Welcome to The South Week at The Ringer. For the next several days, we’re celebrating — and reporting on — the richness of the region. You’ll find stories from all over the map, exploring topics such as the enduring legacy of Confederate monuments in Richmond and Montgomery, the evolution of Charleston barbecue, and the intersection of faith and football in Lubbock. We’re also ranking the best Southern rap albums, imagining the André 3000 mixtape we all deserve, and arguing about what even constitutes the South anymore. In the words of two great Southerners, nothin’ is for sure, nothin’ is for certain, nothin’ lasts forever.
It’s been 11 years to the day since the beginning of the end of Outkast. On, August 25, 2006, three days after the group’s sixth LP, Idlewild, dropped, their Depression-era speakeasy musical was released (’Kast had a lot of leeway after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below). Idlewild, the movie, was a confused mess that was neither good nor so-bad-it’s-good, and therefore is rarely spoken of. Idlewild, the album, was a confused mess that was neither the traditional funk-infused Outkast album Big Boi wanted to make nor the experimental modern blues album André 3000 wanted to make, and therefore is rarely spoken of. While that musical project did gift us “Mighty O,” “Chronomentrophobia,” and Janelle Monáe, its damage to the increasingly strained creative relationship between Big Boi and Dre was irreparable. No wonder the final song we are likely to ever hear on an official Outkast studio album is called “A Bad Note.”
But from the ashes of Idlewild rose the phoenix of post-Outkast André 3000. Three Stacks’ malleable flow, nasally twang, and cerebral shit talk made him a prime candidate to be a memorable feature-killer; he had already spent an entire early career trying to one-up his partner on every track, and more broadly fighting to prove Outkast’s place in a hip-hop pantheon that still idolized coastal artists. But by the time Idlewild had come and gone, André had spent most of the 2000s trying to match Prince, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Wonder rather than Eric B and Rakim.
His 2007 feature run, then, was a revelation. For the first time in years, André was rapping his ass off, with a talent that came so naturally to him that he had temporarily grown bored with it. He was the most curmudgeonly 31-year-old on the planet, dismissing tall T’s as night gowns on DJ Unk’s “Walk It Out (Remix),” berating music pirates on Devin the Dude’s “What a Job,” and awkwardly romancing a Whole Foods cashier on Lloyd’s “You (Remix).”
Instead of keeping Dré in top form for another Outkast album, these features seem to have satisfied his need for creative output. He has taken to them as his primary form of expression over the last decade, appearing on everything from a grimy trap song to a glossy track starring Kesha. There is little discernible coherence to why or how André picks his features, other than the sense that he likes to experiment far afield of traditional rap but then regularly remind everyone that he is very, very good at traditional rap. If Dré had gone radio silent after Outkast ended, the group would still be legendary, but it’s André’s amazingly consistent feature run that’s catapulted him into the “GOAT rapper” discussion.
With no proper Outkast reunion album or official André solo project in sight, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to sift through Three Stacks’ ATL collabs, R&B duets, and strange pop dalliances in order to assemble the Platonic ideal of a modern André 3000 record. Check out the accompanying Spotify playlist and just remember: If it don’t move your feet, then I don’t eat, so we like neck to neck.
1. “Sixteen”—Rick Ross Feat. André 3000
Every Outkast album needs to (a) start with a memorable instrumental and (b) include a song that is at least seven minutes in length. “Sixteen” meets both of these criteria. While it’s ostensibly a track for Rick Ross’s God Forgives, I Don’t, it’s really a showcase for André, who sings the hook and raps about his innocent youth and his current travails as a celebrity turned recluse for much, much longer than 16 bars. It’s the perfect intro track.
2. “Sorry”—T.I. Feat. André 3000
At some point André needs to account for where the hell he’s been for the last decade, and “Sorry” is an effective way to do that sooner rather than later. On the 2012 track for T.I.’s Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head, Three Stacks offers mea culpas to his mom, music partner Big Boi, and baby mama Erykah Badu for various screw-ups in his life. “I hated all the attention so I ran from it,” he admits, talking about the dissolution of Outkast. We’ll have to accept all these fire guest verses as penance.
3. “Walk It Out (Remix)”—DJ Unk Feat. André 3000, Jim Jones, Big Boi
Released in January 2007, the “Walk It Out” remix marks the beginning of André’s rebirth as a feature-killer. Practically every line is revered by Three Stacks scholars, but these bars right here:
You don’t want nan day of Three Thou
I’m like jury duty, you’re new to this part of town
Your white T, well to me, looks like a nightgown
Make your Mama proud, take that thing two sizes down
These bars are the reason a new André 3000 verse is still a drop-everything-you’re-tweeting event, even 10 years later.
4. “The Art of Storytellin Part 4”—DJ Drama Feat. Outkast and Marsha Ambrosius
A rare post-Idlewild collaboration between Big Boi and André 3000, this 2007 track features a still-grumpy Dré bemoaning the materialism that has taken over hip-hop (“I swear it don’t cost much to pay attention to me / I tell it like it is then I tell it how it could be.”) Outkast had low-key been criticizing their peers for not being on their intellectual level since at least ATLiens, but the vitriol is a lot more stark on late-era André verses.
5. “Play the Guitar”—B.o.B. Feat. André 3000
Trying to capture the essence of post-Outkast André 3000 without including some goofy guitar shit would be a disservice to the man and his eclectic tastes. This bouncy collab with B.o.B., who probably owes his entire pop-rap career to Outkast’s experimentation, includes the indelible image of André playing an electric guitar on top of a Church’s Chicken. It deserves to be remembered.
6. “Party”—Beyoncé Feat. André 3000
If you’ll recall, The Love Below is sort of barely a concept album about a suave singer named “Ice Cold” who has sworn off romance but still finds himself falling in love again. I like to think it’s “Ice Cold” delivering these frigid rhymes, which combine with the sultriness of Beyoncé’s voice and the warm backing synths to create the perfect temperature for a glass of crisp white wine. This is a grown and sexy turn for Beyoncé’s 4, a grown and sexy album.
7. “Back to Black”—Beyoncé and André 3000
Another requirement of any Outkast or André 3000 project is at least one track that feels subterranean. This cover of Amy Winehouse’s signature song, created for The Great Gatsby soundtrack, channels the most abstract edges of Stankonia and The Love Below to deliver an otherworldly experience. As with the strangest Outkast songs, debating whether or not the track is good is half its appeal.
8. “Decemba (Remix)”—Divine Council Feat. André Benjamin
After the sun sets on “Back to Black,” it makes sense to fully embrace the night on the eerie “Decemba (Remix),” a recent collaboration with the Virginia group Divine Council that offers up a couple of personas we rarely see: trap André and violent André. While Three Stacks has long cast himself as a hopeless romantic, here he goes by his birth name of André Benjamin and weaves a dark tale of hedonism and murder. The closest comparisons in the ’Kast canon are probably “Gangsta Shit” (very good) and “Mamacita” (not very good).
9. “Pink Matter”—Frank Ocean Feat. André 3000
On “Decemba” André seemingly dies in a hail of bullets, so why not have him reemerge on “Pink Matter,” which floats in a twilight haze between waking and sleeping, life and death. Three Stacks reminisces over a woman from his past after Frank Ocean ruminates on the female form, with a guitar wail that’s as erotic as any Organized Noize instrumental bridging their perspectives. Combined, they create a song that feels both intimate and distant, a staple of the lovesick state that André often defaults to.
10. “Solo (Reprise)”—André 3000
Amid the often slight and ethereal Blonde, “Solo (Reprise)” is the adrenaline shot that gives you the energy to comb through the rest of Frank Ocean’s splintered thoughts on the back half of the album. The track is 78 seconds of André flipping out in a way he hasn’t since the most frenetic parts of Stankonia. But instead of backing by electric guitars and apocalyptic synths, a somber piano gives his disillusioned rhymes a gravitas that fit an artist firmly in the 40-plus club. No one was expecting the best rap verse of 2016 to sneak onto a Frank Ocean album, but it happened.
11. “Hello”—Erykah Badu Feat. André 3000
It’s a new day and a new love on “Hello,” as signified by the chirping birds that open the track. This duet between Erykah Badu and André 3000 captures the giddy exuberance of a budding romance, even though the pair’s relationship dates back two decades. The song manages to meld tenderness, honesty, and humor all in the five seconds when André course-corrects after using the word “bitch.” What more could you want from a person you’re just learning how to say hello to?
12. “Int’l Players Anthem”—UGK Feat. Outkast
Imagine that the delicate infatuation from “Hello” has grown into a love so sturdy it can withstand the seismic impact when Pimp C dive-bombs onto a track, and you’ve got “Int’l Players Anthem.” This song is iconic for so many reasons—the heartfelt “I Choose You” sample, the exultant music video, the specific moment when Big Boi’s voice pitches down to growl “Ask-ask Paul McCartney”—but André is its moral center. Pretty much every line he utters is now part of hip-hop canon (there is a triple entendre here referencing John Donne), and the metaphors he uses to capture the terrifying thrill of commitment (“spaceships don’t come equipped with rearview mirrors; they dip”) will probably never be topped. This song is a roller coaster, but somehow André’s earnest narration of the initial ascent is the best part.
13. “I Do”—Young Jeezy Feat. Jay-Z, André 3000
“Players Anthem” spends as much time questioning the sanctity of marriage as it does embracing it. “I Do” makes sense as a follow-up to illustrate that André really is ready to walk down the aisle. While Jay-Z stumbles through an overwrought “married to the game” metaphor, Three Stacks keeps it simple by mapping out a relationship from the moment it begins at a nightclub to the year 2030, when he and his newfound love have a nerdy kid who’s turning heads at the club herself. It’s a poignant, perfect climax to this would-be André project.
14. “What a Job”—Devin the Dude Feat. Snoop Dogg, André 3000
Though André talks about women a lot, almost all of his projects end with him reflecting on his one true love: music. “What a Job,” one of the standouts from André’s 2007 feature run, captures exactly why Three Stacks has remained a fixture in hip-hop even though he hasn’t released an album in 11 years. He raps about meeting a pair of fans who got high to his songs in high school and made love to them in college. Something he created is now an inextricable part of their lives, as well as millions of others’. But he has little time to revel in his own genius. “Hate to cut you off, but I gotta go,” he says as he finishes off his verse. “I wish you could tell me mo’, but I’m off to the studio. Gotta write tonight.” Even if we never get that Big Artistic Statement from him that we’re all clamoring for, we can still hope André keeps writing.