These days, when Andre 3000 shows up on a song, it feels like a bolt of lightning. In the history of hip-hop there are a lot of artists that could reasonably be called the greatest ever for different reasons—but Andre, due to some combination of his insane songwriting talent and penchant for reclusiveness, occupies a pretty unique place. We got on the phone with him and ended up speaking about what it means to get older in rap, his thoughts on nostalgia, and, of course, Outkast.
“DoYaThing,” your collaboration with the Gorillaz and James Murphy recently came out. Now there’s a 13-minute version as well. Can you tell me how that came about? It’s a funny thing, like the first half of the song that’s being played now on the internet, we tackled that part of the song in one day. I think we’d just come from lunch and we were just sitting around. Damon [Albarn] actually said that he was riding in the street on his bike and he ran into a really famous producer, and this famous producer, you know, he’s well known around town about his great great great ideas. So it’s just funny because Damon asked this producer, you know, “How’s it going today man?” And his reply was kind of like, Man, everything in my world is perfect. Like, I can do no wrong. Like a real kind of—not conceited, but an, Everything-I-do-is-excellent answer. And so I was like, Wow, he sound like he must be the shit. We started playing and I was messing around, so those vocals that you hear on the end—I was actually in the control room on the microphone. I wasn’t even in the vocal booth. I was running around the studio and I was sweating and running and we were playing. You can actually hear me. Later, I say, “I run away from the mic.” I was actually running away from the mic and running back to the mic. It was just really a freestyle thing. It was fun, so we just kept it. We knew it was tastefully vulgar, but we thought it was appropriate, and of course we couldn’t release it under the Converse banner because it was tastefully vulgar, but I thought it was just a good moment. And that’s what music is about, capturing those moments.
You’re in a place in your career where you can do pretty much whatever you want. How do you decide who to collaborate with? Most of the time it has to be the music. The music has to kinda move me in some kind of way. Sometimes it’s emotionally, sometimes it’s just being there supporting another person. Even the Chris Brown remix—of course I love the beat, but at that time a lot of people were on Chris Brown as a human being. And I know he’d gone through his troubles or whatever and I just was like—I just wanted to stand by him and be like, Hey, you know, you can’t really charge a man forever and condemn a man forever. So it’s really just like a support thing. I thought it was a cool thing to do.
Every time you do one of these remixes, it feels like you’re really saying something, and not just doing empty preaching to your audience I definitely don’t want to be preaching but sometimes—it’s all thoughts, it’s a whole thought. That’s all it is, is thoughts.
Does writing come easy to you now? I write all the time. Like I write down thoughts that I think would be interesting or things that are kind of just concerning me at the time. Sometimes I write them on a napkin, sometimes I type them in my phone. And when it comes time to do music, I go through and see what thoughts work for this song.
Are you writing them in rhyme form? Or are they notes? Both. Sometimes they’re in rhyme and sentence, and sometimes they’re just a thought. Sometimes it’s a melody. With phones now they have the recorder on it, so I can sing melodies or I can say lyrics right into my phone.
In the last couple years, it seems like you’ve been excited about rap and rapping again. I’ve been excited about what new artists are bringing to rap. I notice how it’s really just a continuous conversation, a lineage thing. In high school it was all about A Tribe Called Quest and Souls of Mischief, and Too Short and 8Ball & MJG and UGK for us. And we just kept the torch going. Now I talk to Drake, and I know he had to be like ten when he was listening to what we were doing. You just never know who’s listening until you hear a connection. I didn’t even know Drake dug my music, I just liked him as a rapper because I felt he had a balance. I didn’t even know that he grew up listening to me. But it’s cool to know that it’s a real lineage thing. I’m happy to see Kanye and Wayne and Drake and all these new artists. They inspire me in a way because they reach back and they say, “Hey, we want to get you on these songs.” I don’t rap every day. I don’t sit around writing raps like that. And when these artists call, it’s kind of like they get me going. And I really wanna just be good for them. I want to impress them or have them be happy to say, “Okay, he did well on my song.” I don’t want to be messing their song up.
Any time you do a guest verse its treated like audio gold. Does that put pressure on you? I hate to be in that place, but it’s a blessing and a curse because I love to be asked to do these things. Now people judge every word so strongly. Even if it’s just an okay verse, they’ll say this and that. I hate when that happens. I guess the novelty of it is more exciting than what’s actually there.
So people get too caught up in the idea that you’re doing a verse and make a decision before they’ve really listened to it? No, no. I think true fans—they listen for the words and they pay attention to that. But I think overall it becomes like, “Oh, okay, what’s going to happen now?” It becomes an event. And that’s scary. It’s scary when people are just waiting for your next verses. So when I’m writing it’s a scary thing to know that even if I’m saying a verse, I know that people are listening now. At one point in time, I would have more fun when people weren’t listening. You’re always better when people aren’t watching the experiment.
Can you pinpoint when the expectation started weighing on you? Not specifically. Any time I’m on a song now it’s kind of like, Oh, what’s the verse? I’m judged pretty hard. I think we’re living in that kind of world now. I would almost hate to be a new artist right now because people judge you so hard.
You get judged against the entire history of rap, on top of everything else. Yeah. And if you don’t have titanium skin, you’ll really fall. Especially if you read the internet. I don’t even read the internet anymore. I just don’t. Because it’s too much. I mean praise and people shooting at you. It’s just too much. You should just be doing it.
The Chairman of the Board