To celebrate the long-awaited return of The Face, we have selected a stand-out story from each year of our extensive archive, from 1980 to 2004.
Remembered by writer Jane Bussman
“Sitting in Justin Timberlake’s restaurant in Los Angeles with the two of them, they were just magnets – customers were coming to them like iron filings. Normally when you’re interviewing massive celebrities, you get PR people tied to you like superglue. But in this case, members of the public were flying up, offering them chocolate pudding and just stroking them. People just loved them! They were both very, very unselfconscious and genuine. Kelis was always in trouble for saying stuff and then people were having a go at her. Then, at the David LaChapelle shoot, she was dressed as some kind of goddess and just wanted to go home and sing I’ve Got You, Babe to Nas, who she was going out with. LaChapelle was brilliant, really good fun. They had this airbrush artist, who was a hip-hop dancer apparently, and a special effects artist from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to do rams’ horns. And I think they’d brought in a DJ, too. It was a little bit like an episode of Absolutely Fabulous, tremendously over the top but tremendously good-natured.”
Jane Bussmann is a comedy writer and broadcaster who has written for South Park, BrassEye and Smack the Pony. Her book The Worst Date Ever: War Crimes, Hollywood Heartthrobs and other Abominations was Sunday Times Pick of the Week and Evening Standard Pick of the Summer. She lives in Spain with her writing partner and her dog.
From bun-shakin’ Kelis to Andre 3000 twistin’ in jockey silks, flamboyance and fun have taken over. Jane Bussmann meets the pair who prove you don’t have to get shot to be hip hop royalty
On a Friday night in Los Angeles, Justin Timberlake’s supremely daft, faux-Japanese restaurant Chi is full of people trying to be seen. Mostly, they’re suits, feeling cool paying $250 for a Mouseketeer’s prawn balls. Ironically, Chi’s diners don’t see the future of pop culture walk in.
If you’ve watched any TV since autumn, you’ll know there’s something better than being cool now, and that’s being Ice Cold. A decade of perfect popstars and aggressive hip hop is handing over to rebel warriors Kelis and Andre ‘Ice Cold 3000’ Benjamin, the nuttiest musical genius since Prince. Together, they’re the rulers of the new upbeat age, making goofy free-expression hip again.
Andre is slim, quiet and dressed as a Thirties cruise-liner captain. In person, everything about OutKast’s frontman seems calm, from his yoga posture and slow smile to his vegan diet. He has an impressive personality trait: making women love him without making eye contact.
Kelis is younger and cuter than her photographs but wears the expression of someone opening a Christmas present after the last one turned out to be a wasp. Emotions flash across her face, from incensed to hauntedly sad in one sentence. “You know something?” she says, touching my arm in an un-diva way. “Every morning I wake up and ask myself, how much can I give away? Sometimes I love getting naked for a shoot,” she says, “but when I turned up to do Saturday Night Live in comfortable boots, they were so angry they called a meeting to discuss how my ‘image change’ was going to ruin the whole show.”
The original daisy-age rappers like Queen Latifah, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest preached social awareness. Andre and Kelis mix up observation with post-Eminem humour (Andre to God on infidelity: “Head don’t count, right?”). But despite the daft, Technicolor leaping around, the message is as considered as any Native Tongues fat bloke in red Kickers. I ask Andre about the sleeve photo of The Love Below where, instead of the usual hip-hop pose of a man trying to hump his Cadillac, Andre is a centaur and a Fifties dad. “Two sides of the character of The Love Below, and every man,” he explains. And I thought he did it for a laugh. Instead, like Kelis, he means it. Kelis’s drive seems to come from caring intensely about everything; “I’m so moody, if my outfit doesn’t say exactly how I feel, it ruins my day.” Andre agrees: “I’ve actually got dressed, left the house, got in the car then said, ‘nah’. I go back inside and change.” You get the impression that underneath their MTV-friendly personalities, these people who dress as cartoon characters are more authentic than regular performers. They don’t even text their mates while you’re trying to talk to them, which is extraordinary in Hollywood.
Andre’s idea of perfect happiness is making music and luurve; not buying Bentleys or seeing off opponents. “I’m not a braggadocio rapper,” he asserts, “talking about how cool you are or what you’ll do to a bitch.” Kelis feels the same. “That’s why I came up with Milkshake. It’s like, na-na-na-na-nah kinda fun because girls don’t brag about their shit.” “It’s about head, ain’t it?” adds Andre casually. “A good blowjob,” states Kelis. Andre splutters into giggles, cool suddenly blown, as it were. “But it’s also about what I am as a female,” Kelis continues. “People were asking, is it about big tits. I don’t really have big tits. I have more of a rounder ass; it could be about my ass. It’s about all those things.” Is it a song about fanny batter? “Fanny batter?” Fanny batter, lady juice. “Yes! It’s definitely juices too,” she laughs, triumphant. “Fanny batter,” says Andre, delighted. “I hate getting all heavy, but braggadocio didn’t come out of our asses,” Kelis goes on, “Black men were sold according to how big and strong they were, and how much weight they pulled… it was a testosterone battle.” She thinks times are finally changing. “Battles used to be really dope, about lyrical skill. Nas and Jay was the last great battle. Now it’s just like civil-war re-enactment.”
The Love Below is a barometer of how much things have changed. Andre expected it to be a cult classic at best. He’d just wanted to make a soundtrack to an imaginary musical, set in Paris. And the same individuality forced Kelis to flip off bosses who listened to Caught Out There and told her black girls shouldn’t scream on records. When it was a huge hit, she had every right to go running round saying I told you so. “And I did.” She went one step further with Milkshake, singing about being top at blowjobs while sitting in an ice-cream sundae, like an X-rated cherry. Unlike Britney and Justin, and their army of image consultants, Kelis and Andre do it themselves. Kelis always took control of her destiny, shaving her head when she was a tweenie. Meanwhile, Andre had never had a stylist until his shoot with The Face. These two didn’t pretend to be different to sell more records – they sold more records because they were different.
“OutKast were on The Chris Rock Show performing Bombs Over Baghdad and I had an American football shirt with the huge shoulders and I’d hung multicoloured feather boas from it…” Just another day. Except he’d forgotten to bring his trousers. “So I decide I’m gonna go out in my underwear! And Big Boi says, ‘You gotta do it, man! You gotta do it!’ And I’m telling him, ‘I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna do it!’ So I did it. You can see me in my underpants, wearing big glasses to hide my eyes, I’m so nervous.”
Kelis and Andre are proof of just how popular you can become if you don’t mind giving a part of yourself away and having people think you’re weird. I hope I give people the idea they can do what they want. You couldn’t be black and do crazy colour – now it’s cool everywhere.” One acquaintance who’s helped them deal with that dilemma, is, bizarrely, Puff Daddy. Isn’t he a bit of a, well, berk? Kells jumps in, “He’s a fucking genius. He’ll hate me for saying this, but when else have you seen a black man who’s not talented be such an enormous star?” But he ponces about in a yacht, dressed like the Spanish royal family. Kelis says that’s the whole point. “I think he’s great. He’s a really good person… he takes his shit really, really seriously. To me, he’s brought back old Hollywood.”
Wherever their inspiration comes from, both Kelis and Andre are at that rarefied point where the greatest music in the world comes thundering out.
“If there was a camera on me, people would be amazed,” says Andre. “I’m on my own in the studio, jumping up and down in my chair yelling ‘THANK YOU, GOD!’, ‘cos the really good shit sure as hell don’t come from me!” Kelis adds: “I hear ya. It’s a spirit.” She has known Andre since she was a 15-year-old drama student at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art on. Andre recalls: “Her manager flew her to Atlanta to meet us, and she sang for us in a restaurant. She had the voice even then.”
And now, they’ve collaborated on tracks for each other’s albums, one of which is Kelis and Andre’s new single Millionaire. She looks up to Andre like a real fan. “You are always doing things and I think, damn, I wish I’d thought of that,” she enthuses. “I was so jealous when I saw you in pearls. I’m always trying to get my man to do pearls. I said, ‘Nas, c’mon, pearls – you gotta.’ He just would not…” Nas, you quitter. Andre knows he’s in a better position than most artists. When I ask him what the best thing about being Andre 3000 is, he says, “Being able to go and record anything I want, even a calypso album, and if it was good, people would say it was good. I know a lot of artists who don’t have that.” Kelis looks wistful. “The best thing about being me?” She sighs. “I got a great wardrobe.”
The waiter brings over Justin’s alarming menu. Andre quietly spurns beefy dim sum in tzatziki, being sane and also vegan. He’s an unconventional citizen of the deep south, where babies get hot wings instead of dummies. He’s also an unconventional hip-hop artist. Take his ‘Love Gun’, made from shiny, pink chrome. “I’m Cupid, but people’s hearts have got so hard nowadays that a bow and arrow won’t pierce them, so I need the Love Gun,” he explains, deadly serious. In a post-9/11 world, Cupid can’t even fly any more. “I’m just about to get on the plane, and they took me into this room and said, ‘Sir, do you have any weapons?’ And I said, no. They said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, of course, I’m sure… Then they showed me an X-ray of the Love Gun and said, ‘Then what about… THIS?’”
“Hopefully we’re saying what people are feeling right now.“ Hey Ya! is about fun, sexual freedom…” says Andre. And, right on cue, four drunk women with big hair and bad, frilly tops appear at the table. “I hope you don’t mind,” says the least drunk. “But… but… AAARGH! I LOVE YOU!” Immediately, all four jump Andre.
“But people don’t listen to the lyrics…” he continues from under his girl mountain. “It’s really about staying in a relationship because people say you’ve got to stick with tradition. That’s why you tell her, “Don’t want to meet your daddy, I just want you in my Caddy / I don’t want to meet your momma. I just want to make you cumma…”
And they’re not listening. They just want a piece of his love below.
As if by magic, there’s another girl sitting next to us. “You must think I’m a FUCKING BITCH, but I LOVE YOU! Oh God, sing Dracula’s Wedding!” She starts bellowing: “YOU’RE ALL I’VE EVER WANTED BUT I’M HYPNOTISED BY YOOOOOU…”
“Terrified of you,” corrects Andre affably. She ignores him. “Whatever the fuck it was. God, I love you. AAAAAARGH!” She smothers him and leaves. Andre swears he only gets hit on four times a day, at most. He must mean marriage proposals, because literally 20 women try in the couple of hours we’re at dinner. “No one even speaks to me for a minute,” says Kelis sadly. “I got way more attention when I was just, like, this bald girl.” She shrugs. “It’s ’cos everybody knows you’re just with Nas,” Andre offers.
Andre and Kelis both live in LA part time. He’s pining for the south while filming Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty, alongside John Travolta. “I’m playing the total opposite to myself: a hood with two phones, a pager and cornrows. I slap people! Tch!” He slaps the air. “I shoot people! Bang! With the gun sideways!” Travolta is very relaxed on set, for a Scientologist. “He’s one of those? Really?” says Andre. “I met Prince the other day. He talked about the Jehovah’s Witness thing.” What a disappointing image. Prince turning up on Andre’s doorstep with a Gideons’ Bible.
There will also be an OutKast movie, directed by Bryan Barber who did the Hey Ya! video. “lt’s a musical, and it may even not be seen in theatres. That depends on HBO,” he says. I ask Andre if he would like to play Osama Bin Laden in a Life Of Brian-type political satire I’m shooting for about 10p this summer. He’s considering this offer when a woman promptly plonks herself almost square on his plums. “I’m a sales agent for Viagra, and I’ve got a car-full of free samples,” she states, a one-line pitch that wastes mine instantly. “But Viagra only lasts four hours, and our competitors’ version lasts the whole weekend,” laments Viagra Girl.
“The whole weekend…” Andre whispers, staring at something only he can see.
Kelis leans in. “I never had a problem, but is Viagra…?” The salesgirl doesn’t miss a beat. “Yes. Penis, clitoris – same tissue. Off the record: if a woman takes Viagra it will have exactly the same effect.” Everyone nods, heads spinning. We call it a night. The valets are staggered to see Andre and Kelis. And even more staggered when they see his school-mum car and her regular 4×4 among the Mercs and Porsches. As Andre climbs into his car, I thank him on behalf of the women of Los Angeles for a wonderful night. “Stank you smelly much,” grins Andre.
Next morning we all meet up in hyper-trendy Silverlake for photographs. Traditionally, fashion shoots have an atmosphere somewhere between a cancer ward and an arranged marriage. Uber-shutterbug David LaChapelle, however, doesn’t mess about. Eric Rico DJs Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, and Public Enemy. A big guy called Dragon, in pink studded wristbands, is getting ready to paint Kelis as a wood nymph. Dragon is also wearing sheep’s hooves and sheep’s hands. These were borrowed from Tim, Buffy’s special-effects artist, who’s doing “full ram” on Andre. For the record, hooves pull on like gloves, and they’re strangely soft.
David LaChapelle is exhausted after directing the Elton John Vegas show. “But this is fun because Kelis and Andre are inspired, they don’t have that naked ambition, like a cat hanging on a screen door. When artists are doing what they want to do, and people are allowing them to do that, they have a state of grace and they tap into something really amazing. They’re touching the magic string.” Andre duly changes into his “imperfect gentleman” outfit: golf trousers with psychoactive swirls. “I designed them – they’re made of curtain! Golf-adelic!” he beams. Kelis picks out some kind of Vivid Video romper suit. “Can we get some tape?” she begs. Someone runs in with double-sided, tape to stop Kelis’s breasts flying out. “What people don’t know is I’m a really great cook. All I want is to be a homebody,” she says, missing Nas. The Sonny & Cher of hip-hop? “No one ever compared us to them before, and he’ll kill me, but that is our song! Last year, for Valentine’s Day, I got him these little bears that sing I Got You Babe.” She’s getting married this summer, in a green dress. More flack imminent, and she couldn’t give a damn.
Then we hear a voice. “When I am king, the sun will shine 23 hours a day.” I look round and Andre is standing in the middle of the room with his arms held to the sky, bare chested, gold Tutankhamen body armour and Cleopatra eyes. Of course: he’s the Sun God. But instead of conflict, he’s spreading good times. This image burns in our minds, bonkers and strangely poignant.
Andre sits down, headdress glittering. “The future? Well, Johnny Vulture has left the band and had a falling out with Andre 3000 – he’s difficult to work with – so for my next project I think I’m going to produce the Vultures’ album…” For a second, everyone is lost in Andre’s world of fictional characters who are all him. But we all know the future is safe in the Sun God’s hands.