With the announcement that Outkast will share the stage for the first time in eight years at next month’s Coachella Festival, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and André “3000” Benjamin are merely acknowledging what the rest of us have long known—that the East Point emcees are as inseparable as hip and hop.
Dating back to that original power couple, Adam and Eve, famous relationships have tended to go through three distinct phases. First, there’s the initial bliss—sharing the fruits of combined success. Think Jay-Z and Beyoncé smiling courtside or Kanye and Kim making out on a motorcycle. Ben and Jerry munching on a pint of Chunky Monkey. For more than a decade, former high school pals Patton and Benjamin were the faces of the Dirty South, combining the former’s street style with the latter’s bag of musical influences to push mainstream rap toward the avant-garde. Fans, platinum records, and Grammy awards piled up along the way.
But eventually, the apple poisons egos against each other. The parties follow increasingly divergent individual ambitions at the expense of the unit (think Bill and Hillary). Friction ensues. For Outkast, the fissure started subtly in 2003 with the release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below—which, despite the crossover hit “Hey Ya!,” was essentially two solo discs packaged as an Outkast album. Then, following the middling success of the Idlewild movie and soundtrack in 2006, Dré—already drifting toward an acting career—backed out of a tour, leaving his Boi to play the shows alone.
Many couples don’t make it past Phase Two. The marriage ends; the band breaks up. Big Boi hung around the ATL, breeding pit bulls, releasing a couple of solo records, while André built up his IMDb filmography with roles like Jimi Hendrix. In 2012, Dré apparently declined to appear on Patton’s record, citing scheduling conflicts with his work as a spokesman for Gillette. But the dapper rapper did drop in on a handful of other artists’ records, including a verse on T.I.’s “Sorry,” in which he apologizes to his longtime partner. But the door for Phase Three—reconciliation—was always open. “I didn’t start Outkast by myself,” André told MTV in March 2012. “I don’t have the power to stop Outkast.” Now it seems both André and Big Boi have realized that Outkast is greater than the sum of its members. And anyone with ears can be thankful.
This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue under the headline “Forever Ever?”