Outkast at Coachella

About midway through Outkast’s first reunion show at The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last night, Andre 3000 stood on a quiet stage and told the crowd: “one of my idols, Prince, is backstage right now.” That’s cool, the crowd collectively thought (I’m guessing), does that mean you’ll play “Roses?” “I’m serious!” Andre responded, “he’s backstage right now!”

It kicked off a lackluster four song set of Andre’s solo work, an obvious and disappointing lull in an otherwise fascinating headlining performance from the unquestionable greatest duo in hip hop. Now, I’m reporting all of this as an Internet spectator instead of a crowd member (you cannot convince me that Coachella is a worthwhile venture), but I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that Andre looked really uncomfortable throughout the performance. This may be for many reasons: his absence from the spotlight, his well-documented stage fright, a sudden realization that his non-“Hey Ya” solo work isn’t that great, or an inability to coerce any sort of energy from a mostly whitewashed and tired crowd. Whatever the problem, Andre at 60% was the reason that Outkast’s first performance in over a decade wasn’t as great as it could have been. And yeah, the group’s other half Big Boi gave a textbook performance and even helped Andre break out of his shell when it was required, but this performance was never really about Outkast. This was about Andre, arguably the greatest who has ever rapped and the creator of the most universally beloved song ever. That’s why the Prince shoutout was so critical, because Andre had the presence of a man who was destined for bigger and better things, but who just realized that he hadn’t lived up to his potential.

Now I hope that didn’t come off too harshly, partly because Andre doesn’t really deserve admonishment when he himself is his own worst critic, but mostly because I believe that Andre has accomplished more as a rapper than anyone save Kanye West. And though there was no formal announcement, Andre left the spotlight on top of his game. He and Big Boi had just won the Album of the Year for their multi-platinum selling Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and were preparing to shoot the movie they had dreamed about making for years. Idlewild sputtered, Big Boi continued making music (very effectively), and Andre quietly stepped into the shadows. Was he writing? Making music? Acting? Whatever he was doing, rap fans concluded that it couldn’t have been nearly as good as what it seems like he was sent on the Earth to do.

And now, twenty years after they first recorded under their legendary name, and fourteen years after they stopped recording together, Outkast has officially begun their long awaited forty stop reunion tour. Was it a bad performance? Of course not; the group is too professional and Big Boi has been on the festival circuit for too long to throw in a bad performance. Was it a bad crowd? Sure it was, but can we really blame the crowd for an underwhelming performance? No matter how familiar the crowd was with the group’s discography, their presence alone showed that they cared about Outkast enough to slog through hours of heat, dehydration, drugs, and dirt for a ninety minute experience. I’d be willing to bet that half the crowd was there only to sing along to “Hey Ya” and “Miss Jackson,” but they were there, nonetheless. No, the crowd did not sing along to “Prototype,” but it’s hard to blame them when Andre wasn’t really singing along, either.

And that’s too bad, because Big Boi and Andre started out the set with a brilliant eight song barrage from ATLiens, Aquemini, and Stankonia, undisputedly their three best albums. As the MC’s flowed effortlessly between “ATLiens” and “Skew it on the Bar-B,” I had two thoughts. One: “Skew it on the Bar-B?” Really?? The second thought I had was that Aquemini was the first rap album I ever bought, and now I have the the honor of watching them perform together for the first time. The performance could have been better, but nothing more could have possibly been asked of two artists who have given so much to hip hop already. The failure lies not in the performance, which was fine, but in the group’s inability to convince us why this reunion is necessary.




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