Local Current Blog

Behind First Avenue’s Stars: OutKast

2015 marks First Avenue’s 45th anniversary of hosting Minneapolis’s most memorable shows. We’ve recently embarked on a mission to tell the tales of the musicians emblazoned on their iconic Wall of Fame. Previous posts covered local natives Babes in Toyland and Har Mar Superstar. Next up is a national duo that only took a single amped-up gig to earn them the prestigious star—hip-hop gurus extraordinaire, OutKast.

Hailing from Atlanta, André “André 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton began concocting beats during their high school years in ’92. OutKast soon honed their signature sound, pulling inspiration from a slew of styles including gospel, blues, old-school rap, R&B, and southern soul. With six recorded studio albums and a greatest-hits collection, the twosome have racked up a total of six Grammys and four AMAs for cross-genre sensations like “Hey Ya” and “Ms. Jackson.” OutKast remain one of the top-selling hip-hop groups of all time, with a whopping total of over 25 million records sold.

When the pair performed at First Ave on Dec. 2, 1998, they had recently released Aquemini, named after a combination of their zodiac signs—Aquarius (Big Boi) and Gemini (André). Produced by Organized Noise, many critics dubbed it record of the year for its innovative instrumentals and subtly poignant lyrics.

Meghan Mahar was 16 at the time and recalls the anticipation of OutKast’s arrival. “They were already starting to get a lot more popular, so the fact that they were going to be at First Ave—a smaller venue—was really cool,” she said. “The first day that the tickets were on sale, we were worried they would sell out, so right after school we went to Cheapo in St Paul. We were really excited and nerdy about it. Everybody I knew wanted to go to that show.”

First Avenue’s then-publicist wrote to OutKast’s label suggesting various strategies to promote the show. She recommended submitting video to Robyne Robinson at KMSP (“she prefers Beta but can work with 3/4″ and VHS”) and doing a meet-and-greet at the Electric Fetus (“they are fantastic and very well equipped to handle these kind of events”).

Openers included Haitian-American hip-hop sibling duo Melky Sedeck, the younger siblings of the Fugees‘ Wyclef Jean made famous by their debut single “I’ve Got a Love.” The pre-Fergie Black-Eyed Peas followed, with will.i.am, Taboo, and apl.de.ap performing an upbeat set from their ‘98 album Behind the Front. The blurb previewing the show in Pulse of the Twin Cities referred to the Black-Eyed Peas as “critically acclaimed” and went on to call OutKast’s Aquemini “the hip-hop record of the year (sorry, Lauryn).”

Emerging suavely in lush fur coats, it was clear OutKast were there for the live experience. In addition to a DJ, they performed with a live drummer and a guitarist. “I remember there were a ton of people on the stage—like ten of them,” said Mahar. “It was unusual because you just expected it to be the two of them and maybe a DJ.”

Despite a creative musical angle, the duo stuck close to well-known hits. The audience went wild for numbers like “Player’s Ball,” “Elevator,” and “Rosa Parks.” “Throughout my high school years I probably went to, like, every hip-hop show they had [at First Ave], and I remember that one being particularly good,” said Mahar. “That one stands out.”

Anticipating a rambunctious mob, security was especially tight—with barricades surrounding the stage and burly bouncers stationed throughout the audience. “It was a really crazy show,” said Mahar. “It was definitely sold out—super crowded. We got there super early to see the opening acts, so we were in the very front. During the show, we were getting slammed against the stage—it was really crazy at that point. I remember thinking, Oh, this is fun. [laughs] Now it would be a nightmare, but we loved that it was almost like a mosh pit in the front.”

Zach Combs also recalls the raucousness, but did not find it as amusing. “It was so packed it was uncomfortable,” said Combs. “I was up on the balcony and saw big fights break out in the crowd. I left early because a dude next to me punched a girl in the face. I had a lot better time seeing them at Target Center a few years later.”

First Ave general manager Nate Kranz remembers that among the guests in the owner’s box was none other than Randy Moss, then in his first of seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. It was the only time that Kranz remembers Moss coming to First Ave. Three years later, Moss would become the subject of one of OutKast’s best-known lyrical references: in “The Whole World,” guest rapper Killer Mike bragged, “I catch a beat runnin’ like Randy Moss.”

Reviewing the show in the Star Tribune, Britt Robson said the live versions of songs from Aquemini didn’t do justice to the recorded versions, in part because Andre had technical troubles with his mic. “OutKast also paid homage to the hoariest tradition of live rap shows, frequently exhorting the crowd to wave their hands in the air and staging one of those tired contests to see which segment of the audience could scream the loudest.”

Though almost 20 years have passed, Mahar remembers vividly how thrilling it was—not just to see OutKast, but to see them at First Avenue. “It was more intimate and we could get closer to the stage,” she explains. “It was a smaller group of people, so it was more special than a huge arena, which they probably could’ve sold out at that point. We were at First Ave all the time—that was our spot. It was, like, they’re playing at our music venue.”

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OutKast rider 1

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Selena Carlson is currently tackling a double major in journalism and music business at Augsburg College. In addition to writing, she is an avid enthusiast of all things banjo; biking; and breakfast for dinner.