Straight Outta Stankonia - Tri-Cities High School
I’ve got an ounce of dank and a couple of dranks
So let’s crank up this session like Tri-Cities High School
Was pulling ‘em in a broke-down rabbit
I spit a couple of words and laying them down was just a habit
— “Ova Da Wudz,” ATLiens (1996)
According to Viola Turner, there would be no OutKast without Tri-Cities High School. Before they joined the Dungeon Family tree, Antwan Patton and Andre Benjamin’s early creative spirit was fostered at Tri-Cities. In 1990, the school launched its magnet visual and performing arts program, which became a draw to students and their families.
“There were people who would say they lived in Fulton County and change their address just to come to Tri-Cities,” says Turner, the former director of the magnet program. At the time, Fulton County had three magnet schools: Tri-Cities, Westlake (science and math) and Riverwood (international studies). With Tri-Cities focused on honing its students’ creative prowess, it’s not surprising that early incarnations of OutKast, Xscape, and Jagged Edge came out of that environment.
There was a student-run news program, “Fast Forward,” and Big Boi acted in an anti-drug and alcohol music video, “Think About It,” geared toward pregnant teens and directed by social studies teacher Dennis Waters. “It was not unusual to see a group of students around each other, like in a huddle, who were either rapping or singing,” Turner says.
Most importantly, Tri-Cities is where Andre and Antwan met.
Antwan was in Turner’s drama class, and acted in a Black History Month play she directed. Turner first caught wind of Andre as the poetry-reading Sutton Middle School student her younger daughter used to talk about. Turner says “‘Twan” and Andre rolled with a group of creative cool kids who spent hours after school working on dance routines, class productions, and of course, their own musical aspirations.
“Today, you hear a lot about kids fighting,” she says. “That group of kids who [was] just too busy creating.”
While she’s uncertain whether or not the young men were part of the magnet program or just embracing its benefits, Turner says the pair’s influence could be seen and felt early on by everyone at the school.
“They had a passion that was maybe greater than other students, and that passion that they had drew people to them and made them stand out,” she says. “Their commitment to what they were doing, and their love for what they were doing, when you exude that kind of spirit, you draw people to you.”