The ‘Kast is Back

Nic Britton

I’ll be honest — in my time living here in Louisville, I’ve never been able to justify going to the Forecastle Festival. That’s not to say that their lineups have been altogether bad; on the contrary. I really wish I could have seen The Black Keys and Run the Jewels last year. But the high cost of admission quickly chased that idea out of my head.

However, there’s something so fresh, so clean in the air this year. Something that may be worth breaking the bank for. Ladies and gentlemen: they have OutKast.

Of all the artists and bands from my generation, few have become as ingrained in American music as OutKast. “ATLiens,” “Aquemini” and “Stankonia” are all frequently regarded as being among the best hip-hop albums ever made.

Everyone can belt the hook to “Ms. Jackson” when it’s played on the radio. And “Hey Ya!” is such a quintessential “spring/summer song” that it practically serves as an alternative to Groundhog Day. If it’s Feb. 2 and you haven’t heard it on the radio yet — well, looks like there’s some extra weeks of winter then.

Their last album, “Idlewild,” was released almost eight years ago. Since then, OutKast’s members, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin, have pursued solo careers instead of working together. But even as the years passed, fans’ diehard desire for an OutKast reunion never lost its spark – even as it started to seem less and less probable.

You may be wondering: why is this the case? Most music reunions end up being better on paper than in practice. The members may have less drive; the artistic hunger may no longer be present. These reunions can often feel like cash grabs.

However, if any group has the potential to return “new and improved,” it’s OutKast. This is primarily due to the fact that its members have very successfully continued to polish their crafts within their solo work.

Big Boi’s solo career has been more clearly-defined and has a more visible trajectory. His first solo album, 2010’s “Sir Lucious Left Foot,” was a jaw-dropping record that holds its own against any of the classics he made with his old partner Andre. His emceeing was some of the most impressive of the year, and was complemented by stellar production and a near-perfect lineup of guests (including personal favorites Janelle Monae and George Clinton). His follow-up record from 2012, “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors,” was more polarizing, but definitely brought some highlights to the table in its own right.

Andre’s solo career has been more nebulous by comparison. He has yet to actually release a solo album, and has instead stuck largely to sporadic guest appearances on other artists’ songs. His relative silence, however, has spoken volumes.

An Andre 3000 guest spot feels like an “event” every time, and this was never more evident than it was in 2012, when he showed up on Frank Ocean’s debut album. His verse on “Pink Matter” made the Internet damn-near explode, and was widely hailed as one of the album’s best moments.

What these two solo paths have in common is that they’ve encouraged both artists to embrace their more experimental and ambitious sides. Granted, they’ve always operated on a different wavelength than their peers on the radio; but they seemed to overshadow each other at times. Their solo music has made their individual artistic aspirations more apparent, and has allowed them to grow in surprisingly different directions from one another.

A lot’s changed for these guys since they initially ruled the airwaves. Pop culture and the music industry have perhaps changed even more; iTunes was still getting off the ground during OutKast’s peak years in the late 90s and early 2000s. And yet, for all that change, and for all the time that’s passed since they last performed together: almost all of the festivals confirmed to be hosting their 20th Anniversary Tour have given them top billing and/or headliner status. This has even proved true for Coachella, perhaps the most talked-about music festival in recent years. That says a lot about the staying power this group has. How many other acts going on 20 years in the industry could still headline such a wide variety of festivals, let alone after taking a hiatus spanning eight years?

Louisville’s very own Forecastle Festival was one of the first festivals to announce that they locked down one of OutKast’s tour dates. This is terrific news for a city whose music scene is anemic at best: we actually get to be part of something big for once.

I would love it if this was a harbinger of things to come for our local music scene. It is obviously a pretty significant stretch to suggest that OutKast’s performance will result in more A-listers considering Louisville to be a viable tour spot; but I hope that, if nothing else, a successful showing from OutKast will convince Forecastle to add more variety to their lineups in future years. I’m all for good garage rock and alternative rock, but Forecastle tends to lean a bit too heavily on genres in this vein, and this relative lack of diversity saps it of some of its potential.

And of course, as with everyone else, I’m holding out hope that this tour suggests OutKast will hit the studio once again and concoct more of their intelligent, otherworldly hip-hop. But at the end of the day, all we know for sure is that they’re going to be back on the live circuit for a while, and that stands alone as excellent news. They’ve undoubtedly got some crazy ideas planned for this thing.