When Andre 3000 calls, “OK now, ladies” in “Hey Ya!,” the “Yeah!” response is from one woman, an assistant to the studio engineer, who was edited to sound like a crowd. Otherwise, the Outkast rapper is the only voice on the smash single.
Given the variety of singing styles on the track, most people find this quite impressive. Pete Novak, who recorded the vocals at Larrabee Studios in Los Angeles, found it to be a headache.
“He would do 30 or 40 takes of each line,” Novak recalled. “I would say, ‘All right, I better put that one aside, that was a great performance.’ And then he would come and listen to them and the one he would like would be the one I was about to erase. After a while working with him I said, ‘I’m not even gonna try to read him.’ ”
Still, Novak was blown away by Andre’s voice, especially when he croons, “You know what to do,” at the end of the tune, which has been the #1 song on Billboard‘s Hot 100 for nine straight weeks and is nominated for Record of the Year at Sunday’s Grammys.
“I didn’t think he was a singer,” Novak said. “You know of Andre and Outkast for rapping. I had the reaction the public probably had later.”
Andre 3000 started working on “Hey Ya!” in early December 2002. He arrived at Stankonia Recording one night with an acoustic guitar and jumped right into recording.
“He had the bulk of it already conceptualized in his head,” said John Frye, who recorded the session. “It all happened quite fast. We recorded the skeleton part, with the intro and the first verse and hook, all in one night.”
A few evenings later, Andre returned to the song with one of his favorite session musicians, Kevin Kendricks, who played the bass part on a synthesizer, which, coincidentally, sounds a bit like veteran funksters Cameo, Kendricks’ old band.
Just as he would later do with the vocals, Andre nitpicked through dozens of takes.
“He would spend so much time trying to get the right sound out of every snare drum, bass or whatever,” said Frye, who just finished Cee-Lo’s new album. “He really, really listens to everything intently, coming up with ways to make the song better. His attention to detail is the biggest thing. Every element of it is thought through. And it had to be cooked just right.”
Andre laid some of the original vocals down the first night, but most were done months later in Los Angeles with Novak, who’s also working with the rapper on Gwen Stefani’s solo album.
“It was a lot of experiment from that point on,” Novak said. “I would say that’s the key word on this song: experiment. … We experimented with a bunch of different effects and microphones.”
Andre loosely based the lyrics to “Hey Ya!,” like the rest of The Love Below, on a screenplay he wrote about falling in and out of love. The ninth track on the album, “Hey Ya!” comes at the time in the story when he’s had a magical night of lovemaking and has fallen in love with the woman, voiced on the album by Rosario Dawson. Now he’s getting cold feet, wondering whether he wants to be serious and questioning the point of continuing. “If they say nothing is forever … then what makes love the exception?” he ponders.
” ‘Hey Ya!’ is pretty much about the state of relationships in the 2000s,” the rapper explained on the set of the video. “It’s about some people who stay together in relationships because of tradition, because somebody told them, ‘You guys are supposed to stay together.’ But you pretty much end up being unhappy for the rest of your life.
“So ‘Hey Ya!’ is really about saying, ‘F— it. Live life, you know?’ ” Andre added before throwing out a line. “Don’t want to meet your daddy, just want you in my Caddy.”
Andre recorded all the vocals for “Hey Ya!” off the top of his head.
“I’ve never seen him write anything down, lyrically,” Frye recalled. “What he likes to do is drive around and live it and think about it. And he comes in and says, ‘Ready.’ I can’t remember him ever coming in to do vocals unprepared.”
When Novak first heard Andre rap “shake it like a Polaroid picture,” he knew it would be a classic lyric.
“When I was working, I would take home rough demos to work on them, and when my girlfriend heard it she was like, ‘What does it mean?’ ” Novak recalled. “And I did the hand motion and then it all made sense. She was like, ‘That’s a great line!’ ”
For all the memorable lines in the song, Novak said there are just as many that never made it.
“We [recorded] a lot of vocals and lived with them and trashed them,” he said. “There were so many different versions of that song. If I had the files, I could let you hear 20 different versions of that song. There were lots of ideas that were interesting, but I’m happy with the way it turned it out. We had one of the verses with him singing through a Vocoder. It was cool at the time, but it didn’t really work.”
“Hey Ya!” didn’t stand out to Frye in the beginning, and by the time Andre was done with it, the producer had to go back to his computer files to remember if he had even worked on it.
“There were so many good songs at the time that it was hard to keep them straight,” said Frye, who was also recording Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx at the time. “Between the two of them, we had the basic tracking done for 60 songs apiece.”
Now, though, the producer sees why it’s become such a smash. “Musically, it covers a lot of ground that appeals to a lot of people,” he said. “It has the Beatlesque guitar drive to it. I think his energy, vocally, is a big part of it. He just really dives into his music.”
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