“I bet you never heard of a playa with no game / Told the truth to get what I want, but shot it with no shame” - André 3000 (“13th Floor / Growing Old”)
The irony of a song titled “Int’l Players Anthem” featuring three happily married men is quite fitting within the realm of rap. Each verse sounds as if Pimp C, Bun B and Big Boi donned their best minks, suede crocodiles and suave canes to imitate men notorious for backhanded slaps and perms laid like Katt Williams. JAY-Z was right when he told us it's only entertainment. André 3000 was the song’s sole bachelor, no spouse awaited his arrival after the studio session. Instead of glorifying a womanizing style of living, André’s verse is dedicated to retiring from the never-ending game of chase and conquer.
Marriage was on the mind; the act of choosing one instead of many is articulated with a poet’s tongue over a drumless soulful loop. It’s a convincing performance, a player that is done playing on an anthem for players. André’s contradictory contribution to “Int’l Players Anthem” feels rooted in the same desire that sprouted The Love Below, an acclaimed passion project meant to discard the very machismo rappers are known for wearing like impenetrable armor. For the 10-year anniversary of OutKast's dual albums Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, André spoke with XXLand said this:
"Rap at the time was a laid-back mindframe, 'We pimpin’ we players,' so The Love Below was an anti-response to that. I was going for a different take on the bravado of rap to show a more affected character." —André 3000
The black swan has been André’s primary position in the music industry since OutKast’s sophomore LP. Album after album he physically and vocally drifted further from the concept of conventionalism until he was unlike anyone in hip-hop; a true alien from Atlanta who wore anti like cloth from a king.
During the press run for The Love Below, André didn’t bite his tongue about a growing disinterest in hip-hop. Bored by a genre that didn’t seem compelled to evolve and experiment in the manner he did, André used the subject of love to explore beyond hip-hop’s cramped ravine. What made the music so compelling is the way he could sing in a spirited falsetto of lustful encounters and then follow the night of sex with the honest morning-after thoughts that occur once the two companions finally awake. God is a woman, Cupid has a gun, and roses smelled like they belonged in the sewage. Love is what is prayed for, love is found and love is lost as the character goes through the whirlwind of emotions that are attached to the fulfilling yet strenuous search for a life partner. Originally recorded as a score for a yet-to-be-made movie, the album is rich with sounds that bring the genre-defying music to life.
Before André pivoted to Hollywood he made an experimental soundtrack for a movie that didn’t exist—The Love Below is a quirky romantic comedy that journeys to the heart of one human’s funky heart.
Women have always had an interesting presence on OutKast's albums. Despite never being the focal point of their lyricism, they always existed within the music. The first person you hear on the Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik introduction is Peaches. Suzy Skrew and Sasha Thumper will always have a special place in the hearts of fans. Big Boi immortalized the SpottieOttieDopalicious Angel that reminded him of a brown stallion on roller skates, unforgettable. One of the rare cases where the ladies are viewed critically, though, is on “Jazzy Belle,” the final single from the group's sophomore album, ATLiens.
"I hate thinking that these the future mommas of our chill'un / They fucking a different nigga every time / They get the feeling to"
It’s yet another rap song featuring men being critical of promiscuous women and labeling them the modern Jazebel―considered the biggest seductress in the Bible. Temptation has a way of being a problem for the rich and fairly famous but André and Big Boi come off as sexist as they look down upon women who don’t live within their holy bubble. Women being sexually liberated and even pursuing lesbian lovers causes a young 3000 much grief, and I cringe each time I hear Big rap, “Big Boi use 'er and abuse 'er” like groupies are meant to be discarded like week-old leftovers. Wanting a wholesome woman isn’t a sin, but the sexist stance against groupies and Jazebel comparisons are overkill.
Big Boi went the marriage route while continuing to play the role of a pimp named Daddy Fat Sax on wax, but André didn’t follow his footsteps. He went left.
“Ms. Jackson” is an open, honest apology to the mother of Erykah Badu. Made four years after "Jazzy Belle," young André was no longer looking down on groupies for not living up to his image of queens but realizing the unruly mess he made as a man. A rapper apologizing for hurting a woman on wax was unheard of at the time, especially as the single. Big Boi brought balance with two verses of ferocious defensiveness, but Dre is candid about his previous relationship. He raps about his union with Badu as if it were truly a beautiful match made in Eden; two people who thought about eternity together, and a child was born from this bliss. The pretty picnic didn’t last. Somewhere André slipped and brought overcast to their paradise. I wonder how much of that regret and realization that eternal love wasn’t such an easy accomplishment lead to the inspiration behind The Love Below's world-dominating single, “Hey Ya!”
In an interview with MTV, André confessed a thought-provoking quote:
"Hey Ya!" comes at the time in the story when he's had a magical night of lovemaking and has fallen in love with the woman, voiced on the album by Rosario Dawson. Now he's getting cold feet, wondering whether he wants to be serious and questioning the point of continuing. "If they say nothing is forever ... then what makes love the exception?" he ponders. "'Hey Ya!' is pretty much about the state of relationships in the 2000s," the rapper explained on the set of the video. "It's about some people who stay together in relationships because of tradition, because somebody told them, 'You guys are supposed to stay together.' But you pretty much end up being unhappy for the rest of your life. "So 'Hey Ya!' is really about saying, 'F--- it. Live life, you know?'" André added before throwing out a line. "Don't want to meet your daddy, just want you in my Caddy." - André 3000
I don’t know if André was giving women the same pass to live life like men, but he seemed to have changed his stance and accepted relationships in the 2000s weren’t following the standard traditions of the baby boomers. He wrestled with the question of whether marriage was truly meant to be.
Around the time of writing and recording “Int’l Players Anthem,” another song with a vision of eternal union was recorded for André's Detox-esque debut album called “I Do.” Recorded in ’06 and leaked in 2010, the song eventually found a home on Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 103 featuring the Snowman and JAY-Z in 2011. 3K sounds the most natural, there's no question that the song was originally in his possession. He puts listeners right alongside him in the club as he encounters a woman that completely takes his breath away. He walks us through his vision of this gorgeous gal, ready to whisk her away in a hot air balloon with dreams of sex, proposals and baby butterflies in her cocoon―probably the most country metaphor for conception in the history of rap. But it's all beautifully said. He doesn’t come off as a womanizer or a sexist, just a man who falls in love quicker than an iPhone charger short circuits.
Rap music and fellow artists weren’t motivating André, but after The Love Below, love and women were consistently on his brain; the two didn’t recede as subjects he had successfully covered, but topics he continued to explore. Many of the featured verses he has done over the last 14 years have been driven by thoughts of women or stories inspired by girls he encountered or imagined.
One that immediately comes to mind is the woman in the checkout line at the Whole Foods that is the sole focus of his memorable verse on Lloyd’s “You" remix. This isn’t the story of a groupie who fans out, but a lady who maintains her composure staring down a famous rapper that is the creator of the cartoon her little sister adores. He’s the awkward star and she’s the calm fan. It's a realistic exchange of sincere kindness between two strangers. The reference of Paris shows that Dre was still in The Love Below mindset (Paris was the original setting for his screenplay). Hearing André confess that not calling her could simply be because of a hectic schedule and not disinterest shows how busy his life had become. Casual dating doesn't sound possible for a superstar.
So I'm standing there embarrassed, if we were both in Paris / I would have grabbed her by the waist and kissed her / But we in the middle of Whole Foods, and those foods / Ain't supposed to beef, but you'd think they hated tofu / Check-in line got rowdy, my vision got cloudy / I started seein' circles like some Audi emblem / I'm hearing them say, come on man / Do this own your own time, get the hell on, man
The remix of Chris Brown’s “Deuces” found 3000 musing upon a former lover, someone he did call and tried to make work. He doesn’t allow us to pry too deeply, a moral code of secrecy old players still stand by. Unlike Drake, who gave us Courtney's name and work address, André only uses pronouns to describe the muses he mentions. Dre starts reminiscing with a farewell message and slowly presents why she had caught his eye and the sad reality he didn’t have time to know her more. The lifestyle of a rolling stone, he had no choice but to say goodbye to another one that could’ve been the one.
“Pink Matter” is another incredible example of a sad verse filled with the loathing of another girl lost in this whirlwind of a world. “She’s better with a fella with a regular job” perfectly captures a self-aware celebrity who couldn’t bear to bring someone from outside into the TMZ lens that is his life.
André has a recurring way of presenting the woman/women as the very first line of the song: texting the girl on “Int’l Players Anthem,” a farewell email on “Deuces,” the conversation that starts the “You” remix and “Dedication To My Ex."
Nothing beats the beginning of his verse on Future’s “Benz Friends,” though:
Told the girl I’m about to sell the Porsche, I’m tired of it / She go and told these folks I'm going broke, a smile poured / From my lips, ‘cause if I’m broke it's only heartache
He goes on to wonder about the fascination of rumors, especially of those that illustrate the famous when they’re financially struggling. Despite being wealthy in his bank account, he is aching from within. It's one of his most overlooked verses; each line really nails how little he cares about the expensive cars that draw the attention of starry-eyed vixens and vampires. In the words of the poet himself, “Affection is so convenient when ballin'.”
Kelis' “Millionaire” features André but the song was meant to be on The Love Below and sonically it sounds tailored for André’s eclectic album. If you see it as a missing piece of The Love Below's narrative, the song is about how money cannot bring happiness. Disenchanted by material things, “Millionaire” and “Benz Friends” show the sides of an André who is mature enough to know what will make him happy can't be bought. Too famous to date, and there aren't enough riches to cure heartache.
A moment of guilt and possible regret can be heard on “Sorry,” the T.I. record that is known most for André’s apology to Big Boi. He acknowledges the millions of dollars left untouched due to his unbreakable vow not to tour. The attention was too much for him. Even more revealing were the few lines about leaving a mother and son due to the world calling for him. “Well I'd probably do it differently if second the chance, only if some cool ass older man would've let me know in advance” is a fascinating lyric when considering the artist has few peers that he can turn to. Once you reach diamond status, your peer group is minimal. Who can give advice to a star brighter than the sun?
Back in 2003, when doing press for The Love Below, André said the following about marriage in an interview with the New York Times:
"It's not just Andre's music that's in transition. Much of his album explores the idea of love and relationships, but a difficult breakup -- with the R & B singer Erykah Badu, the mother of his 5-year-old son, Seven -- has left him unsure about monogamy and the institution of marriage. ''Isn't marriage cutting you off from the rest of the world and the experiences you can have with other people?'' he asked, picking over his tofu. ''Aren't you putting boundaries on yourself?''" - André 3000
For any artist so determined to be anti and go left, to move against the current and fight convention, there is no bigger fear than boundaries.
It’s worth noting that all his songs about women are experiences he likely couldn’t have had if he was married. The very muses who he pulled from could only be there if he chose many over one. I can’t imagine him being sad in a strip club like his “The Real Her” verse depicts if he had a real wife at home. All the lyrics inspired by love lost and experience gained wouldn’t exist. We like André because what he said always felt real, inspired by real people. But without knowing the truth behind the lyrics, what can be precieved as many could be one. The women could be a single woman. He is a man too private to know who is the inspiration behind the bars.
Only André knows why love has been such an enamoring subject to study in his music. From interracial love on Gwen Stefani’s “Long Way To Go” (also cut from The Love Below) to simply picking up a love interest on John Legend's “Green Light,” almost all the nuances of courting/courtship from a man’s perspective have been touched upon throughout his career. It’s the language and stories that have kept these verses fresh; he continues to pull from the same well but the water has been refreshing each and every time.
As long as he's passionate enough to continue the search to understand love and continue sharing the stories of love that inspires the music, I’m here to listen. We only know what is in the lyrics but even that doesn't tell us enough about the man. Like the rest of us he's forever evolving, learning, and growing in this world. Until the day he’s able to live out the “Int’l Players Anthem” music video, I hope he remembers, "Keep your heart 3 Stacks. Keep your heart."
By Yoh, aka The Yoh Below, aka @Yoh31