Late September 1993: Atlanta's LaFace Records, interested in grooming young talent, asks local production team Organized Noize to do a song for the label's upcoming Christmas album. LaFace head L.A. Reid wants the track to feature Organized's new proteges, OutKast, the teenaged duo that Reid is considering signing to LaFace. The song, "Player's Ball," with its laid-back groove, razor-sharp rhymes and old-school soul melody, kicks off a new era for Southern hip-hop.
Late September 2003: Southern hip-hop hits flood the radio. Arista Records President L.A. Reid is one of the most powerful men in the music industry. And OutKast, the flagship of Organized Noize's Dungeon Family crew, has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide.
But in the three years since the group's previous studio album, Stankonia, much has changed. The rest of the Dungeon Family struggles to regain momentum after a string of commercial disappointments, and OutKast seems to be pulling apart at the seams. Their much-anticipated new album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, arrives this week in the form of two separate solo albums packaged together as a double disc.
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Fade in: Southwest Atlanta, 1980s Andre: I grew up in the ghetto just like everybody else, right across the street from the projects. But my mom bussed me to schools like Sarah Smith [Elementary] and Sutton [Middle School], right in the middle of Buckhead. So by me going to school with a lot of white kids, I got into skateboarding and the music and everything. I'd come home and I might hear Eric B. & Rakim or Too Short, then go to school and hear another thing.
Cee-Lo: I've known Andre since the third grade. We were good friends in elementary school. I don't think our artistic nature was cultivated back in the third grade, but I think a lot of my artistic energy came out in moments of misbehavior. I remember a moment when Dre's mother came and had to chastise him in front of the class.
Big Boi: [Dre and I] were new to the high school [Tri-Cities High in East Point]; this was 10th grade, 1989 or '90. The first time Dre and I really talked was on the way back from Lenox mall; me and my little brother rode back with him. We just got to kickin' it, and I found this cat was cool. So we went back to his crib in East Point. We talked about music and girls and shit.
Andre: We listened to the same types of music. We both loved De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. I had stopped going to Tri-Cities and started going to an alternative school, because I was skipping class and got kicked out.
Big Boi: We used to steal cars off of Old National Highway. We tried selling dope, but we'd get some and smoke the shit before we could sell it. So that's when we knew we had to get us some jobs at the shoe stores.
Cee-Lo: Dre and I didn't see each other again until about the 11th grade. We were at an alternative school called Frank McClaren for dropouts and teen mothers and individuals who have to work a job and were trying to come in and get their GED.
Sleepy: My dad [Jimmy Brown] was in a band called Brick, and they had some hits. I would go to concerts and be backstage and get to see all the funk bands -- Cameo, Bar-Kays, Commodores, Parliament-Funkadelic.
Rico: Lamonte was just a black man who owned a business [Lamonte's Beauty Supply in East Point's Delowe Shopping Center]. I got the job with him when I was about 13, just going around saying, "Can I take your trash out? Can I sweep your carpet?" By the time OutKast came around, I was like 19, and I was the manager there.
Gipp: Ray Murray was the first guy I had been around who kept a drum machine. Ray introduced me to the graffiti thing, kind of took me under his wing. He really hipped me to hip-hop. I met Khujo and T-Mo once I started going to Mays High School. The first time I met Cee-Lo, he came over to my house with his cousin. That's when they used to call him Chickenhead.
Ray: I moved into the Greenbrier area in 1987. That's when I met Gipp and Khujo and all of them. They all went to high school together at Benjamin E. Mays.
Big Boi: We were sitting at my aunt's house. Dre had made some rhymes, and I had some. And I would start where he ended.