses and rested them on his silver wig, like maybe he wanted to remember this. I wonder if it's been like that elsewhere.
On one of the large video monitors I caught a glimpse of a stagehand backstage, staring at Big Boi with glee. He was having a moment. This was a grandkids story. He'd tell his friends years from now that he saw Outkast perform - yes, them - from backstage. And maybe when he tells the story in the future, it's so much more incredible because the concert took place before Outkast's career really peaked. I hated that motherfucker.