As the more outlandish and introspective half of the experimental rap duo OutKast, Andre Benjamin - also known as Andre 3000, Dré, Three Stacks and a half dozen other monikers - established himself as a bona fide innovator in a musical genre that had seen better creative days. Along with high school friend Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, OutKast became a giant in the rap world, separating themselves from their hip-hop contemporaries by incorporating elements of funk, jazz and rock-n-roll into a genre desperate for change. From their debut to their widely hailed Grammy-winning fifth album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003), the duo became one of the best-selling rap artists of all time. Not satisfied with a career in music, Benjamin segued to film and television with small, but memorable appearances in "Hollywood Homicide" (2003) and on "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08). While he branched off to explore wider musical realms like jazz and classical, along the way learning to play saxophone, guitar and clarinet, Benjamin turned in quality supporting performances in "Be Cool" (2005), "Four Brothers" (2005), "Idlewild" (2006) and "Battle in Seattle" (2007). Following a comic turn in the Will Ferrell comedy "Semi-Pro" (2008), he made waves when he was cast as Jimi Hendrix in the unauthorized biopic "All is By My Side" (2012). Whether in music or on the screen, Benjamin proved himself to be a multi-talented performer capable of pleasantly surprising even his most ardent critics.
Born on May 27, 1975 in Atlanta, GA, Benjamin was raised by his father, Lawrence, a collections agent, and his mother, Sharon, a real estate broker. It was as a sophomore at Tri-Cities High School in East Point that he met future partner and collaborator, Antwan "Big Boi" Patton. After earning the respect of the other after a few lyric battles, the two formed OutKast and were quickly signed by Antonio "L.A." Reid to his LaFace label in 1992. Two years later, the pair unleashed Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik on an unsuspecting audience and immediately set fire to the music scene. With a blend of hip-hop, southern guitar riffs and laid-back 1970's-style soul, OutKast's first album peaked at No. 20 on the charts and left fans wanting more. Their second effort, ATLiens (1996), was a sudden shift from the bubbling funk of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to futuristic beats and trance-like rhythms. OutKast attracted a wider audience with the ambitious album, as ATLiens hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and turned them into best-selling sensations.
For their third outing, Aquemini, Andre 3000 and Big Boi infused jazz, reggae and world beats into their music, broadening an already wide palette of sounds. As their rhymes matured, becoming more spiritual and introspective, the music came back down to Earth from the interstellar space explored in ATLiens. The first single, "Rosa Parks," was a hit, but the Civil Rights heroine sued the group for the unauthorized use of her name. That suit was later dismissed. Meanwhile, the album rocketed up the charts and cemented itself at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The best, however, was yet to come. In 2000, OutKast released what would be considered a rap masterpiece, Stankonia. Combining classic P-Funk beats with rock, OutKast produced an album that defied standard hip-hop or anything else on the pop charts. The duo won two Grammy awards in 2001 - one for Best Rap Album, the other for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the single, "Ms. Jackson."
It took another three years for OutKast to release their fifth effort, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, a dual release that featured Andre 3000 and Big Boi on separate albums. Rumors swirled about whether or not the two were breaking up, since they began conducting separate interviews while Andre 3000 refused to tour to support the album. But according to the duo, the rumors were untrue, though it was clear that their musical interests were taking separate paths. Benjamin began branching out on his own, learning how to play saxophone and clarinet, and appeared in feature films and on television series under his given name. He made a memorable feature debut as a screenwriter in the otherwise forgettable action comedy "Hollywood Homicide" (2003), starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett. Turning to television, Benjamin appeared in a 2004 episode of "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08), playing a comic book store owner who takes keeping the piece in his violence-torn neighborhood into his own hands. Four years later, Benjamin reprised the character - who went from store owner to burgeoning politician - for the series finale.
Benjamin went on to portray wanna-be gansta rapper Da Boo in "Be Cool" (2005), the inferior sequel to "Get Shorty" (1995), where he stood out as welcome comic relief opposite John Travolta's popular character, Chili Palmer, who leaves the film industry to make his mark in the music industry. From there, he ably played the more settled and straight-laced brother among four troubled foster sons seeking to avenge the mysterious murder of their adoptive mother in director John Singleton's hard-edged, if sometime implausible revenge thriller "Four Brothers" (2005). The following year, OutKast released their sixth album, Idlewild (2006), a soundtrack to the movie of the same name where they played two childhood friends in the mid-1930s who lead separate lives: one hard working and honest, while the other drifts toward crime. Though the film received mixed reviews, the soundtrack debuted at No. 2 on the charts. Following that release, however, Andre 3000 and Big Boi both branched out into solo careers, with the former returning to rap and appearing on a number of singles with artists like Unk, Rich Boy, Jay-Z, Devin the Dude and John Legend. It was reported at the time that he was planning a solo rap album while rumors swirled that a new OutKast record was in the works.
Meanwhile, Benjamin continued to appear with regularity on screens big and small in a variety of projects, voicing Elwyn the Crow in the live-action film "Charlotte's Web" (2006) and making a small uncredited appearance in "Scary Movie 4" (2006). After a small role in the legal thriller "Fracture" (2007), starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling, he had a more substantial role in "Battle in Seattle" (2007), an indie drama centered around the tumultuous events of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999. Back on television, he was the creator, executive producer and voiceover artist for lead character Sunny Bridges on the short-lived animated musical series "Class of 3000" (Cartoon Network, 2006-08). Teaming with Will Ferrell and Woody Harrelson, Benjamin co-starred as a multi-named basketball player in "Semi-Pro" (2008), a poorly received comedy inspired by the early days of the freewheeling American Basketball Association, which later merged with the NBA in 1976. Following an episode as a security guard on "About a Girl" (E!, 2007-08), Benjamin made big news when he was tapped to play guitar legend Jimi Hendrix in the unauthorized biopic, "All is By My Side" (2014), which caused a stir since the Hendrix estate refused to grant music rights. Director and writer John Ridley proceeded with the production regardless, limiting the film to a brief period just prior to the icon's international fame. Despite good notices for Benjamin's performance, the film was greeted with disinterest critically and commercially.
By Shawn Dwyer
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Released debut album <i>Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik</i>; certified platinum
Outkast recorded and released their first single "Player's Ball"
Released their second album <i>ATLiens</i>
Released third album <i>Aquemini</i>; was sued in 1999 over their single "Rosa Parks" by the civil rights pioneer over the use of her name, citing "unlawful appropriation of her name"
Released fourth album <i>Stankonia</i>, which featured the U.S. chart-topping single "Ms. Jackson"
Release a greatest hits album <i>Big Boi and Dre Present...OutKast</i>; record contained three new songs
Released dual CD's containing their own individual musical statements <i>Speakerboxxx / The Love Below</i>
Cast in "Revolver," written and directed by Guy Ritchie
Starred in John Singleton's "Four Brothers" as one of four brothers out to avenge their mother's murder
Made feature film debut starring in "Be Cool" (the "Get Shorty" sequel) opposite John Travolta and Uma Thurman
Signed a first-look deal with MTV and Nickelodeon to produce theatrical films and cable projects
Cast in the comedy "Scary Movie 4," directed by David Zucker
Starred in "Idlewild," a feature about music performers in the 1930s; also simultaneously released the album <i>Idlewild</i> with Big Boi, which served as the soundtrack
Acted opposite Will Ferrell and Woody Harrelson in the 1970s-era sports comedy "Semi-Pro"
Earned two Grammy nomination for his collaborations with John Legend and Big Boi