On any given night, the members of OutKast can be found circling their hometown of Atlanta on Highway 285, writing songs while the rest of the city sleeps. Andre "3000" (Andre Benjamin) will caress his giant seedpod of an Afro and hum melodies into a tape recorder while Big Boi (Antwan Patton), his high school friend and rap partner of 11 years, chugs sweet tea and rhymes phrases into his cell phone's digital voice bank. It makes for a pretty picture--best friends who struggled together, got famous together and stayed together--or rather, it would, if Andre and Big Boi were ever in the same car.
"They've always been very different people," says Andre's mom, Sharon Benjamin Hodo. "You could start by saying Andre is the introvert and Big is the extrovert." You could add that Andre is a lithe sex symbol who wears sequined pants, avoids drugs and worries about the state of the world, while Big Boi is a bantam who wears throwback jerseys, is a perpetual threat for High Times's Man of the Year and famously introduced MTV's Cribs to the stripper pole he installed in his living room.
For the past decade, though, Andre and Big Boi have fused their personalities to create the best songbook in hip-hop. Songs like B.O.B. (Bombs over Baghdad) and Rosa Parks not only push the boundaries of the genre, they stimulate massive butt and brain vibrations. But as both men approach 30, their differences have hardened. Now they write songs separately, record in separate studios and sit for separate interviews. On Sept. 23, they are releasing separate albums, albeit in one boxed set, under the OutKast name. (Big Boi's disc is called Speakerboxxx; Andre's is The Love Below.) All this has led to rumors that OutKast is breaking up. "People got it all wrong," says Andre. "It's about growing up, not breaking up."
Perhaps. But seconds later Andre adds, "I'm trying to find my way out of music. I'm sick of it, man. When you're in a group, you constantly have to compromise ... It's real stressful." Andre's specific gripe is that he would like to make more-abstract music, like his hero, John Coltrane, but he believes that neither Big Boi nor his audience will tolerate it. There are other rifts as well. After his role in Hollywood Homicide, Andre wants to develop an acting career. And he refuses to tour. Instead, he would like to enroll at Oxford University. "I want to grow in ways I can't here," he says.
An ordinary partner might well give Andre a one-way ticket to All Souls. But despite his gangsta image, Big Boi is remarkably patient and empathetic. In the old married couple that is OutKast, Andre may compromise his airy musical vision, but it is Big Boi who makes sacrifices on the ground. Speakerboxxx was completed in December, but Big Boi refused to release it until Andre finished The Love Below. For the past several years, Big Boi has spent hours each day supervising OutKast's business interests, allowing Andre the freedom to take yoga and saxophone lessons. All the while, Big Boi has never once indulged in the slightest public eye roll about his partner's ambitions. "He wants to go to Europe or do movies, I'm fine with it," says Big Boi. "Our love for each other is greater than our love for music. We're the coolest motherf_____ on the planet."