OutKast continues to raise hip-hop standard
By ARIENNE THOMPSON
Scene Music Critic
What the heck is wrong with OutKast? Honestly, there are no simple or direct answers, but one could easily — and naively — devise the following absurdities as possible explanations for the weirdness that is OutKast: A) its members are on drugs, B) they are unruly radicals looking to destroy mainstream America, C) they are ATLiens from Pluto or D) all of the above, and then some.
As scary and plausible as they may sound, none of the aforementioned statements are true, obviously. Nonetheless, while in a mood of general inquiry, one may also be inclined to ask why OutKast has not become yet another victim of the standard mediocrity syndrome common in today's rap. Yes, "m-e-d-i-o-c-r-i-t-y" — that familiar demon of insipidness that has plagued everyone from Trick Daddy to Cash Money over the past two years, during which southern rap has taken a turn for the brain-cell-murdering worse. But, in going back to the initial question, one must understand that nothing is actually wrong with OutKast, rather, everything is just right.
In an age when "bling-bling" and fast cars rule, OutKast has consistently and unashamedly proven that it possesses unmatched originality and creativity. Comprised of polar opposites André Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, this legendary duo is, among other things, strange, eccentric, unconventional, and, above all, brilliant. To the possible dismay of its country brethren in the "dirty South," OutKast has managed to defy and reinvent what hip-hop from that region can convey and achieve. Steering away from the standard blabber about money, cash, and bitc---, it doesn't take a genius.
With its fourth release, affectionately dubbed "the stankiest album of their career," OutKast proves on Stankonia that they truly are solid contributors to the creative future of rap. Coming out of Atlanta in 1995, OutKast created a niche for itself in the hip-hop world, possessing a confidence and authority usually only gained by groups after years of hits and growing prestige. The duo's first single, "Player's Ball," with its catchy chorus and funky beat, was a southern rap song for sure, but it had that intangible added element that boosted OutKast to stardom and yielded an enormous fan base.
Next came the hit "Elevators" from the exceptional album ATLiens, which not only made OutKast a commercial success, but also solidified Benjamin and Patton's status as rap innovators. The true measure of OutKast's success came in 1998, however, when its third album, cleverly entitled Aquemini received five mics from the highly esteemed hip-hop magazine the Source. To date, no other hip-hop album has received such a high honor. Now, fast forward to the present and examine Stankonia, a gem plucked from the dulled rock of hip-hop.
At an astounding 24 tracks (seven of which are interludes), OutKast's latest goes from joyful to melancholy and angry to soothing without warning.
"So Fresh, So Clean" is playful and confident while "Toilet Tisha" is sad and lingering. The exceptional "Red Velvet" exudes seriousness, with its warning against boasting one's riches. The chorus is haunting and clever, proclaiming, "...they know where you live/ And they've seen what you drive/ And they say they gonna put one in your helmet/ Cause you brag 'bout that watch/ And all them things that you got/ Them dirty boys turn your pound cake to red velvet."
The Erykah Badu-touched "Humble Mumble" mixes a Latin-esque tempo and beat with well-placed scratches and vocal harmonizing. Here, Banjamin dismisses some stereotypes about rap, saying, "...thought Hip Hop was only guns and alcohol/ I said Oh Hell naw!‚ but yet it's that too/ You can't discrimahate because you done read a book or two/ What if I looked at you in a microscope saw all the dirty organisms/ Living in your closet would I stop and would I pause it..."
Also noteworthy is the explosive "B.O.B." (Bombs Over Baghdad) which showcases the inherent variations in style, delivery, and content that distinguish each member of OutKast from the other. Benjamin is loud and quick, often stringing together random words and phrases to create vivid, colorful images. Patton, on the other hand, brings the flavor of the "dirty South" with his lazy, country drawl and numerous allusions to Cadillacs and the ATL. With these differences present on this song and many others, OutKast has managed to create a sound that is unparalleled in rap today.
Perhaps Stankonia will warrant another five-mic rating for the Atlanta duo in Source magazine's latest edition, but if not, there is no doubt that OutKast has made yet another classic rap album that has proven the power of weirdness and innovation.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, November 14, 2000