Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

There hasn’t been a proper OutKast release since 2000's Stankonia. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was a pair of solo albums connected at the hip, and Idlewild was odds and sods and a great Lil Wayne verse—not exactly the return of the player and the poet. They’ve teased a return to straight rap called 10 The Hard Way ever since then, with nothing to show for it, even though Big Boi’s kept busy with his own solo career.

But rap nerds have never been able to shake their desire for more verses from Andre 3000, easily on the shortlist of greatest rappers of all time. The handful of times he’s popped up on record since Stankonia have proven he’s still got it, but they’ve been fleeting, almost discrete returns to form, too infrequent to really register.

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In a revealing interview with GQ Style, the man born Andre Benjamin speaks with surprising candor about his desire to start a line of Anita Baker T-shirts, his relationship with his parents and with his son (who’s in college now!), and the fact that people still think he’s living a sober, vegan, straight-and-narrow lifestyle (“Even Jesus had to get a little bit, you know what I mean?”).

But most importantly, at least for people who have pored over his every recorded verse like they were decrees from an ancient, alien intelligence, are the handful of comments he makes about why he quit rap and whether or not he’ll ever return. While discussing moving to New York City from Atlanta, he says he “was disagnosed with this social thing,” saying, “I’d just meet new people and I would freak out or have to leave”:

When did that start?

Maybe 15 years ago.

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was 2003, so...

Yeah, around there. Before that album, I moved to California. It started a little bit before then, and I just chucked it off as Aw, yeah, man, I just need to take a break. And I started to notice it getting worse and worse. Because the more you run from it, the worse it gets. You don’t want to explain it, because you don’t want to be a weak link around your friends. I never told my crew for a long time, so I just started getting to myself. Spending more time with myself and stopped touring. And it felt great for me to do that, because it’s like, Phew, I don’t like that life, I don’t like that confrontation.

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Interviewer Will Welch does a Herculean job easing into the most pressing questions here, but he eventually relents:

Part of me just wants to say, Come on, man! Put out more music! Let us decide if it’s worth it.

I’m with that, because I want to hear both sides of it. But if I were to drop dead right now, honestly, we’ve done it. And that’s the truth. You know what I mean? Here’s the only thing that I would regret: Man, you know, there is still that album that you wanted to do.

What do you mean?

Like, I wanted to put out my own project. Things I’ve been working on. But that’s for my personal [satisfaction], you know?

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As with any great reclusive artist, the notion of a vault of unheard brilliance remains, and boy, does Andre stoke those flames:

So of all the music projects you started since The Love Below, what remains?

When I pass away, people will find hours and hours of files.

Hard drives?

Yeah, hard drives and shit. It’s hard drives of me just in the house alone playing horrible guitar. Me playing piano. Me playing a little sax. I was trying to find out: What can I be excited about? Because I never was, to me, a great producer or a great writer or a great rapper. I always felt that I was less than everybody else, so I fought harder. My only gauge to know when something was good was how I felt it. Like, Oh, man, this is dope. Or, This is new. So I got to a place where nothing excited me. I kept trying and pushing and pushing. I got to a place where I was just kinda in a loop.

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Ultimately, the problem is one of relevance, in Andre’s mind. “Hip-hop is about freshness. You can always hop, but you won’t always be hip,” he says, before suggesting that, like an aging boxer, he’s realized he only has a couple punches left to throw. Here’s hoping he throws them.

Check out the whole interview for much, much more. Here’s Andre on 2007's “Da Art Of Storytelling Part 4,” just because.

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