Andre Benjamin and his <EM>Class of 3000</EM> Andre Benjamin and his Class of 3000

Anyone who's seen the video for "Hey Ya!" knows that Andre "3000" Benjamin is a character. Now, he's an animated character as well. Inspired by the singer's childhood, Cartoon Network's new Class of 3000 is the story of a disillusioned entertainer who spurns superstardom to mentor a class of talented young musicians. In addition to cocreating and producing the show, the Grammy Award winner also composes music for each episode, and voices his alter ego, Sunny Bridges. recently spoke with the multitalented performer about his new venture, premiering this Friday, Nov. 3, at 8 pm/EST. It seems like Class of 3000 is geared towards kids, but there's a lot in there for adults as well.
Andre Benjamin: Yeah, I feel like our target audience is kids, but if you're an adult and you love music and cartoons, you'll enjoy it. It's not exactly for the Adult Swim crowd, but all ages can get something out of it. Where did the idea come from?
Benjamin: A bunch of talks, really. A guy named Mike Lazo, who runs Adult Swim, was listening to the Love Below album and he dug it. He wanted to make it into a cartoon, but at the time I didn't think that was the way I wanted to go. But he was like, "What can we do?" So we kept brainstorming and it started off as an idea for Adult Swim. The more we talked about it and developed the characters, the more we thought it would be served better in a prime-time slot. The series seems pretty representative of your personality. How did you make sure it had the Andre 3000 stamp on it?
Really just by staying a part of it the whole way through, from Day 1. It wasn't just a licensing thing, where I said, "Hey, you all can use my name and make a cartoon." From sending them pictures to giving them my ideas of what the characters' personalities should be, it's really based on my childhood life in Atlanta. So the Li'l D character is actually Li'l Andre?
Right. I grew up in an area called Bankhead and that was kind of the lower-class, project part of town. I was in this program where they bussed children from that area to better schools, so I went to one of the better schools in Atlanta. I'd ride past the governor's mansion on the way to school, and the mayor's son was in the same school. So I'm at home listening to NWA and Too Short, and then I'd go to school and hear INXS and Depeche Mode and the Ramones, so it was a melding of styles. That convergence of styles comes across in your music.
For sure. You are your experiences. What you know is your range. I think my mom also had a big influence on me, because she always tried to get me into art classes, music classes, tennis classes... everything. Now that I'm older, I feel like I have a lot of ammunition to pick from. Was it important to set Class of 3000 in Atlanta?
Yeah, I think so. It gives the show some heart and some connection to reality. We just had a screening in Atlanta at the Fox Theater and there were thousands and thousands of kids. And after they watched it, they loved it and they said, "This is my favorite character." "I like Philly Phil." "I love Li'l D." I think it's because they're based on real people and real personalities from people I knew in Atlanta. Does having those kids get excited for the show make it all worth it?
Yeah, it really does. It's cool that a kid might go to his or ner mom and say, "Hey, I want a drum set" or "I want to try playing horns." It's something they might not have ever gotten into, but they might now because the characters are into it. But even if they are interested, it seems like school boards have been removing arts and music classes from curriculums.
Benjamin: I know. It's crazy. Kids really need that balance. It's so important. In other cultures, schools require kids to play an instrument or do something in the arts. People rag on American kids saying, "They play video games all day." Well, what do you want them to do? They're taking away all these creative pursuits. So how is Sunny Bridges different from the man who voices him?
Benjamin: There are some beats in there that are the same, but he's totally a made-up character. Even though I'm in entertainment and I've taken a break from it at the moment, and I could see myself as a teacher, I probably wouldn't be a music teacher. I'd probably be an art teacher, because I was into drawing and painting before I started doing music. But I always wanted to be a cool teacher, and that's what Sonny represents. You also do voice work on the upcoming Charlotte's Web movie. Are you having as much fun with voicing characters as you do making music and acting?
Benjamin: I have fun doing all of it. The big difference is that when I'm voicing or acting, I'm interpreting the writer's work. With music, though, it's whatever comes to mind. It's my total freedom of thought.

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