When OutKast won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2004, nearly the whole world seemed to think that the dynamic Atlanta duo was the most deserving. Before Carlos Santana and Faith Hill read the list of nominees, someone in Staples Center in Los Angeles yelled “ANDRE,” as in Andre 3000, who had just performed “Hey Ya!” When Santana got to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, he pumped his fist in the air like he was cheering on his favorite team. By then, the double OutKast album had already sold 3.1 million copies.
In regards to hip-hop and its merits, despite the genre’s enormous impact on our music and our vernacular, the industry hasn’t quite been in agreement since. Only Arrested Development, Lauryn Hill and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have won Best New Artist, while in other big categories like Song and Record of the Year, hip-hop gets overlooked altogether. If a rap artist wins Album of the Year in 2018, it will be for the first time since OutKast won the trophy in 2004. Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino are all nominated for the trophy, which makes a win for hip-hop seem actually plausible. Yet, because of the nature of OutKast’s win, nothing is for certain, nothing is for sure.
Two years prior, of all the records nominated for Album of the Year, the four-times platinum Stankonia was both the critical and fan favorite. It was an artistic leap forward for the already-ambitious pair, and the blockbuster singles “B.O.B.,” “Ms. Jackson,” and “So Fresh So Clean” made a post-Civil Rights Era American South global takeover seem not only impending, but welcome. The overall reception struck Andre 3000 so much that when Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won for Album of the Year, he said, “Stankonia is not our first album. Do the history.” Yet the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, a T-Bone Burnett-led, carefully researched retread of what the American South had done before, would win the coveted trophy instead.
By the time Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was nominated for that same category, OutKast already had the name recognition that made a big win seem overdue. (“I actually did not expect to win,” Andre said in 2014. Yet on that stage, he pulled out a list of people to thank, from what can only be described as dreamcatcher drop-crotch pants.) The only Grammy nomination OutKast received prior to 2001 was for “Rosa Parks,” for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. That is to say nothing of 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, 1996’s ATLiens and 1998’s Aquemini — OutKast albums that amounted to Atlanta hip-hop’s man on the moon moment, and better testaments to how Big and Dre functioned as a duo.
Going into 2004, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below‘s lead singles “The Way You Move” and “Hey Ya!” climbed into the top two positions on the Billboard Hot 100, making OutKast only the fourth act to achieve that feat. Those songs stayed there for eight straight weeks, while sometimes replacing each other on the top spot. “The Way You Move” topped Billboard‘s rap charts. “Hey Ya!” broke the top 20 in modern rock, adult top 40 and Latin pop airplay. By then, the Recording Academy already had a history of rewarding pop-friendly singles. Will Smith won four Grammys total, including Best Rap Performance for DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” — the first time the Grammys had a rap category, period. The Grammy screening committees couldn’t possibly ignore the bizarre “The Way You Move” and “Hey Ya!” chart takeover, on top of the album sales that eventually had Speakerboxxx/The Love Below go diamond, selling more than Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP.