Hours before Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta filled up with more than 20,000 OutKast fans, there was a buzz of excitement that resonated in downtown Atlanta. Young adults wearing ATLien shirts and other OutKast paraphernalia walked the streets with smiles from ear to ear as if they were 10-years-old and suddenly found out that Santa Claus really did exist.
This time, it was safe to believe the unbelievable. The greatest rap group in hip-hop history had reunited and finally come home to give their beloved city an invaluable gift.
To understand the importance of OutKast to Atlanta, one must first understand the social landscape and history of the city. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s gave the city national exposure. But by the 1970s and ’80s, there weren’t many positive stories from Atlanta that captured the nation’s attention. Of course, Mayor Maynard Jackson and the city’s influx of black businesses allowed the city to progress, but the city’s image was tainted by the Atlanta Child Murders.
On the sports front, the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves, and Atlanta Falcons were lackluster teams that, at times, showed potential, but were unable to capture a world *championship.
The citizens of Atlanta needed something that would allow them to feel proud about their city. It needed to be something that was respected and envied by every other city in America.
When OutKast drove Cadillacs on Campbellton Road in their first video, “Player’s Ball,” the city of Atlanta would never be the same.
André “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton were like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to Atlantans. They were a dynamic duo who could tell the stories of a city while doing so at an elite level that only a few in the world could rival.
OutKast were the champions of Atlanta. They could galvanize a city and make the citizens embrace their Southern heritage at a time when being from the South was often looked at as a deficiency by elitists from the East Coast.
OutKast laid the groundwork for Atlanta hip-hop. Younger rappers carried their torch and soon the entire hip-hop nation was forced to follow the sound, styles and rules of Atlanta, or be left behind.
When a dark curtain was lifted and revealed OutKast inside a see-through cube while on stage at their first ATLast concert on Sept. 26, the 20,000 fans in Centennial Olympic Park went into a frenzy. The average newcomer to Atlanta may have viewed the crowd’s enthusiasm as a show of respect for one of the greatest groups in music history.
But Atlanta natives knew better. It was more than a concert. It was a city reclaiming its greatness and owning its new identity decades after the Civil Rights Movement. The yells and screams of Atlantans in the crowd were somewhat of a cathartic release.
It was an OutKast victory lap and we were proud to be a part of the moment. We were proud of their return. We were proud that OutKast gave the world our city through song, and in turn, a glimpse of who we are and what we can become.
*The Atlanta Braves won the city’s only major world championship in 1995, one year after OutKast released their debut.