Andre 3000 has always felt hip-hop is a young man's game.
"The older I get, I say, 'All right, I don't want to be 45 years old and rapping,' " the Outkast rapper reflected recently. "So maybe it would be cool if I went back to school to be an art teacher, because that was my love before I started doing music: drawing and painting."
Fortunately for his fans, Andre's not quitting music to be a teacher just yet, but he is playing one on TV. In "Class of 3000," a new cartoon series Andre co-created, the up-and-coming actor ("Idlewild") voices Sunny Bridges, a music star who, at the height of his fame, returns to the Atlanta performing arts school he once attended to teach ... music class (see "Missing Outkast? They've Already Lined Up Three 'Idlewild' Singles").
The show was greenlit as a series for the Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim lineup, but it was bumped to primetime as it developed further. The show will premiere November 3 at 8 p.m.
"Originally the show was much more dark and sexy," said co-creator Tom Lynch, the man behind "Kids Incorporated" and "Romeo!"
"But the more we got into it and the more we started to create our characters and see their attitudes and the stories we came up with, it turned into something bigger," Andre added.
Although it's set in a music class, the show is loosely based around Andre's experiences in Atlanta.
"I grew up in what you would call the low-income-housing part of Atlanta, [but] my mom was smart enough to send me to school across town in Buckhead, which is what you would call the place to be in Atlanta," Andre explained. "I'm going to school with the mayor's kids and all that type of stuff, so it's kinda like my friends were from East India to people from France. My friends were from everywhere, and I thought it would be cool to do a show and have these different types of characters and nationalities come together with music."
And music will be an essential element of "Class of 3000." Along with recording the theme song, Andre is creating an original song for each of the first season's 14 episodes.
"The episode or situation dictates what the song is going to be like," Andre said. "I have to think I'm their age and think of their personalities and think about what they are thinking about. ... So even though the music can go anywhere and the music can be advanced, I have to still remember that these are kids. I have to write in a certain way so a kid could get it and so the voice actors can come in and mimic what I'm doing."
Each song (along with being compiled for a soundtrack) will also be accompanied on the show by a music video directed by big-name animators like Peter Chung, whose résumé includes "Aeon Flux" and "Transformers."
"It came from a place of wanting the music videos to be separate from the show," Lynch said. "We're doing some mixed-media stuff. There'll be some live photographs and live film cut into the videos."
The students in "Class of 3000" are played by a team of veteran voice actors, led by Tom Kenny of "SpongeBob SquarePants," who helped coach Andre on his voicing.
"Since it's animated, you can do so much with your character. I mean, you can jump up in the air and stay there for five seconds, so the voices have to go there too," Andre said. "The first time I was in a recording session with the true voice actors I was so intimidated, but they helped me [become] a little more whimsical and magical."
Outkast's other member, Big Boi, has heard some of Andre's music and will likely get involved down the road.
"Second or third season we'll probably get into bringing different artists in, 'cause Sunny is an entertainer and he knows a lot of other entertainers," Andre said. "So you may have Big Boi doing stuff in the classroom, or you may have Gwen Stefani come through and do a song or Pharrell or even Snoop, but they'll be animated in our style."
Andre is hoping the cartoon will shine a spotlight on the importance of music programs, which are struggling to maintain their funding in public schools in Atlanta and around the country. It would also be nice, along the way, to entertain some kids.
"My main goal in my show is to have them grow up and be like 25 or 30 years old and to think back, 'Man, do you remember when "Class of 3000" was on?!' "