"We got our own language, y'all," André 3000 said as Outkast approached the end of its concert Saturday night at Staples Center. No one familiar with the Atlanta duo's idiosyncratic music -- with "Aquemini" and "Stankonia" and "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" -- would disagree.
But when André 3000 and his partner, Big Boi, headlined the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April, when Outkast launched an extensive reunion tour following a lengthy hiatus, that vocabulary seemed to have lost its meaning. Sharing a physical space while demonstrating little of their old internal magnetism, the two rappers appeared to be going through the motions; they knew the words but weren't saying much.
During Saturday's hugely improved performance, part of the weekend-long BET Experience festival at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles, Outkast's once-vivid language spoke -- and crooned, grunted and growled -- again. The bill also featured ASAP Rocky and Rick Ross, among others -- performers who demonstrated Outkast's enduring influence (including its fashion-forward visual flair) as well as the group's peculiarity. None of the opening acts rapped about bombs over Baghdad, as Outkast did in its first song.
André 3000 and Big Boi hadn't smoothed out their considerable differences in the two months since Coachella; the two were still a study in contrasts, in their clothes, their stage banter and their ideas about sex.
Living up to his peacock's reputation, André 3000 wore a white wig and a crinkly black jumpsuit that read "Ninjas Kill Me," while Big Boi went lower-key in baggy camouflage pants and jacket.
And though both rappers showed videos of nearly naked women during solo sections of the concert, each used the images to present a distinct persona: Big Boi the strip-club aficionado, André 3000 the boudoir sensualist.
Yet now that they've finished a sizable chunk of their tour -- which accompanies no new music, but which marks the 20th anniversary of the group's debut album -- the bandmates have remembered how to complement each other. More important, their wide grins suggested that they're enjoying each other's company.
In "Ms. Jackson," the men alternated emotional pleading and hard-headed pragmatism to convince a mother that her daughter was being taken care of. "Elevators (Me & You)" offered a kaleidoscopic account of the group's ascent to rap stardom from the corner of Headland Drive and Delowe Drive in East Point, Ga.; two street signs hung over the stage as André 3000 recalled riding with Big Boi "through the hood, just trying to find that hook-up."
For "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)" -- one of the most swinging tunes in a set that felt like 90 minutes of continuously throbbing soul-funk rhythm -- Outkast brought out Slick Rick, the hip-hop veteran, to punch up a song about the transformative power of words. Other guests appeared throughout the show, including Sleepy Brown, who contributed silky vocals to "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" and "The Way You Move," and Killer Mike, who bounded onstage to deliver a boisterous guest verse in "The Whole World."
There was also the cluster of female fans André 3000 invited to dance around him during Outkast's biggest pop hit, "Hey Ya!." (Perhaps their presence eased the rapper's conflicted relationship with the song, which he performed at Coachella with his back to the crowd.)
On Saturday, though, none of these outsiders came between André 3000 and Big Boi as they reanimated their old rhymes. It was a night of trippy humanist credos given human heft once more.