My Soul Died a Little During OutKast’s Coachella Reunion
In 2002, I cried my eyes out during the NJ stop of the Smokin' Grooves Tour. Call it the dehydrated buzz from cheap liquor or the heart-wrenching performance by Lauryn Hill (post-breakdown) that was timed perfectly with a breakup I was going through, but yeah, I cried. A lot. When OutKast emerged (ironically after Lauryn Hill despite opening for her during her Miseducation Tour of '99), I regained composure then watched 3 Stacks and Big Boi as confetti fell from the sky during 'Whole World' off their 2001 greatest hits album 'Big Boi and Dre Present...OutKast.' Greatest hits, huh. I should've known better, though I was filled with the hope that hip-hop would remain in my heart and one of my favorite groups would stay together forever like I needed them to.
A year later we'd get their "sleeping in separate bedrooms" project titled 'Speakerboxxx / The Love Below' that went 11x Platinum fueled by Andre's adieu to rap called 'Hey Ya.' Then in 2006, we'd get the clunky soundtrack to 'Idlewild.' After that we were fed several helpings of air pie, wondering if OutKast would ever return before our eyes and ears. The eight years that followed would be spent with random appearances from Andre 3000, as Big Boi continued to transform his career from ATLien pimp star to hipster fodder, linking with groups like Little Dragon and his future 'Big Grams' collaborators Phantogram.
During 2013, rumors began to swirl that OutKast would reunite. The possibility was intoxicating, considering Andre's role as Jimi Hendrix had several false starts at that point and Big Boi was two steps away from an ironic beard and skinny jeans in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This reunion was very necessary. Coachella was the stage where it was going to happen, as OutKast would bring their Georgia Red Clay-stained shoes to the desert and make us all happy. All of us, except for them.
On April 11, the sea of floral headbands fluttered in Indio, Cali., as the two kings of Atlanta stood before us on stage. Big Boi dressed as quintessential Big Boi, Andre dressed like he was about to help his brother Mario rescue Princess Peach (he's always wearing something strange). Everything was as it should be. Was it though?
We watched OutKast deliver a whole slew of classics from 'B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)' to 'Skew It On the Bar-B,' 'ATLiens,' all the way back around to 'I Like the Way You Move' and 'Hey Ya.' After a 90-minute performance, they were asked to cut the mic chord moments before bringing Killer Mike out for 'Whole World' (he was still awkwardly ushered onstage to do a pageant wave and a weird introductory bop). Then something happened. Andre apologetically addressed the crowd like a college kid showing up to his high school's pep rally. "I really appreciate y'all comin' out," he said. "I know it's kind of...weird. Twenty years later and s---, but thank y'all for coming out." Wait, what?
If you just observed the performance like a fan who was dying to have OutKast back together, then your wish was granted. However, two abundantly talented living legends gave separate stellar performances, when the whole point was to have cohesion. The music was good, but both Big Boi and Andre seemed over it. Andre's final thoughts made that quite clear, as if he didn't even know why they showed up. Oh, that's right, since 2006 we as OutKast fans have been forcing them to.
Lauryn Hill said it best when she said, "Seasons change, mad things rearrange," foreshadowing her departure from her own group The Fugees. Their reunion at the 2005 Dave Chapelle's Block Party concert-turned-documentary was just as awkward. We were fed tidbits of info that she and Wyclef were once together, then Lauryn Hill went through her "thing," and here they were onstage pretending to get along for Dave Chapelle's sake (he referred to the performance as a "miracle"). They'd attempt to reunite on wax on the spastic song 'Take It Easy' (which reached a dismal No. 40 on the Billboard R&B charts) before disbanding again for good. That aforementioned comeback single a severe reminder that they should never set foot in the studio together again.
But Lauryn's right. Mad things do rearrange. People evolve, some faster than others. Take Destiny's Child, where Beyonce became BEYONCE, Kelly slid into haute couture and Michelle's career was relegated to a hash tag called #PoorMichelle. Their reunion at the 2013 Super Bowl Halftime show during Beyonce's set was partially life-giving until the part where the other two had to leave the stage, since they were now just the "special guests."
Later that year at the MTV VMAs, Justin Timberlake would invite his former boy band 'N Sync on stage for a reunion that looked more like a hot young guy and his four dads. In the cases of King Bey and JT, it was a matter of one specific member eclipsing their piece in the puzzle, so when the puzzle is put back together, one piece is glowing like neon and the rest are just...there (two words: Michael Jackson).
A few months before 'N Sync's reunion, Wu-Tang Clan reunited for New York City's Hot 97 Summer Jam concert. Veterans performing real rap for millennials was as depressing as it sounds. The disappointment was painted on Method Man's face, just as much as the audience who was waiting for a rumored Jay Z appearance the whole time (that never happened). Let's also not forget TLC's sobering reunion minus one this past fall timed with their VH1 documentary and new single 'Meant to Be' produced by Ne-Yo. Even Lil Mama with a condom strapped to her eye couldn't bring that old feeling back. Who was the target audience for that when a Left Eye fill-in is two decades younger than the women she's flanked by? It isn't about age, though, as much as it is about relevance to the present day musical conversation.
Sure, groups reunite for all types of reasons. Maybe it's financial, maybe it's contractual, maybe it's the fans forcing them. SWV reunited at the BET Awards in 2008 for Alicia Keys' sake (En Vogue and TLC were there too) and have now created a reality show 'SWV Reunited' with a full-fledged reunion in the works. The show garnered 1.2 million viewers the night of its debut, but does that automatically translate into album sales? Nope.
Mobb Deep is knee deep in the middle of their reunion, following their creative differences being aired out before us. But in Prodigy and Havoc's case (and SWV's), they seem to understand this is about business, so there's a specific motive to give them the energy to do it all. Others are also currently in progress. Three 6 Mafia lost Juicy J but regained Gangsta Boo to form Da Mafia 6ix, Junior M.A.F.I.A. lost one Kim and are now Mafia Dons. Reunions are happening at a rapid pace. Some for the better, others for the worse. You can decide which is which.
And no, this isn't a situation of Sugar Hill Gang coming together for a random performance of 'Rapper's Delight' during a hip-hop anniversary show or a defunct group playfully jumping on stage to wow the masses one more time. It's a forced union between artists who clearly have no fiscal, physical, and emotional desire to be there, cleverly placed under a guise called "reunion." And we the fans cheer, so pleased with ourselves that we used The Secret to bring them back. It doesn't matter if we feel it and they don't. We're their support system after all.
Why do we want — no need — our favorite groups to reunite for our sake? What is it about that once whirlwind romance turned arranged marriage that has us so damn pushy to make it happen?
Artists, here's a message to you: If you're not feeling it, don't do it. The line from Lauryn Hill that resonated with me during my tearful 2002 breakdown at Smokin' Grooves was "If it ain't love, then leave it alone," and 12 years later it still applies. In the case of OutKast, hey, maybe at their second Coachella set next weekend they'll be more into it and ready to go for their reunion tour. But if not, then accept the grand finale.
And fans, let's stop being so vocal about our demands. If groups want to come back together, they will. We're watching it happen. But if it's done, it's really done, and your cheers and tweets won't create an emotion that has long since dissipated.