HEY YA! Farewell, Prince- the New King of Funk Is OutKast Dandy Andre 3000 - but It's Been a Crazy Ride to the Top. He Talks to Louise Gannon about His Gangster Years - and the Eccentric Talents That Saved Him from the Streets

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 8, 2006 | Go to article overview

HEY YA! Farewell, Prince- the New King of Funk Is OutKast Dandy Andre 3000 - but It's Been a Crazy Ride to the Top. He Talks to Louise Gannon about His Gangster Years - and the Eccentric Talents That Saved Him from the Streets


Byline: LOUISE GANNON

There is just one artist in the gunslinging, crack-smoking, revenge-killing world of rap who has actually succeeded in turning himself into a lovable, cuddly - if rather eccentric - hip-hop superstar.

With massive hits such as the multiplatinumselling Hey Ya!, Andre 3000 (known to his mum as Andre Benjamin) has become the poster boy for the acceptable face of rap.

Here is a man who dresses like Chris Eubank (yet somehow manages to swing it as a style icon), does yoga with Madonna, eschews drugs, dabbles in art and follows the sort of New Age nutrition plan that would challenge even Gwyneth Paltrow. In short, Andre has become rap's role model; his PRs lose no sleep over drive-by shootings, overdoses or displays of public indecency.

'Kids look up to me, that's true,' he says, looking rather pleased with himself. 'And I think I give them something to look up to. I believe I send out a good message. But then, you see, I have a child of my own. I want him to be proud of me.' At 31, the boy brought up by a single mother living on the fried chicken from the fast-food joint where she worked is worth about [pounds sterling]20 million. He lives in luxury in a gated mansion in Atlanta and plays golf with the cream of American society. 'I'm doing fine,' he says. 'As a child I didn't have any money.

Mum [Sharon] and me moved around from one relative to another. I didn't expect to own anything of my own, because I wasn't used to it. I guess it was a tough life, but it was the kind of street life that a lot of other people had.' The boy has now most certainly graduated from the streets. He's starred in movies (Guy Ritchie's Revolver and Four Brothers), won numerous Grammy awards and is responsible for one of rap's biggestselling albums ever, Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which went 11-times platinum. He has learnt what it is to be rich, successful and powerful.

But - and it's a big but - the law of the streets is still something he lives by.

Because you barely have to scratch the surface of this squeaky-clean star to find just how close Andre came to succumbing to the violent, murky code of gangland culture that has swallowed so many of his peers.

An unexpected window into the almost frightening experiences of his youth is the revelation that he feels incapable of travelling very far without his most important possession: his gun.

'Of course I carry a gun,' he says, looking both slightly hurt that I would imagine otherwise and baffled that I should find the fact any more surprising than, for example, him carrying a mobile phone. 'I don't advertise the fact, but I need to have a gun with me at all times. I don't see what's wrong with that. To me it just makes sense. I don't like to have bodyguards with me. I don't have them in my house, so I've got to have something to protect myself with. If I am with my son [nineyearold Seven] I am even more concerned to protect myself and protect him with a gun. I would want my son to have a gun when he gets older.

It's just something you've got to have if you want to live and be safe.'

He sees I'm still finding it hard to square all this with his refreshingly unthreatening public image; the man who has supposedly shaken off the shackles of his dirt-poor upbringing.

He persists. 'I'm no different to Prince Charles,' he says. 'That guy has men all around him with guns. Tell me, what's the difference?

'I wish the world was a less violent place, but all I am doing is reflecting the reality of my world. I try to be as honest as possible. In my lyrics I use the language of the streets. There is a lot of swearing because that is what's real. And I don't see the problem with kids hearing that.

'My latest album [Idlewild] has a Parental Advisory sticker so you know there's swearing but yes, I do let my son listen to it. He's nine. That's old enough.

I know he hears those sort of words outside - of course he does. …

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HEY YA! Farewell, Prince- the New King of Funk Is OutKast Dandy Andre 3000 - but It's Been a Crazy Ride to the Top. He Talks to Louise Gannon about His Gangster Years - and the Eccentric Talents That Saved Him from the Streets
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