Inside OutKast's New 'Idlewild' Movie

Seersucker slacks, saddle shoes, suspenders and a crisp white jacket. It's hard to say why Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000) thought it was good idea to wear this dapper ensem­ble into the pot-smoke-permeated, pit-bull-loving, Red Bull-drinking crowd at Stankonia studios in Atlanta, but he did it nonetheless. As the more ec­centric half OutKast, he's proven he can pull off just about any look—a Little Richard pompadour, a Native American head­dress--but his partner Antwan (Big Boi) Patton still gives him the critical once-over. Big Boi's wearing baggy jeans, a T shirt emblazoned with a porn shot of a naked woman, three-day razor stubble and a smirk. "What the f--- is that?" he asks, gesturing toward Dre. "Are you wearin' a Member's Only jacket?"

The crew, most of whom subscribe to the Big Boi school of dress, bust up laugh­ing. Dre knows the drill: "I don't know what you're talkin' about," he says in a cool Georgia drawl. "You the one still wearin' the same outfit you did in 1998." And with that, OutKast's formal greeting process is done.

Despite their differences, or maybe because of them, high-school friends Dre and Big Boi have be­come hip-hop's most dynamic duo. Since OutKast formed in Atlanta in 1995, they've looped the loop of the parameters of rap, kicked open doors for eccentrics like Gnarls Barkley and proved to formula-minded labels that the masses really were ready to shake it like a Polaroid picture. Plus, the weirder OutKast gets, the more records they sell. Their last release, the double CD "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," was a refresh­ingly strange sonic freak show that moved 11 million copies and in 2004 became the first record to simultaneously win Grammys for best album and best rap album. "I can't really explain it," says Dre, 30. "But after every album it's like, 'Whew! We got away with that one'."

OutKast's next daring feat? Singing, acting and even dancing in the movie musical "Idlewild." The colorful and showy new film, directed by video kingpin Bryan Barber, takes its cues from Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge," but it's set in a 1930s Georgia speakeasy, the entire cast is black (Terrence Howard, Ving Rhames, Ben Vereen) and there's not one Elton John tune in the mix. The original score is a Big Boi-Dre blend of vaudeville, hip-hop and in-the-studio-for-weeks-on-end madness.

The duo also plays the film's lead roles. Dre is Percival, a shy mortician and piano virtuoso, and Big Boi plays Rooster, a small-time club owner and moonshine runner. The childhood friends perform eye-pop­ping numbers at the speakeasy, but it's clear they're drifting apart.

That, of course, is an apt summation of OutKast itself. The group has been famously on the verge of splitting up for the past half decade. Big Boi and Dre record separately—the "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" double CD was two solo albums packaged together—and the duo no longer performs together live.

Back at the Stankonia studios, Big Boi flips a switch on the mixing board and Dre's snappy "Don't Chu Worry 'Bout Me" off the "Idlewild" CD comes bouncing through the speakers. The two bob their heads in unison, but when the music stops, so does the simpatico. Big Boi shifts his attention to a crewmember to discuss why he can't wear his X-rated T shirt at home around the wife and kids. Dre sinks down in his chair, picks up a calculator and starts randomly tapping in numbers until it's time to go.

"Things have changed a lot," he says lat­er at a vegetarian cafe he frequents. In con­trast to his studio demeanor, here Dre is relaxed, open and even content.

"We don't record in the studio together. I make music in my studio, send Big Boi tracks, he does his thing. We haven't really recorded together since the beginning of [2000's quadruple-platinum record] 'Stanko­nia.' Friendwise we have no beef between us, but it gets to the point we really want to move on—" The waiter interrupts him: "3000, you left your lights on."

When Dre returns from the parking lot, he backtracks. "I think Big Boi is a great artist, but it's kinda like a girlfriend-boyfriend rela­tionship that's at a point where you don't hate each other, but something's changed. You came together for a reason, but some­times you've got to realize when it's time to let loose." Still, Dre denies the duo is parting ways ... yet. They're just working on their own proj­ects, he says, including a clothing line, more films and a record label.

Big Boi never even addresses the subject of a possible OutKast divorce because it's nearly impossible to keep his attention long enough to ask the question. He's distracted by anyone who wanders into the studio and is sidetracked by whatever happens to pop into his head: pit bulls, Kenny Rogers's plastic surgery ("Why doesn't he just put a little lotion around the eyes and go with it?") or the Sikh doctor who now doubles as OutKast's percussionist.

"He's in an arranged marriage and everything," says Big Boi, shaking his head. "But you've never seen an Indian whack ghetto s--- out like that. He's jamming."

The poker-faced Big Boi has often been eclipsed by his charismatic partner. But in "Idlewild," the tables turn Big Boi's way. The rapper makes his character Roster into a likeable, charming and exciting figure who steals the show from the introverted Percy. "When I wrote the film, the obvious choice would be to make Dre the lead and Big Boi the supporting actor," says director Barber, "but I gave them equal parts, and Big Boi turned out to be the big surprise. It wasn't easy, though. When I first told him you're gonna have to learn to do these dance moves, he was like, 'What?! I'm not gonna do any f---in' dance moves.' But notice how I surrounded him with women so it makes it easier to be him­self?"

Video vixens aside, OutKast didn't change their style drastically to make this unique soundtrack. Even after a decade of breaking boundaries, defying genres and now, pulling apart, the duo has still found a way to celebrate the catchy and the bizarre. "Each time I try and pretend like I've never made an album before," says Big Boi. "I don't even listen to the old stuff we've done because I don't want to get in there and do anything even similar to that. It'd be too easy to unconsciously copy myself."

Dre's methodology? "Nothing's ever finished, but there is a point when it's presentable," he says. "Even when you listen to 'The Love Below,' I was doing that album until the last hour. If you listen to that album, there's gaps with no lyrics, maybe just an instrumental section. That's not genius at work, that's an un­finished song."

Like their songs, OutKast's work is never done.