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-- by Joseph Patel

Outkast's Andre 3000 walked into the MTV Radio lounge about as cool as anyone wearing blue flood trousers, a pinstripe shirt and suspenders can be. That's to say, he was "ice cold" cool, to borrow a phrase from his current hit single, "Hey Ya!"

  "Hey Ya!"
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
(Arista)
His partner in rhyme, Big Boi, followed behind him a few seconds later. He was the antithesis of Dre's psychedelic vintage style, with his baggy camouflage pants and loose-hanging sports jersey. While Andre slinked his skinny frame up to a stool in the room, Big Boi kind of rumbled there, like a bull, clutching a greasy box of fried chicken from a nearby Popeyes.

"Anyone want some chicken? Y'all can have what ya want," Big said in a low mumble.

"You givin' 'em your chicken?" Andre asked, surprised, cocking his head to the side.

"Chicken, sure. Biscuits, too," Big answered. Just some of that Southern hospitality, he seemed to be saying. Andre had no interest in the grease, the chicken, the biscuits or the comfort of this food — he's a vegan, going on eight years.

"You want some?" Big Boi asked, staring at Andre. There was a long pause, then laughter as Andre just shook his head.

It was a small moment in a thousand that happen each day in the lives of Andre and Big Boi, but not an insignificant one, because, for one thing, this easygoing and familiar moment hardly paints the portrait of a group in turmoil.

Yet many have been presenting such a picture of the duo. The press has seized upon the "Outkast Go Their Separate Ways!" story like sharks on fresh sea turtles dropped in their tank. The conceptual divide of the duo's new double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, actually comprised of two solo efforts, and the accompanying cover, a royal looking Big Boi adorned with a hustler-friendly, extravagant fur coat on one side, a white-capped Andre in a glam-rap pose on the other, led to the easy hook. Some magazines would follow suit, featuring two different covers with the two different members. And they all asked the question, "Is this a prelude to breaking up?"

  "We did something separated, [but] the unity is still here..."
"It's on, brother," Big Boi boomed. "We did something kind of separated to show you the separate visions. It's still the group. The unity is still here." He hit Andre 3000 on the arm, then said, "They thought we were gonna break up, Dre!"

"We've had photo shoots where the entire time, we're together taking pictures," Dre explained in a slow, country manner that's all flat-as-flapjacks vowels and syrupy consonants. "We get the magazine covers back and they just happen to pick the picture where we're both looking away from each other. I understand it but ... no, we're not breaking up. This is just one project, one album. We thought it'd be a great idea."

  "We're not breaking up. This is just one project, one album..."
Indeed, splitting the new Outkast album in two wasn't a precursor to their demise, a signal that these two lifelong friends had suddenly grown sick of each other; it was just another grand — and risky — idea in a career full of bold choices. The move has not only forced the hip-hop community, which embraces change only incrementally, to reconsider what can be a successful album, it's also reinvigorated the creative spirit of both Dre and Big Boi after their last album, Stankonia, drained it out of them. Rather than breaking them apart, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below will probably save them.


Next: Black Dog and Black Wolf rock their Girbauds, and has the group overstepped its bounds? ...
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Photo: Arista/MTV.com

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 "Hey Ya!"
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
(Arista)



 "The Way You Move"
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
(Arista)



 "The Whole World"
Big Boi and Dre Present...Outkast
(Arista)



 "So Fresh, So Clean" (live)
Stankonia
(Arista)



 "B.O.B."
Stankonia
(Arista)



 "Ms. Jackson"
Stankonia
(Arista)



 "Rosa Parks"
Aquemini
(Arista)



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