When most aspiring guitarists pick up the instrument, they usually quickly figure out how to bash out some simple riff like “Brain Stew” or “Smoke on the Water,” maybe learn a handful of open chords, and generally make a whole lot of horrible noise before finding their way to anything interesting. André 3000, by his own account of learning the guitar, also picked up a few of these building blocks, but then quickly proceeded to write one of the greatest pop songs released this century.
As the subject of a fascinating and entertaining new GQ Style interview, André discussed what he sees as his dilettantish approach to playing music, learning new instruments and techniques only to the point that they serve him in his songs. At one point, he and the reporter talked about the guitar:
André 3000: I never totally dedicated myself to anything. I’ve always been a jack-of-no-trades, but just making it happen: You know, play guitar just enough to play on The Love Below. Play piano just enough to do “Ms. Jackson.” My first chords were “Hey Ya!”
GQ: Wait, your first chords on the guitar became “Hey Ya!”?
“Hey Ya” is made up of just four chords–all of them the sort of thing a novice could figure out how to play more or less immediately–so his story checks out, for the most part. However, there’s reason to believe that 3 Stacks–who says earlier in the interview that he doesn’t think of himself as a great rapper, to the bafflement of fans everywhere–is being a little theatrical with his modesty in portraying himself as a naif here.
Outkast, of course, was an extremely musically sophisticated group, and they produced many of their tracks themselves, including classics like “SpottieOttieDopaLiscious,” “Rosa Parks,” and “B.O.B.” (The latter is credited to Earthtone III, a trio of André, Big Boi, and the producer Mr. DJ.) You don’t make songs like that without knowing what you’re doing. Maybe it’s true that André had never touched a guitar until shortly before “Hey Ya,” but he definitely was not a novice musician.