An interesting video appeared on RollingStone.com in late October. It was a clip of Kendrick Lamar playing “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” for Dr. Dre and Andre 3000. Aside from how much talent was in the room, and the clichéd “passing the torch” photo op it provided, I found the clip interesting because both Andres—Young and Benjamin—have become semi-reclusive, mythical Hip Hop icons for what they’ve done and lately what they haven’t done. Namely, they won’t give us the albums we’ve been respectively craving from either of them. Having one or both of them associated with your name and/or project, as Kendrick and Rick Ross have recently managed to do, lends an air of instant credibility. Technically, Andre 3000 hasn’t put out a proper studio album as a member of Outkast or as a soloist since 2006. Dr. Dre has taken twice as long as that by not releasing a solo album since 1999. I’d love to be wrong about this, but I seriously doubt that Andre 3000 or Dr. Dre will release an album in 2013—if ever again. During their rare interviews, they give various reasons why it’s taken them so long to complete new projects. Maybe we as fans should be asking some other questions. Setting aside our own selfish desire for potentially great songs, what personal reasons do either Three Stacks or Dr. Dre have for putting out full albums anymore?
Alwayz Into Somethin’
“I ain’t havin’ that / This is the millennium of Aftermath / It ain’t gone be nothin’ after that / So give me one more platinum plaque / And fuck Rap you can have it back…” –Dr. Dre, “Forgot About Dre.”
It’s almost scary how prophetic the above bars from Dr. Dre sound if you look back at them nearly 13 years after they were recorded. Like most people, I don’t assume Dre was being literal when he rhymed that verse. But even as his 2001, album was being recorded, Dre was putting himself in position to make a ridiculous amount of money from residual royalties associated with the Aftermath catalogue. We know what happened next. Eminem made two visits to the rare “diamond club” by moving over 10 million copies domestically of both The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show. Later, 50 Cent would sell 6 million copies of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and another 5 million of The Massacre domestically. Then, just for good measure, Dre and Jimmy Iovine co-created Beats Electronics and subsequently sold a 51% stake in the company to HTC for $300 million before buying back a majority share in the company. It may not have been “the millennium of Aftermath” it was damn sure the decade of Aftermath. Simply put, Dr. Dre makes more from his business ventures and his back catalogue than he ever will from putting out any new music. There’s no financial incentive for Dre to release Detox.
“Trying to find solutions to the situation I’m facing / Only thing that’s free is my flow that y’all be chasing / Letting my niggas know / Before I go I drop that knowledge / Like droppin’ books / Let’s stop the crooks / From robbing you of your brains and such / Using welfare as a crutch / I’m in it for good / You enter my hood you won’t be finding much / Hope that when I’m gone y’all remember this / What we stood for / Fuck that fame and that glitz…” –Andre 3000, “Chronomentrophobia.”
Farther east and below the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s not money so much as a possible waning interest delaying Andre 3000’s full time return to Hip Hop. He rarely tours, does press or appears in videos for the handful of tracks he pops up on but effortlessly murders.
“Things are kind of up in the air with me, and some days, I feel like yeah, I’ll do it,” Andre told Steven Horowitz in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Some days, I feel like, I don’t. I don’t know the future of music right now. I have no idea what I do. I honestly don’t. I record and I write ideas. I think I’ll always do that, for some reason. But I don’t know if it will go to another artist or will it be my stuff or will it go to some movie? I don’t know. I just kind of keep creating and hopefully, it’ll fall into a slot.”
This will be the first year that none of those creative efforts fall into an Outkast slot, as Three Stacks will not appear on Big Boi’s upcoming Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors. Big Boi’s recent “Gillette shit” jokes aside, the average Outkast fan can’t help but be somewhat pissed because the assumed preference is to hear Andre rhyming with Big Boi as opposed to the likes of Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Lloyd or pretty much anyone not named Antwan Patton.
For a fan like myself, and presumably anyone else who reads 2,000 words about two rappers they’ve never met, we probably can’t comprehend being as good at anything as Andre 3000 and Dr. Dre are at creating great Hip Hop music. You probably remember exactly when and where you first heard “Aquemeni,” “Fuck Tha Police,” “Elevators” or “Nuthin’ But A G Thang.” Serious head nodding and that ugly, scrunched up face many of us make when were hear something groundbreaking were probably involved. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can’t imagine being that great at something and then voluntarily walking away from it. And, as is the case with most things we don’t understand, that’s where the speculation comes in.
What’s The Difference?
“Now you ‘bout to feel the fuckin’ wrath of Aftermath faggots / You gone see us in our lab jackets / And ask us where the fuck we been / You can kiss my indecisive ass crack maggots / And the cracker’s ass / Little cracker jack / Beat making wack ass backwards producers / I’m back bastards / One more CD and then I’m packing up my bags / And as I’m leaving I guarantee they’ll scream / Dre don’t leave us like that man…” –Dr. Dre, “I Need A Doctor.”
On one level, I think at least some of the qualities that made Andre 3000 and Dr. Dre so great at their respective crafts are beginning to look like hindrances to fans like me. In theory, Dr. Dre’s success in the business world should earn him the right to make the weirdest, most creative project his heart desires. But despite the commercial success of his most recent efforts, “The Doctor’s” last few prescriptions have felt rather generic to me. Whether you buy the explanation of it being unfinished and leaked or not, “Under Pressure” lacked the natural chemistry Dre and Jay-Z showcased on “The Watcher 2.” Similarly, “I Need A Doctor” achieved the goal of crossing over, but its power-ballad style sacrificed the off the cuff humor and organic back and forth of “Guilty Conscience.” And I think Dre’s indifference toward ghostwriting in recent years undermines what has previously proven to be an excellent delivery (especially for someone who flatly says he’s not a rapper) when paired with less intricate rhyme patterns.
“I used to write quite a bit,” Dre told Alex Pappademas in a 2007 GQ magazine interview. “But I don’t necessarily like my writing as much as I do Eminem’s. So if he offers to write me a song, what the fuck? There’s nothing for me to hide there.”
What we end up with is an “I Need A Doctor,” type of track that sounds more like an Eminem song than a Dr. Dre one. Besides, if 50 Cent can allegedly make $177,000 in nine minutes hawking headphones on QVC, how much do you think Dre would make? Why would he spend those nine minutes writing a verse? As a fan you may feel cheated out of that classic Dre experience, but it’s hard to argue with the results and business logic behind letting your multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning friend and protégé pen some verses for you. Again, business acumen beats the whole, “love of Hip Hop” argument.
I just made 177,000 dollars in 9min on QVC.can some one hate on me so I can know this is real life.#SMSaudio
— 50cent (@50cent) November 11, 2012
Sixteen Ain’t Enough
“And Flipper didn’t hold his nose so why shall I hold my tongue / I miss the days of old when one could hold his gal on his arm / And not set off these alarms when camera’s snap, snap, snap, snap / Return fire, pap, pap, pap, pap, pap, pap, pap, pap / They’ll learn why mere privacy so essential / They won’t make no laws / I break their laws ‘til they see out our window / I take the fall / To make them all treat human kind more gentle / Forsake them all / I hate them all / Don’t like ‘em don’t pretend to / Yeah something tells me we ain’t in Kansas anymore / All that shit that used to be cool ain’t cool anymore” –Andre 3000, “Sixteen.”
As for Andre 3000, the same unbridled creativity that gave us Stankonia and The Love Below is part of the reason we won’t see an Outkast or solo offering this calendar year. Three Stacks is really good at a lot of things. His self-expression manifests itself in the form of cartoon series, paintings, movies and genre-bending music that are all at least moderately successful. And, if we’re to take him at his word, Dre has apparently become a victim of his past success and feels overly scrutinized.
“It’s such a sad thing because now, people judge everything that I do,” Andre added in his Rolling Stone profile. “Because I don’t do it much, they analyze every word and before, you could’ve had a shitty verse and people just forgot about it. So it’s different now.”
When you’ve helped re-write the rules of Rap, made the rare Hip Hop album to sell over 10 million copies and find that you can’t even go in the studio and fuck around without being expected to drop a classic, what are your options? Contrary to his own quote, I don’t think Andre has ever “had a shitty verse.” But I do believe Andre might imagine going through a press run for a project he’s not totally behind and performing songs from that project a hundred or so times during a tour as a miserable experience.
The Next Episode
“Even the sun goes down / Heroes eventually die / Horoscopes often lie / And sometimes why / Nothing is for sure / Nothing is for certain / Nothing lasts forever / But until they close the curtain / It’s him and I…” –Andre 3000, “Aquemeni.”
Perhaps the greatest hope an Andre 3000 or Dr. Dre fan has is that, the curtain hasn’t officially closed for either one of them. Unlike Jay-Z and Too Short before him, there hasn’t been any official retirement announced—just a decline in output. Over the years, these two have proven to be some of Hip Hop’s most fearless contributors. We’re talking about two people that draw inspiration from George Clinton and have respectively worn sequins and an umpire chest protector with velour, zebra pants. As grown men. Hip Hop’s current snarky, comment-trolling culture penalizes experimentation and fails to financially reward its trailblazers, but I think (hope) their talents and desire to keep contributing to Hip Hop culture will win out.
“It’s funny because, last night, it almost felt like this song and this video was the rebirth of something,” Dr. Dre told “Extra” in 2011. “Maybe [it’s] the rebirth of me going toward whatever the future holds for me and what have you. It’s weird because that’s how I started to feel last night during the making of this video. With the rehabilitation and everything, it just kind of feels that way.”
But, even if we assume the worst, that both Andres are done for good as full-time artists, there’s still hope. The landscape of Hip Hop has changed so much that sometimes we forget that some of us are clamoring for an album from a man that’s 48-years-old and another one that is 37-years-old. I’m not particularly sure that would’ve happened even a decade ago. Hip Hop is getting a lot better about dismissing age-related stereotypes. Too Short and E-40 are also both closing in on 50, and they just released a joint album together. Talent reigns supreme, and it’s fairly safe to say that the days when rappers over 35 only got wheeled out for a “Hip Hop Honors” tribute are over. If the worst we can hope for are a half dozen quality, high profile cameos from Dr. Dre and Andre 3000 every year, that’s still a win in my book. And if we’re lucky, maybe the creative fires get kindled to the point where they feel like dropping an album. Stranger things have happened.
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @OmarBurgess.