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::EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW::
April 7, 2005

 

Andre Benjamin:  Profile of an Artist

This day was going to be a special day. I was given the opportunity to sit down with Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000).  I was thrilled to learn that Andre is a warm, articulate individual Ė not to mention dapper.  Andre was in full Andre regalia with his straw hat and plaid sweater, without an entourage of any sort in sight.  This mega-talented and diverse artist glided into his chosen meeting spot, Cabaret, a vintage clothing store where he shops in Toronto Ė coincidentally, directly across from Irie Food Joint Ė which is where we conducted this much-anticipated interview.  In his soft and lilting Atlanta accent, Andre spoke about Toronto, the upcoming film, Four Brothers, hip hop and Outkastís latest project.

LE:

So many people are psyched that youíre in Toronto.  New fans and old skoolers that have followed you for a long time.  Are you enjoying the city and have you had the chance to get out and get a feel for our culture?

Andre:

I love Toronto.  The people are really cool.  Theyíve been really great to us while weíve been here.  Because itís been cold for the most part, I havenít got out a lot but the few times I did get out, it was fun.  I love the shops, the little boutiques and haberdasheries around town.  Iíll be back for sure but I want to come back when itís a lot warmer and I want to come back when itís changing from summer to fall.  I heard the fall time is beautiful.

LE:

What has stood out for you the most since youíve been here Ė that perhaps you were surprised to learn?

Andre:

Really more than one individual thing I guess.  The people in Toronto.  I love place where itís a mix of different cultures in one place.  And in Toronto, you have that. 

LE:

Thereís a lot of talent in our city Ė both musically and the other arts.  Have you come across any Canadian actors on the set that you feel stood out to you? 

Andre:

This film (Four Brothers) is an American film so most of the cast were American.  A lot of [Canadian actors] do theatre and stage.  Theyíd invite me to come by and see their stage plays and stuff to see them really get down. 

LE:

What challenges you the most in acting?

Andre:

I think the challenge is actually becoming another person.  Thatís the challenge that I love Ė thatís why I really do it.  Directors and producers would call and ask me to come out for auditions and when I started reading scripts, it was just great.  And I said, Ďlet me try this outí. 

LE:

What made you choose this film?  Was it the role in particular or the director, John Singleton? 

Andre:

With Four Brothers, it was a combination of things.  It was John Singleton Ė he actually called me first and asked me about being in the film.  He had sent the script and I thought it was a great script.  I didnít know if I wanted to play the character at first then he assured me that Jeremiah (thatís the character I play) was not going to be a one-dimensional type character.  I thought that was cool.

LE:

Is he the strongest of the four brothers? 

Andre:

Itís four brothers and we all grew up together.  We were all knuckleheads as children.  My character, Jeremiah, was the only one that stayed back in Detroit with our Mom and kind of made something of himself.  My other brothers were all out wilding and doing their own thing.  I have a family, I have two girls and a wife so Iím pretty much the more calm one Ė I guess you could say that.  When our Mom gets killed, all the brothers come back into town.  Itís myself, Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson and Garrett Hedlund.  Itís strange.  People are going to wonder how are you all brothers?  Two Black guys and two White guys.  What happened is that we were all adopted when we were kids.  And someone killed our Mom and we have to go and find out who did it. 

LE:

Thatís a great story.  Are you excited about it?  It sounds as though thereís been camaraderie on the set Ė that thereís a healthy vibe there. 

Andre:

Yes.  Iím an only child so I really donít know what itís like to have brothers but on the set we actually get along like weíre really brothers and we start to take on the characteristics of our character in the movie.  You know, Mark Wahlberg, heís supposed to be the oldest brother and he actually acts that way.  He has the most seniority in the film and we look up to him.  We see his professionalism.  He tells us about him making that transition.  Itís funny because myself, Tyrese and Mark, we all come from a music background and then have gotten into film.  So, heís pretty sensitive to that Ė understanding and talking to us and letting us know. 

LE:

I think itís an excellent casting choice. 

Andre:

Thank you.  (smiles)

LE:

Making a transition into speaking about music, I know that youíve done some work with Esthero here.  Do you know any other Canadian artists?

Andre:

I remember a couple of years ago, there was this guy that had skills.  Kardinal

LE:

Do you notice any difference in the Canadian hip hop? 

Andre:

No, not really.  Honestly, I donít know a song by Kardinal but I just remember watching a video and listening to him rhyme and saying ĎHey, that guy has skillsí

LE:

Not being a hip hop head at all, I feel that hip hop started out to vent and elevate consciousness and awareness and I feel that maybe itís taken another turn.  The question is, do you feel that itís taken another turn?

Andre:

Yes, for sure.  But I think a lot of people fail to realize that hip hop started Ė people want to say that it started as a conscious thing - but it really started off as kids in a basement, bullshitting, having fun.  Not really talking about nothing Ė just rhyming.  Out of bullshit, they started to say what was going on around but it was still rhyming and having fun.  I think that it went more mainstream when itís not so threatening.  Hip hop did get a lot of attention in the 80ís when groups started being really serious and vulgar.  You had cases against Two Live Crew, you had controversy around Public Enemy.  Hip hop in the 80ís got a lot of attention because it was serious.  It was NWA Ė you know ďF**k the PoliceĒ, it was Two Live Crew Ė ďMe So HornyĒ and just the vulgar stuff.  Thatís how they saw it.  I think now hip hop has gotten so easy.  And itís formulated. 

LE:

Why do you think?

Andre:

Rappers have gotten successful and other youngsters look up to them.  Hip hop finally started getting paid in the 90s.  And once it started getting paid Ö well, hip hop is one of the only jobs in America where you can be on the street one day and make one hit and sell millions of records and finally youíre paid.  It only takes a hit Ė you donít have to go to college for four years, you donít have to do the leg work.  So you have a lot of kids now Ė thatís all that want to do is hip hop.  Itís crazy because they see people like Master P, they see people like Puffy, they see people like Jay-Z with Bentleys and they think it was easy.  So, what Iím saying, youíve got people that rhyme and say that Jay-Z did it this way or Puffy did it this way or this song made a hit so let me call the Neptunes and let me get a beat from the Neptunes. 

But honestly, itís taste.  Because even the guys that are making these Ďeasyí records, I wouldnít say that theyíre not real, they were safe. 

LE:

Do you think that perhaps some of them didnít come from a hard and difficult place?

Andre:

Some of them didnít come from it but at the same time, thatís an argument too, because if hip hop is an art form, just like painting is an art form Ö do I have to be a killer to draw somebody get killed?  Or somebody laying there dead?  Itís all creative so if you have such a creative mind where you can create a story about a guy in the hood going through this and you make it believable, thatís actually a greater feat to me than somebody whoís actually from it.  Somebodyís whoís from it, theyíre just saying what they see.  But creating a whole life?  You can look at it two ways.

LE:

I think a lot of people are real with it.  The hip hop fans that have been there from the get, I feel like they think that hip hop may be more watered down.

Andre:

That is true.  It is more watered down.  You also have hip hop purists.  Youíre always going to have that but you have to remember times change and music changes.  I mean if Marley Marl or KRS-One listened to a record now and say, Ďaw, thatís watered down hip hopí, thatís kind of unfair. Thatís almost like saying if youíve got funk bands from the 70s, they say, Ďman that music you all doing now, is watered down because you all are using beat machines instead of a real drummerí.  I mean, come on!  Some great songs were made with drum machines. 

LE:

Outkast has skyrocketed and now your acting career is launching Ė whatís the biggest adjustment youíve had? 

Andre:

Itís just recognition because weíve been around for 10 years and we didnít start getting noticed until Stankonia until MTV started playing it. 

LE:

Why do you think that is? 

Andre:

You never know, you never know.  Things always change, every album sounds different but I donít know. 

LE:

Was it cool at the Grammys?

Andre:

It was all right.  I mean, I like awards, especially Grammys.  All the other ones are ok because theyíre Peopleís Choice Awards where people get voted because they think youíre cute or something like that.  But the Grammys are voted on by musicians Ė by the whole Committee- you know you have to be on the board to vote for the Grammys.  So, these are people that do classical music Ė you know itís everybody Ė world music.  They actually sit there and vote on who it is.  If you get recognition from your peers, thatís a whole other thing. 

LE:

As far as your acting career, are there any adjustments that youíve had to make? 

Andre:

Itís all just avenues to get some creativity out.  Just to get some energy out some kind of way.  I guess the biggest adjustment when it comes to acting is letting go.  Letting loose.  Because as an entertainer, the audience, they donít get to see every emotion of you, they only get to see happy and more happy.  As a musical audience, they donít see you mad, they donít see you cry, they donít see you embarrassed, they donít see you sad, because all that is not good for your career as a musician.  But as an actor, you have to be in touch with every one of those emotions so sometimes itís hard to tap into those if for years, youíve been hiding it.  So, thatís the hardest thing in acting. 

LE:

Musically or on the acting tip, if you could work with any artist, living or past, who would it be?

Andre:

Anita Baker, John Coltrane and Minnie Ruperton.  I just would like to know what we would come up with. 

LE:

Did you ever want to give up when you were on your way up?

Andre:

Hell yeah!  Plenty of times.  I feel like once Iíve done something, Iím ready to move on.  So, a lot of times, people around you are not ready for you to move on.  So, sometimes, you have to hold on and thatís not really a happy place to be either. 

LE:

The Outkast movie is coming up Ö When is it coming out?

Andre:

Itís a 1930s musical starring myself and Big Boi.  I play a mortician and Big Boi plays a club owner.  I co-wrote the story with Bryan Barber -  he wrote the script.  The end of this year, early next year.  The next Outkast album will be the soundtrack Ė itís kind of like an attached thing. 

LE:

So, whatís in your CD player right now?

Andre:

In my CD player right now is new beats, new music.  Iíve been through a silent period where I havenít been listening to anything because Iím not really inspired right now.  Even the old stuff that I used to love, I donít feel the same way about it.  So, Iím going to have to create some music that I like to play.

LE:

So, right now itís just beats and trying to get into that mindset. 

Andre:

Yeah, trying to find a new place.  Trying to find a new thing to get excited about. 

LE:

What do you want people to remember you for?

Andre:

Honestly, I hope itís not for a certain category.  I hope itís not just that people remember great songs or a great film Ö because Iím not done.  I have too much that I have to do.  So, I hope that people remember by the time Iím done that he was a creator, like an idealist, that he had dreams that he wanted to do and just did Ďem.  He was a dreamer.  Thatís all. 

Special thanks to Euafaula and Awaovieyi Agie (Canadian actor also in the film Four Brothers) who facilitated this interview.