OutKast Are Totally Like Simon And Garfunkel - Rolling Stone
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Why OutKast Are Totally Like Simon and Garfunkel

Before you call us crazy, hear us out on the surprising parallels between the two duos

Simon and Garfunkel; OutKastSimon and Garfunkel; OutKast

Simon and Garfunkel; OutKast

Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank; Steve Granitz/WireImage

It’s far from confirmed, but OutKast are reportedly reuniting for a series of concerts next year. The timing makes a lot of sense. Discounting Idlewild, they’ve been completely gone for over a decade. Their legend has only grown in that time and a nostalgic reunion tour could earn Andre 3000 and Big Boi a fortune. As crazy as it sounds, this reminds of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1981 Concert in the Park and subsequent stadium tour. In fact, their entire career mirrors Simon and Garfunkel. Before you call us insane in the comments section, hear us out. 

 Old Friends

Simon and Garfunkel and OutKast both became close friends after attending the same high school. For Simon and Garfunkel, it was Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York. Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton attended Tri-Cities High School in the East Point section of Atlanta. Simon and Garfunkel perfected their harmonies by singing Everly Brothers songs on school grounds, while Big Boi and Andre 3000 battle rapped in the cafeteria.

Both acts released their first set of music under a different name while they were still teenagers and saw instant success. Simon and Garfunkel recorded their 1957 debut single “Hey Schoolgirl” under the moniker Tom and Jerry. It reached #49 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it even earned them a slot on American Bandstand that’s been sadly lost to history. Andre 3000 and Big Boi recored as Two Shades Deep before they changed it to OutKast. Their debut single “Player’s Ball” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart. 

Early Critical Favorites

Both acts released debut albums that were widely hailed within their genre, but failed to reach a wider audience. Simon and Garfunkel’s 1964 LP Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. was ignored by most music fans outside of hardcore folk circles and they nearly split after it failed. OutKast had significantly greater success with their first album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. It reached #20 on the Billboard album chart and earned rave reviews, though no single rose higher than #37 on the Hot 100 and virtually nobody outside of the rap world knew a thing about them. 

They both saw a huge spike in sales and interest with their second album. The folk rock boom of 1965 lead producer Tom Wilson to add an electric band to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” It became their first big hit, and the title track of their second album. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, their critically-acclaimed third album, produced the innovative hit “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.” OutKast’s 1996 album  ATLiens yielded the #12 single “Elevators (Me & You).” They became critical favorites with 1998’s Aquemini and scored a hit with the innovative “Rosa Parks.” 

Mrs. Robinson and Ms. Jackson 

A hit single about an enigmatic older woman forever changed each duo. “Ms. Jackson” and “Mrs. Robinson” were both inspired by specific women, but were later broadened out to appeal to a wider audience. The songs were the poppiest thing the act had produced to that point, and they both became monster hits that brought them a whole new audience. Paul Simon wrote a little acoustic song about Eleanor Roosevelt called “Mrs. Roosevelt,” but changed it to “Mrs. Robinson” at the urging of The Graduate director Mike Nichols. Groups like The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were falling off the charts, and Simon and Garfunkel were suddenly the biggest thing in music. The song earned them a Grammy for Record of the Year. Any baby boomer that hears the opening notes of “Mrs. Robinson” feels instantly nostalgic. 

Thirty-four years later, Andre 3000 wrote a little acoustic song about his issues with Erykah Badu’s mother. Her name is Kolleen Maria Gipson, but he changed it to Ms. Jackson and fleshed it out in the studio. It became a radio smash and won them a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Acts like Puff Daddy and Master P were falling off the charts, and OutKast were worshipped by a new generation of music fans. Any early 2000s rap fan that hears the opening notes feels instantly nostalgic. 

A Enormous Hit Near The End Sang By One Member

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “He Ya” were the single biggest hits that Simon and Garfunkel and OutKast ever recorded, and both were performed by a single member of the duo. (Yes, Paul Simon harmonizes a bit on the last verse, but this is Art Garfunkel’s spotlight song.) Both songs couldn’t possibly have been bigger, selling millions of copies and blaring out of every car radio and dorm room for months and months. They also killed at the Grammy’s and proved to be an impossible act to follow. No song screams 1970 like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and no song screams 2003 like “Hey Ya.” They are musical time capsules of their respective eras. 

A Final Album Created While Apart

Paul Simon was forced to create much of Bridge Over Troubled Water by himself after Art Garfunkel headed down to Mexico to film Catch-22 with director Mike Nichols. His own part in the movie was cut, and Simon was none-too-pleased with the situation. He poured all of his emotions into “The Only Living Boy In New York.” When Garfunkel returned, he put down vocals on classics like “The Boxer” and “Cecilia.” The album was their biggest yet, but it marked the end of the group. It was clear they could no longer work together. 

OutKast’s last non-soundtrack album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was also recorded while the duo was apart, but in a more extreme way. It’s basically two solo albums packaged together, though they do guest on each other’s discs. They had grown apart musically and had different visions for the future of the group. In 2006 they did come back together for the Idlewild project, but the less said about that the better.

Artie and Andre Go Hollywood

Right after Simon and Garfunkel split, Artie carried on with his film career by appearing in 1971’s Carnal Knowledge, yet another Mike Nichols movie. Andre 3000 took a role in the disappointing Get Shorty sequel Be Cool in 2005, and later appeared in Battle in Seattle, Semi-Pro and a handful of other movies. Like Garfunkel, his film career never really took off in a huge way, though both continue taking occasional film roles to this day. Andre 3000 stars in the upcoming Jimi Hendrix bio-pic All Is by My Side and Garfunkel had a supporting role in the widely-ignored 2009 Catherine Zeta-Jones romantic comedy The Rebound

A Decade Apart

Discounting Idlewild, each group spent a decade working on their own careers after the split. Andre 3000 and Paul Simon were the ones standing in the way of a reunion, though they both started to crack towards the end. In 1975, Simon and Garfunkel reunited for the single “My Little Town.” Three years later, Paul Simon and James Taylor guested on Garfunkel’s cover of “What A Wonderful World.” Big Boi and Andre 3000 collaborations were less frequent, though earlier this year Big Boi contributed a verse to a remix of Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter,” which already featured a guest spot by Andre 3000. Just like “What a Wonderful World,” it seemed like a sign a reunion was in the works.

A Nostalgic Reunion? 

In 1981, Simon and Garfunkel staged an enormous reunion concert in New York City’s Central Park. Over a half million nostalgic baby boomers showed up, and they spent the next couple of years playing to stadiums all over the planet. They didn’t have a single new song, but it didn’t matter. Fans wanted the hits and Simon and Garfunkel made an absolute fortune singing them night after night. A failed effort to record new material in 1983 broke them apart again, but they toured in 1993, 2003/04 and 2009. They were forced to stop when Garfunkel experienced severe vocal problems.  

We’re not sure what’s going to happen with OutKast. A Coachella reunion would be a huge deal. The Grammy’s let Simon and Garfunkel kick off the 2003 broadcast with a surprise reunion. Imagine OutKast opening the 2014 Grammy’s with a medley of “Ms. Jackson,” “Rosa Parks” and “Hey Ya.” It would be insane, and any tour they put on sale would probably sell out instantly. The problem with an OutKast reunion all these years seemed to be Andre’s dislike of touring. For an enormous payday, he’d probably be willing go step onto a tour bus though. They also won’t have to record a new note of music to sell out huge venues. They can be an oldies act and play the hits until they are in their 70s, just like Simon and Garfunkel. That sounds crazy, but nobody could have imagined Simon and Garfunkel singing “The Sounds of Silence” in 2009 back in 1965, but that’s exactly what happened. Sometimes two people are brought together by fate and they simply can’t stay apart, no matter how hard they try.  

Beyond the vast musical differences between the two acts, one could say that this crazy comparison breaks down because nobody in OutKast can fairly be labeled the “Garfunkel.” Andre 3000 and Big Boi both contributed equally to the music, while Paul Simon wrote the Simon and Garfunkel catalog almost entirely by himself. Andre 3000’s Hollywood career draws comparisons to Garfunkel, but his refusal to reunite all these years is a very Paul Simon move. (Also, Paul Simon had his own movie career with Annie Hall and One Trick Pony.) Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel both released solo albums and sang the old classics at their own tours in the 1970s, while Big Boi has carried the OutKast torch all alone this past decade. Andre 3000 has yet to release a solo album and hasn’t busted out “Hey Ya” in a good decade. We have a feeling that’s going to change very soon though. Maybe they’ll even play Central Park. 


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