André 3000 is literally and figuratively, all over the place. The veteran MC, who is finishing up dates on the much buzzed about OutKast reunion tour, can also be seen on the big screen taking on the larger-than-life role of rock deity Jimi Hendrix in the film All is By My Side (in theaters now). It’s a nuanced, layered performance that was close to 20 years in the making for the Atlanta native.
But while channeling the iconic guitar genius was challenging, it is an environment that Three Stacks would rather be in than fielding yet another question about his prospects for a solo album or an OutKast record. On the former, he’s given conflicting quotes. On the latter, fans should not hold their breath.
VIBE sat down with the unpredictable talent to discuss, among other topics, how becoming Hendrix taught him a great deal about his own artistic journey, who he believes is the most underrated southern rap act of all time, how he wishes his mother were alive to see him produce Aretha Franklin and why OutKast fans should bury the dream.
VIBE: Did you have any reservations early on taking on the starring role of Jimi Hendrix without the usage of his legendary musical catalogue?
André 3000: No, because we never started from that place. The way John [Ridley] wrote it I clearly understood from day one what kind of movie we were making. It would have been cool if the Hendrix family was supportive in spirit. They are his family and are part of his legacy. And it would have been cool to have them smiling, hugging and coming to the premiere, but we didn’t need it. The story we are telling is more about what made the Hendrix the world would come to know. The two women that helped make Hendrix. Linda Keith, the woman that discovered him. A lot of people didn’t know that story.
I recall during an interview with you back in 2000 that you said you would play Jimi Hendrix in a movie. Do you have any more predictions to give?
[Laughs] That’s crazy. I guess dreams come true. But honestly, man, that dream had been over a long time ago. When I played Hendrix, I was 37. I’m 39 now, so you wouldn’t think it would happen back then. But things happen for a reason. I’m blessed and happy that it happened later on in life.
Did you soak up all of Hendrix’s music and biographies to get a sense of who you were dealing with?
I did all of that. But even before John approached me, I read two biographies on Hendrix. And of course once I got signed on to play the role I had voice lessons, vocal lessons, and I had weight training to lose the pounds to be as skinny as Hendrix was at the time.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in preparation for All Is by My Side?
The hardest part was the guitar playing and the voice part. I had to lose my southern diction, which was hard because southern diction is really strong and my vocal register is different from Hendrix’s. Hendrix spoke with a kind of lisp so I had to learn how to speak in that way. But it was just fun and interesting to do. A lot of hard work, but it was good.
I found an interesting parallel with you taking on more singing on the OutKast albums and Hendrix’s story. Like Hendrix you have said many times that you don’t like the sound of your singing voice. Did you find any connection with Hendrix given your vocal insecurities?
Yeah. It’s funny because now most rappers have to have some type of vocal melody. It’s just a progression of things, man. Back then it was scary to even try something like that. Not everyone was just breaking out singing verses [laughs]. People would tell me, “Come on, dude. We want them raps. We not trying to hear you sing.” It was scary, but I just went with my own gauge of what I thought was dope. That’s the only thing that I have. That’s what separates me from everybody else. I can’t say that I’m more talented than this other rapper or a much better producer or actor than other rappers, but I know what I know. I know that once I feel a certain thing it’s not up to anyone else to decide at that point.
Along with the positive reception for All Is by My Side has come criticism from some family members and friends of Hendrix. The loudest voice coming from Kathy Etchingham who was Hendrix’s girlfriend from ’66 to ’69. She has blasted a scene in the movie in which the guitarist hits her over the head with a telephone, dismissing it as pure fantasy. How do you respond to that?
Of course we don’t want to start any riffs. So the only thing I will say is research Jimi Hendrix and you will be surprised to see who is saying these things in the story. Some people don’t like to talk about bad things. On multiple occasions…I’ll just say research it.