At midnight on November 27, we got a Thanksgiving surprise when Erykah Badu dropped “Hello,” collaboration with her old love and baby daddy, Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000). The Internet (and my phone) basically blew up. Countless texts, tweets and screenshots of the downloaded track on iPhones prefaced with emojis and expletives blanketed social media for hours. We were all happy to hear what we didn’t think would ever happen: Erykah and Andre on wax together since their split nearly 20 years ago
Andre, one-half of the iconic duo, Outkast and arguably, a Top 10 MC, was rapping and singing. I was excited to hear his voice for longer than the few bars a hip-hop feature affords you. He was back. But when the record was over, even if you blast it on repeat, it only reminded me that Andre is probably only here for a moment then he’ll be gone again. Because that’s what he does—well.
Forget waiting for Frank Ocean and up until last week, Adele. We’re all still waiting on 3 Stacks, but sadly, we’ll probably be waiting indefinitely. Only our old Outkast albums and playlists of random songs in our iTunes to keep us warm at night.
After Outkast’s debut album in 1994, Andre quickly went from a dope boy in a Cadillac to an enigma of sorts. Many think Erykah had something to do with his transformation, but it might’ve been his plan all along to change drastically in a short period of time. If you’re an Outkast fan like me, you’ve seen Dre move from cornrolls to locs and turbans to silk presses, feathers and football jersey crop tops then to platinum wigs your favorite auntie might wear with the finest menswear for gentleman. Like that elusive crush, just when you thought you’d figured him/her out, he switched up on us, and that made us want him even more. Crazy how that works, right?
He has dropped some of the coldest bars known to man, and sang some of them, too. This September marked the 12th anniversary of Speakerboxx/The Love Below. That album forever changed that way we looked at Dre, the artist. He was multifaceted, singing more than he was rapping. Somehow, it worked for him because it was if he’d read our journals or eavesdropped on a conversation over life and love with our closest friends. He had so much to say.
Amidst rumors of the duo breaking up, we prayed for a follow-up album, but it didn’t happen. Instead, they did bless with the Idlewild soundtrack, and he jumped on seemingly random remixes for rappers when asked (You can’t tell me you saw the “Walk It Out” remix coming), according to his last interview with the New York Times. He shared, on the brink of age 40, his outlook on his rap career. He didn’t want to be an old rapper, walked the line between knowing when to grab the mic and when not to prevent diluting young rappers’ creativity and he no longer enjoyed performing anymore. After a rocky performance at Coachella last summer and sketchy chemistry onstage with Big Boi for the Outkast 20 tour, it was evident that he might really be serious about moving on. And we were disappointed, but still held out hope.
We wanted more than the prolific messages stitched on the jumpsuits he wore every night of the tour. We want to know, especially in this climate of racism and injustice, what’s on his mind. What is he thinking, and what does he have to say about black bodies that no one seems to care for but us, racism on college campuses and gentrification. Because that’s what he’s always done so eloquently: talk about things in a way that made you pay attention even if you didn’t want to. See: “Hollywood Divorce” on the Idlewild soundtrack.
Until Thanksgiving night, we hadn’t heard a peep from him musically. Who knows when we’ll hear from him again? He’s not teaching us a lesson on patience. He’s showing that artists have a right to evolve and move away from the very thing that brought them acclaim, even if it frustrates fans. He’s figured out that his life and art is his, not ours. We are only consumers, and maybe sometimes, inspiration, but ultimately, he lives by his own adaptation of an old saying in the “Da Art of Storytelling, Pt. IV”: This old lady told me if I ain’t got nothing good, say nathing, that’s why I don’t talk much.”
We may never get tired of chasing Andre because that’s what we’re used to doing. In the meantime, we’ll cherish what we have.