Born in 1975 in Atlanta, Georgia, André 3000 began performing in his teens with a friend – Antwan “Big Boi” Patton as 2 Shades Deep. The pair got a record deal and changed their name to OutKast. Their first single, 1993’s “Players’ Ball,” was a Christmas song, and it stayed at No. 1 on the rap charts for six weeks. By the end of the decade, OutKast was a known quantity, and their single “Hey Ya!” cemented the group’s reputation. The song went on to be named one of Rolling Stone’s top 500 songs of all time, and OutKast collected six Grammy Awards along the way. Soon after, Andre 3000 began acting, appearing in several movies and on television, while also writing music for both. His latest effort is portraying Jimi Hendrix in the 2013 biopic All Is by My Side.
Born André Lauren Benjamin in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 27, 1975, André 3000 grew up being called “Dre” by his mother, who raised him by herself and sold real estate. He grew up in East Point and Buckhead, Georgia, and attended Willis A. Sutton Middle School and Tri-Cities High School for the Performing Arts, where his artistic leanings were encouraged. While at Tri-Cities, he met Antwan Patton, and the two quickly became rivals on the school’s rap scene. Just as quickly, though, the two realized that their shared love of music would bring them together, and they became lifelong friends.
When André began to rebel as a teenager, his mother sent him to live with his father, Lawrence Walker, but Walker couldn’t, or didn’t want to, curtail André’s rebellious streak, and André dropped out of high school during his junior year (he would later earn his GED).
Like most teenagers, André spent a lot of his time hanging around malls, but he and Patton used these locales as performance spaces, forming a musical duo called 2 Shades Deep, and rapping for throngs at shopping centers and in parking lots.
They soon managed to get introduced to Organized Noize, an Atlanta production trio, and André and Patton began hanging out in the trio’s studio with other Atlanta artists. Before long, their association with Organized Noize led to an audition with L.A. Reid, the co-founder of LaFace, an imprint of Arista Records. Reid was underwhelmed, so the duo went back to the studio and refined their sound, showing up on Reid’s doorstep once again when they were ready.
This time, Reid offered them a contract, but both young men were still minors, and their parents wouldn’t let them sign a contract, so they would have to wait a year to make it official.
The duo changed its name to OutKast and cut its first single, “Players’ Ball,” in 1993 for a compilation Christmas album. The song went gold and maintained the No. 1 spot on the rap charts for six weeks. In the spring of 1994, OutKast released its first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, which landed at No. 20 on the Billboard chart and at No. 2 on the American R&B chart. The duo’s sound was labeled by some as being part of the new “Dirty South” Hip Hop, but skimming through any of their albums reveals songs that are not easily categorized.
Around this time, André made some changes to his lifestyle that would help redefine him as a person and as an entertainment figure: He gave up smoking and drinking and became a vegan, and he also began to dress in an eccentric way, all of which helped him gain fresh attention in the media and the public.
In 1998, OutKast’s success came back to bite them, as their song “Rosa Parks,” ignited a lawsuit by Rosa Parks herself. (The suit was dismissed but Parks appealed in 2003.) Emerging from the scandal, OutKast released three more albums heading into the new millennium—ATLiens (1996), Aquimini (1998) and Stankonia (2000)—all of which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart.
In 1997, André and singer Erykah Badu had a son together and named him Seven (the couple would part ways soon after).
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) was the next album to appear, and it was unique in a couple of ways. First, each member of OutKast claimed one half of the record—The Love Below was André’s and Speakerboxxx was Big Boi’s (Patton’s adopted stage name). The other trait that set this record apart was that it was the first record that OutKast had put out to find its way to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. If that wasn’t enough, that same year, OutKast also hit No. 1 on the singles chart with “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move”—the former from The Love Below and the latter from Speakerboxxx—and the double album won a Grammy Award for album of the year. The infectiously popular song “Hey Ya!” was later named on Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
André next took on Hollywood, getting out from behind the mic and in front of the camera in the 2003 film Hollywood Homicide, starring Harrison Ford. Two years later he was back on the silver screen with four more films, including Be Cool and Four Brothers. He also joined Quentin Tarantino’s production company, A Band Apart, and wrote dozens of songs for movies and TV shows since 1995, from Soul Food, Any Given Sunday and 8 Mile, to Dancing with the Stars and The X Factor.
While he has appeared in several films and TV shows over the course of his career, his role as Jimi Hendrix in Oscar-winner John Ridley’s All Is by My Side (2014) marks his biggest on-screen performance to date. If André has proven anything in his diverse career, it’s that he’s always up for something new.