“This is the part where we introduce ourselves,” André 3000, clad in his signature white wig and black jumpsuit with a sold out tag attached, said a few songs into last night’s Outkast show – their first in Atlanta since going on hiatus in the late aughts. “But if you’re here, you probably know who we are.”
That may be an understatement for the estimated 20,000 fans crammed into Downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park: Friday night was not just about celebrating Outkast, the hip-hop outfit, but Outkast, the symbol of Atlanta’s identity. Still, even though the duo is partially responsible for transforming Georgia’s capital city into the nation’s hip-hop mecca, their summer 20th anniversary tour originally included no local dates. Despair gave way to relief, however, when the beloved ATLiens later revealed that they would begin fall with not one, not two, but three consecutive hometown shows.
As it turned out, André 3000 and Big Boi made these shows – at least the first of them – worth the wait. The duo united Atlanta natives and transplants; zealous 20-somethings boasting vintage Atlanta sports apparel and longtime devotees, now parents with infants in tow. Over the course of a 100-minute set, they performed roughly two-dozen catalog-spanning numbers that both fueled nostalgia and reaffirmed the duo’s present greatness.
Around 9:15 p.m., Outkast projected its iconic black-and-white Stankonia flag over a giant cube onstage, and from this cube they emerged with an electrifying rendition of “B.O.B.” Thousands of smartphones brightened the sky to capture André 3000 firing off verses and Big Boi bouncing across the stage in his custom Atlanta Braves jersey. Like recent reunion dates, Outkast kicked off the opening part of their set with catalog-spanning medley of “Gasoline Dreams,” “ATLiens,” “Rosa Parks” and “Aquemini.”
André 3000 then quietly thanked the crowd for their continued support over the past two decades. In calling themselves “Atlanta’s group,” Big Boi offered an apology for taking so long to play back at home: “I know a lot of you all were mad when we started at Coachella,” he said,” but we wanted to do something special for Atlanta.”
At festivals like Coachella, audiences might have overlooked the group’s Atlanta roots, but here, no one missed the references to things like East Point (“Player’s Ball), Hollywood Courts (“SpottieOttieDopaliscious”) and MARTA (“Elevators”). Onstage street signs marking Headland and Delowe, the birthplace of the group, carried a far greater weight to people who might have passed the intersection on the way to the show.
Much of Outkast’s set, particularly both solo portions of the show, followed the path of their earlier reunion gigs, but André 3000 and Big Boi pulled out a few special stops for the Atlanta crowd. Organized Noize producer Sleepy Brown, wearing a purple-and-black robe, made frequent appearances. Goodie Mob’s Bigg Gipp dropped by “Black Ice (Sky High)” and Bun B did the same for “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You),” paying a fitting tribute to late UGK rapper Pimp C. Instead of closing with “The Whole World,” which has been their go-to finale, they ended with an extremely rare performance of “Gangsta Shit.”
A trio of acclaimed Atlanta acts, all indebted to Outkast in their own unique ways, opened the event. Janelle Monae started off with a bombastic set dedicated to “artists who came before us, like Outkast, who opened up the doors for creative young black people, who those who opened up doors for people in this country.” Atlanta rappers 2 Chainz and Future (a last-minute addition when a root canal forced Solange to cancel) both expressed their similar reverence.
That celebration of Outkast’s Atlanta run will continue with two more performances. Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino and Raury will join the duo onstage tonight. Tomorrow, the weekend will culminate with an all-star lineup featuring B.o.B., Killer Mike, 8 Ball and MJG, Bun B, Gipp Goodie and a few other Southern rappers. Not a bad way to go out, if that’s what they decide to finally do.