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Tour Tales | DJ Cutmaster Swiff talks pre-fame Outkast, Prince giving Andre show advice, and the duo’s legacy

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” DJ Custmaster Swiff discusses Big Boi and Andre 3000, Prince helping Andre perform at Coachella, and the legacy of the duo.

Andre 3000 and DJ Swiff DJ Swiff

Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’

Andre 3000 gave Outkast its eclecticism and Big Boi gave it its realism — and their DJ of more than 20 years, Cutmaster Swiff, was always right there by their side.

“One woman came with a big ass tattoo of the Aquemini cover on her back. I’ve seen some chicks tattoo about five, or six [of] the albums on themselves,” he told REVOLT.

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Custmaster Swiff discusses the difference between Big Boi and Andre 3000’s tour buses, Prince helping Andre perform at Coachella, and the legacy of the duo. Read below.

When did you start deejaying for Outkast?

The first show was a big show at the Atlantic Civic Center on Halloween night [in 1996]. The promoters of the show were a couple of Big Boi friends who were selling dope at the time. I knew them before they were Outkast, when their name was Two Shades Deep. We’d play around in the studio; I’d do beats for them. Angelo, Dre’s cousin, knew they were going to blow at one point because they were different... They were always flamboyant. They had blonde hair then. They had low haircuts. Dre was calling himself Jas, and Big was calling himself Twan... I came in [deejaying for them] right at ATLiens. I was probably 25 or 26 at the time.

Outkast was part of some historic tours. The Smoking Grooves Tour in 1997 is up there with the best of them.

With Cypress Hill and Erykah Badu? It was fun. I think that’s where Andre and Erykah met.

What was backstage like?

There was always mingling. We were fans of Cypress Hill, but we didn’t know how cool and big Cypress Hill was. They were fucking huge and they had all the weed in the fucking world. I don’t even smoke and they made me want to smoke. Their shit was so together as far as the weed, merchandise, and everything. It was like they had been doing that shit forever. They were so cool, a couple of our guys jumped off our bus, [rode] with them, and smoke until the next city. Big Boi had a bus and Dre had a bus. I was always on Dre’s bus because I didn’t smoke and he had really slowed down on the smoking. Big and them was chilling it out, they had a party bus and called our bus the “Church bus.” We’d be over there playing cards. I remember Dre jumping ship, jumping off our bus and jumping on Erykah’s bus. They had just met.

What were those crowds like?

They were white (laughs). Black people probably just started going to festivals in groups like five or six years ago. You’d always see one or two Black faces in the crowd, but white people have tents, be out there for two or three days not bathing. That ain’t regular Black folk shit. I saw the transition from clubs to Wembley Stadium to Bonnaroo to Coachella and all of these festivals.

Speaking on that, I remember Dre being a bit dispirited about performing at Coachella. How do you remember him getting over that?

At that time, we hadn’t toured as Outkast in 12 years. We did a reunion tour around 2014. Coachella was the one festival we never did as Outkast or as headliners. Dre was nervous about it because he hadn’t been on stage [in a while], so he felt rusty. I can understand why he was sort of scared, but we rehearsed like hell. We rehearsed a lot in Atlanta. Then, as we got closer to the show, we rehearsed for two weeks with a fake set. We had to do two weekends of Coachella. In the first show, he comes out as regular Andre (laughs). The first show was two hour and ten minutes long. We were doing every fucking thing because we felt like it was a show we could give fans everything they wanted to hear. After that first performance and the reviews came out, Dre was feeling kinda crazy because he was like, “I didn’t want to wear the wig or the outfit.” I was like, “Nigga, that’s what they want to see.”

So, Janelle Monae calls me like, “Swiff, the show was good, but Dre wasn’t Dre.” So, we all over at my house for the next weekend. Prince called Dre and kinda gave him the business like, “Nigga, you said you were going to do the show and you committed to it, so you have to go in and give your all.” Dre was like, “Nigga, this Prince.” The next week, he came out with the wig and all of the outfits.

Another tour you were part of, that was legendary, was Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation Tour.”

That was some bullshit.

What?!

It was a good tour, but we were ready to fight her crew so many times. When she was performing, they would be like, “No walking behind the stage. No walking down the hall.” We were like, “What the fuck?!” I would do the soundchecks. She would soundcheck first. My soundcheck would be a 4 o’clock. I might walk in to what I’m thinking is the end of her soundcheck and she would soundcheck until 6:40. Doors would open at 7. She did this shit for all 50 shows. I bullshit you not. The only thing that made up for that was when we got to Atlanta because, before that, we were doing a 30-40 minute set. In Atlanta, she gave us an hour and we gave it that night because Erykah came out. Goodie Mob came out. The whole family came out. I do have to say she was amazing. I watched her show from the side of the stage every night and she was great every night.

What did you remember about performing in New York City following Andre’s “The South got something to say” proclamation at the 1995 Source Awards?

They were so goddamn nervous. I remember doing a show at SOBs. That was one of those spots that everyone would be at. You do a show and A Tribe Called Quest would be there. Us being from the south, it would be like, “Why we got to do this up here?” But, the guys would also [be] stupid nervous because SOBs is a small club, so everyone is right up on you. So, you can’t be fucking up your lyrics.

What would you all do in New York when you’d visit?

We were young back then, so were looking for the hotspots like the mall or Foot Locker. They would have us staying at that Double Tree [in Newark, New Jersey]. Sometimes, we’d go to SoHo and do a little shopping. Dre and I would go anywhere. We jumped on trains a couple fo times to go to the see the Bronx and Harlem.

What was it like touring during that era of beefs in the late 90s?

It was really crazy. It used to always be a joke with me. I’d be like, “Y’all ready? Y’all nervous?” They’d be like, “Man, why you always asking us that shit?” They’d get mad and I’d do it on purpose like, “I know y’all nervous.” They would be nervous as hell. Once the music start, they’d be straight. It didn’t hit home until 2Pac got killed. We beefed up our security. We didn’t have anything to do with it, but you felt like something was going to always happen. I was in L.A. when Biggie got killed. In fact, it was during the Soul Train Music Awards time and we had the hottest party going on in the city. We had just went double platinum and was having a double platinum party.

What’s the craziest fan interaction you’ve seen with Outkast?

One woman came with a big ass tattoo of the Aquemini cover on her back. I’ve seen some chicks tattoo about five or six [of] the albums on themselves.

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Outkast at SOBs in 2000

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Did Outkast tour with Eminem overseas in the early 2000s?

Yeah we did a tour with him. It was Eminem, D-12, and Xzibit. That was fun. We had heard the records, but we had never really saw Em. Dre and I watched the show every night. He was so good, we almost didn’t believe he was rapping for real. We know Dr. Dre know about sound more than anything, so we were like, “What kind of mics are they using? He ain’t yelling and saying all of his lyrics.” They were cool. We hung out a lot, actually. Bizarre and I ended up being friends.

What are Outkast’s tour hits?

A fan-favorite would be something like “Crumblin’ Erb,” but they hated doing that song because that shit slow. They didn’t like doing “Aquemini,” that was a fan-favorite. They didn’t like doing any of their smooth shit. They felt it would bring the show down.

What was your favorite Outkast tour?

It would be the Speakerboxxx/The Love Below time for me because it wasn’t a tour, but the records were so hot. The album come out and Dre had been telling them, “I ain’t touring.” He was telling L.A. Reid that even before he made the album. He was burned out. He didn’t want to do it. The album comes out and the first single was supposed to be “The Way You Move” and “She Lives In My Lap.” They’re pressing up “She Lives In My Lap,” Dre calls L.A. in the middle of the night saying, “I’m telling you, ‘Hey Ya’ is the one.” They always argued with L.A. about the first single and he would be like “That’s too rock & roll for Black radio.” They stopped that, put out “Hey Ya,” and that took off so fast, man. Dre was like, “You ready to travel?” I was like, “Let’s go.” Then, Big was like, “How you going to take the DJ? I need the DJ too.” There was a situation where I was going to go with Dre and they were going to have Mr. DJ come back and go with Big. Big was like, “Nah.” It was a power struggle.

“Hey Ya” debuted high on the charts. Although it wasn’t a tour, it felt like I was touring because I had to do all of this TV shit like Top of the Pops in Germany and then go to Japan. I was doing this with “Hey Ya.” Thirty days later, I’m back doing David Letterman with Big Boi. I might be in Germany doing a TV show with Dre, fly back to New York just to do David Letterman with Big, go back to Paris to do mores hit with Dre, and then fly back to New York to do Jay Leno with Big. At one point, both of them got so hot, I was doing two TV performances at the same time. For the Grammys performance, we did “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move” and it was a joint performance. So, I had to do “Hey Ya,” run behind the curtain and change into a different outfit, and then come back out. That shit was crazy.

During Outkast’s prime, what was on their rider?

(Laughs) Dre was officially on the vegan train and he [had] tofu whatever. There were separate riders. I liked to drink, so there was always Hennessy, Grey Goose, and beer. Dre had these herbs, teas, juices and special shit. He would always try to get me to try shit. By that time, we had a couple of different chefs on the bus. This was around Aquemini and Stankonia.

How was it transitioning from deejaying for Outkast to deejaying for just Big Boi?

It wasn’t a big transition because I put a lot of shit together and knew the music. Big was just so hurt because he couldn’t believe him and Dre wasn’t going to tour together anymore. In fact, when Dre did “Hey Ya,” we had to do a promo thing for MTV in Cannes, France and they wanted Outkast to do a 20-minute set. So, they wanted Dre to do “Hey Ya” and Big to do “The Way You Move” and about four more songs. Dre was like, “Nah, I’m going to do my shit. Big, you do whatever you want to do.” That was the first time I saw Big be sad. I think he almost cried because he couldn’t believe that. Dre did “Hey Ya” and had the life-sized character poster boards. There were 2,000 people out there. It was windy as fuck and all of his poster boards were falling down. It was funny, but it was sad.

Did you notice the relationship between Dre and Big Boi change on tour?

The relationship didn’t change because we still talk to each other how we talk to each other. Dre is just peculiar type of person. He’s an only child and used to being by himself. Fifteen years ago, we used to trip about it. Now, we’re like, “Well, that’s Dre. He’s going into this shell again.” Then, he’d resurface like ain’t shit happen like, “What’s up?” He lives in California now, but when he comes down to Atlanta, he’d call the homies like, “What y’all up to? Y’all watching the game?” He’s always in search of. What he’s looking for? I don’t know.

What was the best Big Boi show you deejayed?

There was this show he did in Atlanta at One Music Festival. I think we all wore white for that performance. It started raining hard as fuck and we were going into “Kryptonite.” It was 20,000 people out and Big was like, “Fuck that. We’re going to do it anyways.” The whole crowd was screaming “Fuck the rain” while we were performing. A nigga thought he might get electrocuted (laughs).

Where do you feel you fit in Outkast’s legacy?

I was the person who double-checked to make sure shit was right. For instance, if we had to be on stage at 10 o’clock, them motherfuckers would be doing shit from 3 until almost 10, so I had to make sure the mic was right, the sound was right, and everything. On top of that, motherfuckers might hit me up an hour before the show like, “Can you change this? Can you change that?” I might have to do a quick edit. I’m the go-to guy.

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