There's an old proverb about genius that says "talent does what it can, genius does what it must." In the world of the corporate-controlled, media-driven, trend-following music industry - where record labels pump out cookie-cutter music by the baker's dozens - it is rare that you come across mainstream hip-hop artists who are willing to push the envelope by daring to go creatively where few artist are willing to go. Most artists would rather stick to the carefully prepared scripts that brought them gold and platinum the first time. Hence why so many of today's contemporary hip-hop records tend to sound alike.
For the past nine years the Atlanta-based super duo, OutKast, has been consistently pushing hip-hop's envelope by expanding its musical boundaries with every album they release. Their unique blend of jazz, blues, soul, rock and world music along with some good old-fashioned hip-hop laced with their Southern sensibilities has constantly set the world on its ear. And none of their albums have ever sounded alike. But coming up with new and innovative music is the nature of Andre and Big Boi's genius.
OutKast started their luminous career in 1994 when their classic hit, "Player's Ball," became an unlikely single on LaFace Records' Christmas album, a label traditionally known for its suave R&B music. The reaction to the record persuaded Antonio "L.A." Reid (LaFace President, CEO and co-owner) to sign the young duo as the label's first hip-hop act. Their spectacular debut LP Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, with its sparse samples and live instrumentation reminiscent of the golden era of 70s soul, sold one million copies and help to lay a solid foundation for the current explosion of Southern hip-hop.
With their sophomore LP, ATLiens, Big Boi (nee: Antwan Patton) and Andre 3000 (nee: Andre Benjamin) showed the world that the South really did have something to say, and 1.5 million people were listening to 'Kast's trunk-rattling funk, gleaned from the spirit of Sly Stone, Mandrill, and George Clinton. In addition to their incredible commercial success, critics were praising both Dre and Big Boi for their silky southern flows and clever lyrics celebrating everything from "Growing Old" to the "Wheelz of Steel." The record cemented the duo's position as one of the few groups on the cutting edge of hip-hop.
On Stankonia, OutKast pushed the envelope even further by revisiting the spirit of George Clinton, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Hazel, dipping millions of listeners into some good old-fashioned psychedelic hip-hop funk. Once again, OutKast garnered rave reviews with their latest studio offering and, true to form, picked up a couple of million fans along the way. The record sold a whopping five million units worldwide.
For their fifth effort the two decided to take a break and release a greatest hits album, Big Boi and Dre Present...OutKast, as a retrospective for the new fans who just got hip to OutKast. The record contained three new songs, one of which, "The Whole World," earned them a coveted Grammy Award for Best Rap Song by a duo or group. Now with their sixth release, Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Andre 3000 and Big Boi have taken a bold step forward by releasing an unprecedented dual CD containing their own individual musical statements, thus giving fans a glimpse into the creative minds of each member.
The single "She Lives in My Lap," featuring actress Rosario Dawson, is a scintillating track celebrating the love that lives below the belt. However, just when you think that you've got the hang of where Andre 3000 is coming from musically, he takes you on yet another side street of his musical repertoire by giving you pleasantly surprising songs like "Hey Ya," a funky jam that sounds like a cross between the Beatles and the classic Motown sound of the early 60s. "Roses," a song that chastises gold diggers and groupies, is another song that falls into this category. Built around a slinky, funky groove and a classic rhythm with a near perfect backbeat, "Roses" also features Big Boi flowing milky smooth, combining complex lyrics with internal rhymes that will keep rap fans hitting rewind more than once. Dre slows down the pace with romantic songs like "Prototype," an ethereal funk ballad that celebrates 3000's perfect woman, and the smoldering ballad "Pink and Blue," which celebrates the May/December romance between a younger man and an older woman.
In addition to handling all of the production and vocal duties on The Love Below, Dre plays a great deal of the instruments on the record, including the keyboards and the majority of the drums programming (except for "Roses," which was done by Dojo 5). Dre can also be heard playing guitar on almost every song, with the exception of "Love Hater." The Love Below proves that Andre 3000 is one of the most gifted musicians that his generation has produced.
While his "partner-in-rhyme" shows off his musical diversity, Big Boi opts to showcase his lyrical prowess on his solo effort, Speakerboxxx. Big Boi does this by paying homage to the foundation of Southern hip-hop: the Roland 808 bass.
Speakerboxxx opens up with a thunderous intro filled with rumbling 808 bass and segues into the rapid-fire ode to bass "Ghetto Musick." "Ghetto Musick" has a break-neck speed that would cripple the average MC's flow, but Big Boi floats on this complex rhythm like a butterfly soaring over a roaring river. "Tomb of Boom" brings more of that trunk-rattling bass-laden funk that OutKast is known for. On "War," Big Boi adroitly addresses social issues that affect our post-9/11 world and stands out as on of the most important songs on the album, fitting right into OutKast's tradition of offering their fans deep, thought-provoking social commentary.
But aside from bottom-heavy anthem to the bass, Big Boi also shows that he too has a few musical surprises up his sleeve. Check out the lead single "The Way You Move," which starts out with a nice mid-tempo rhythm & quad beat and then transforms into a straight soul record, complete with Sleepy Brown's soulful vocals soaked in the spirit of the late, great Marvin Gaye. "Church" is another outstanding song that explores the philosophical question of "Why are we here?" By combining the gritty chords of the country blues with the soulful earthiness of the Southern gospel tradition, Big Boi once again traverses the age-old nexus between the sacred and the secular that has existed for ages in the African American community. Another standout song on Speakerboxxx is "Flip Flop Rock," which features Jay-Z and Killer Mike trading some wicked verses with Big Boi over a rugged snare, bluesy guitar riff and angelic piano chords.
With Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, OutKast reaffirms their genius by adding another great album to their ever-expanding catalog of hits, further solidifying their legacy as one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time.
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