The hip-hop community can thank OutKast for doing their part in bolstering the format's sales over any other musical genre in the country. The Atlanta-rooted duo of Dre and Big Boi have churned out three platinum-selling albums, including the latest, last year's Aquemini (Big Boi being an Aquarius and Dre a Gemini, hence the name). Their penchant for producing deep grooves, catchy sing-alongs and insightful lyrics has also led to their current Grammy nomination in the category of Best Rap Performance by a Group or Duo for the track "Rosa Parks." On Aquemini, the twosome, who have been collaborating on music since the tenth grade, share the spotlight with prominent guests such as Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan, Goodie Mob, George Clinton and Erykah Badu -- the mother of Dre's son.
Aside from their music, Dre and Big Boi each keep up a number of side projects. Dre's paintings can be found on www.outkast.com, where dog-lovers can also purchase pitbulls from Big Boi. The pair are also working together on a production company called Earthtones, an outlet to release other hip-hop artists' works as well as produce straight-to-video movies, such as their upcoming Return of the G, a "dark comedy" focusing on the duo's relationship.
OutKast, now busy on tour with Lauryn Hill, took time from their busy schedule to chat about the Grammys, puppies and their kids.
How important are the Grammys to you?
Dre: As far as your peers and the music community, it's nice to know that you're being recognized for the music that you're doing because those are the people who vote.
Big Boi: It's like power in the industry. Just to be nominated is good enough. To win is something else. You just got to keep praying on it. But we'll take what we can get.
Rap sold more than any other format in the country last year. What's your take on that?
Dre: It's funny because a while ago, people were like, oh, hip-hop wasn't going to be around for a while. It's really letting us know that we're getting recognition as far as this music actually being a real category and not just a derivative of some other type of music.
So where do you guys fit in to the picture?
Dre: I think we're trying to step toward innovating, but you've got to have your old-school grounds. You've got to know where it came from, you've got to have certain elements in it to keep it hip-hop.
Big Boi: Well, every five years, history repeats itself. Your gangsta rap might be in one day and, just like a clock, it flows back around. The biggest thing that happened was just the commercialization of hip-hop. Then that died down and everybody was trying to go hardcore. Then that died down. To come back into it now, it's going to have to go back into old school -- like Afrika Baambaata. Old school like just beats and rhymes.
Does "Rosa Parks" reflect your take on how far the black community has come since the civil rights movement?
Dre: Actually, "Rosa Parks" was a word used as symbolism, letting people know that we're back again. It was not a straight stab at the whole civil rights act or nothing like that. But we've come a long way as black people. It's time to celebrate, but we've still got a long way to go.
Have a lot of kids come up to you asking for advice on how to make it in rap?
Dre: All the time. You have people coming up and saying, "How can I get on, how can I get in?" Everybody wants to make beats. What I actually tell them is to find their niche in what they like to do. You can be doctors or lawyers or something like that, or go and own a chicken shack or a collard green shop. If that's what you want to do, do it to your best ability. Everybody can't rap. I don't tell them that type of dream.
Many rap artists have trouble staying out of trouble. How do you keep your perspective?
Big Boi: I'm just really a family man. I've got a studio where I stay home and work on beats or whatever, and I might babysit my daughter and work all day long. Then I'm content, because being on the road makes you miss home a lot.
Dre: I guess it's all about being smart enough to know that if you get into certain types of trouble, it's going to limit your privileges. To be a true player and all that, you've got to be free, you've got to be open. You can't make no moves like that.
Dre, do your paintings fulfill a different part of you than the music?
Dre: Well, really it's not too much different. It's all like painting a picture, but using different materials. It's like a freedom more than anything.
Big Boi, how did you get involved in raising and selling pitbulls?
Big Boi: That was like a little family business at first, but it got a little bigger and started blowing up and more and more people started wanting them. So that was just a little taste of what I could do.
What draws you to them?
Big Boi: The fact that they were the underdog and I like them, that was a total package.
You must get a lot of tapes sent to Earthtones. What do you look for when you sign a band?
Dre: First of all originality, and then raw talent. Then you've got to see the hunger in them.
Any artists you'd like to work with on your next album?
Big Boi: We're going to try to find Sade. Maybe Anita Baker. Maybe a little Stevie Wonder, some Prince. We're just going to go into our bag of tricks and see what we can find.
Are you two thinking of bringing your kids into a musical realm?
Dre: [My son] just got a set of drums he's been beating on, so he may grow up into music, he may not. But whatever it is, we'll just support him in whatever he wants to do.
Big Boi: Never. I'd never let my daughter [now four years old] get into this. Never. It's crazy. It's not for everybody, either. But it's her life, her decision, so whatever she wants to do, she can do it.