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OutKast Is More Like The Beatles Than You Think

By Stereo Williams

Musical debates are a go-to on Twitter. There are predictably neverending discussions about Jay-Z vs Nas, 2Pac vs Biggie and all of the typical go-tos regarding Hip-Hop legends and the greatest R&B singers. But it's rare that the debate crosses generational and genre lines. Well, this week, Chopped 420 host Ron Funches decided to start some shit. 

When you see Twitter debates like "OutKast versus The Beatles" you kind of know what it's all about: this is an opportunity to roast Boomers' most sacrosanct band. It tends to do more to fuel internet tribalism than spark actual, engaged debate. But as you gleefully poke at the Fab Four for the five hundredth time, consider something:  

The Beatles and OutKast are more similar than you may think. 

There are some clear moments where OutKast and The Beatles have connected. Andre 3000 covered the Fab's somewhat-obscure novelty song "All Together Now" in a Nike ad. And Three Stacks' video for 2003s megahit "Hey Ya" was essentially a direct homage to The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Big Boi name-dropped Paul McCartney (and his contentious 2007 divorce from Heather Mills, when McCartney paid Mills $48.6 million in the split) on UGK's classic "Int'l Players Anthem."

Both acts were not only uniquely influential and massively popular; they both represent the creative spirit of constant evolution. The Beatles initially hit America as four loveable mop-tops steeped in rock & roll, girl groups and Motown before rapidly evolving into weed-smoking Dylanphiles, then psychedelic boundary pushers, and ultimately, a rock band steeped in album-centric craftsmanship. For OutKast; teenaged Big Boi and Dre debuted as pimpery-obsessed kids, before reinventing themselves as futuristic sages and subsequently transforming into pop iconoclasts steeped in their own esoteric Hip-Hop style. As acts that constantly pushed themselves forward, they set a bar for their respective generations. 

Also: both OutKast and The Beatles were propelled by the musical synergy of two seemingly-opposite personalities. Andre 3000 and John Lennon occupy similar roles within the dynamic; the more avant-garde arm that's most idiosyncratic and boundary-pushing. While Big Boi and Paul McCartney serve as the also-creative craftsman who is most devoted to both the sustaining of the group's legacy and the maintenance of their individual musical and creative pursuits. 

The Beatles and OutKast each kicked down a regional door for their respective genres that eventually shifted the aesthetic and presentation of those genres. For OutKast, in the 1990s, they broke the bicoastal grip New York and Los Angeles had on mainstream Hip-Hop; they not only brought southern rap to the national table, they were the spark that led to southern rap's eventual mainstream takeover in the early 2000s. Similarly, The Beatles were the band that launched the British Invasion in the 1960s; by the end of that decade, fellow Brits like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin and others were the biggest rock acts in the U.S. and the world. Even American Jimi Hendrix went to the U.K. to land a record deal in 1966. By the 1970s, British bands were dominating rock music -- from pop bands like Fleetwood Mac and E.L.O. to prog acts like Pink Floyd and King Crimson and metal pioneers like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. 

There are parallels between Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and The Beatles, (more commonly known as "The White Album"). Both are double albums that highlight the individual creativity of the act's members. Clearly, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is the more obvious example, as it features Big Boi and Andre 3000 operating more or less as isolated solo artists recording their own separate discs. The Beatles isn't as "official" about the individual focus, but all parties have stated that the album is the most individualistic of the band's catalog. John Lennon famously declared "The White Album" a collection of four solo artists using the other members as a backing band. In the age of streaming, it wouldn't be hard for a fan to divide the album between Lennon songs and McCartney songs.

OutKast and The Beatles both started labels that launched major talents. The Beatles formed Apple Records in 1968, and would subsequently sign future stars like James Taylor, Billy Preston and 70s pop-rock act Badfinger. Big Boi's Purple Ribbon label was homebase for soon-to-be stars like Killer Mike and Janelle Monae. Both groups made a self-indulgent musical after dropping their most critically-acclaimed work. OutKast starred in the critically-derided Idlewild in 2006; and The Beatles' failed 1967 mess Magical Mystery Tour is one of their more famous blunders. 

And what about the end? 

The Beatles dissolution is the most famously bitter breakup in music history; lawsuits, diss records, nasty interviews -- it had all the drama of a VH1 reality show. But OutKast quietly went dormant; no official "breakup" has ever been announced and the ATLiens even reunited for a 20th anniversary tour in 2014. And obviously, the tragic 1980 murder of John Lennon put an end to any talk of a full Beatles reunion, despite McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr's quasi-reunion for the Anthology project in 1995. Harrison's 2001 death further confirmed that The Beatles would only exist as an entity of the 1960s. With OutKast, as of 2021, we can still hold out hope that Big and Dre will once again grace us with...something, anything...as OutKast. 

The social media debate tends to lean into snark when it comes to Boomer faves like The Beatles.

But these two acts cast interesting parallels. They were both artists who never settled for what they did on their last record. They were both acts that pushed the previously-established limits of their genre. But OutKast's legacy doesn't sit in deference to the moptops; Hip-Hop doesn't need to present itself against rock icons for validation or affirmation of greatness. There are lots of people who love OutKast and couldn't care less about John, Paul, George and Ringo. But as groups that set a bar for creativity, for evolution, and for maintaining commercial success while constantly challenging themselves as artists, you'd be hard-pressed to find better examples.

Whether you prefer "Hey Jude" to "Hey Ya" is up to you.