OutKast: The Odd Couple
People talk about OutKast and they think they have it surmised pretty easily; hip-hop's odd couple. The street smart thug and the intergalactic ghetto dandy. The hustle and the muscle. But you'd be wrong. In a career that lasted 15 years (they've been on an indefinite hiatus since 2007) they have reinvented themselves, stylistically developed at a rate and with such dazzling effect, that even Madonna would doth her S&M cap…
Meeting as teens in Atlanta's East Point, the two participated in the obligatory cafeteria rap battles and soon found compliments to each others flows. They settled on the name OutKast, as it was a synonym for their original choice of Misfits (a name already taken by hardcore punk horror fiends in the late 70s).
Signed to LaFace in 1992, and releasing 'Players Ball' a year later, the first signs of the duo's visions were apparent, the song being mostly built around live instrumentation, rather than the trend of sampling heavily or the G-funk synthesized sounds. The gamble evidently paid off, as the track hit number one on the billboard rap charts.
Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik, their debut LP heralded the birth of the southern hip-hop sound, and is rightly considered a modern classic. The title track and 'Git Up Git Out' highlighting both the lifestyles of the thugged out ghetto pimps and strong elements of political consciousness reflective of the struggles in Americas southern states for African Americans. But it was 1996's ATLiens that really cemented the duo as a flagship representation of the nascent Southern scene. It was also offering up a more honest insight to Andre's increasingly sober lifestyle, rather than hip-hop's trend of self-hyping.
The portmanteau sporting third LP Aquemini (Aquarius and Gemini) was released in late 1998, eventually hitting the number two spot on Billboard's 200 Album Chart, garnering praise for it's more evolved style, eclectic genre pool and the fact that more and more of the material was being produced by OutKast themselves, evident in the brooding trip-hop and electronic soul that occurred throughout. The LP also featured bigger collaborations, a testament to their growing status on both coasts. Funk doyen George Clinton rubbed shoulders with Goodie Mob, Slick Rick and even Wu Tang's Raekwon The Chef providing disparate flows and gritty dialogue. Such was the acclaim across the board, the LP even snagged the coveted Five Mics rating from The Source, the go to guide for contemporary hip hop.
The darker edged social commentary seemingly hit a creative block when, in 2000 Stankonia was released. The groups fourth longplayer highlighted a massive shift to a more populist, mainstream sound, with a more pop production and songs that although still humour and well observed, were less about the struggles and more about the here and now glitz.
That said, it still debuted at number two on the billboard chart, showing that they could handle the crossover transition with little fuss. The album spawned three hits, the first 'B.O.B (Bombs over Baghdad)' a high tempo, jungle break referencing comment on foreign policy.
The groups first "pop" hit 'Ms Jackson', combined radio friendly pop hooks with bitter sweet lyrics referencing Andre's break up with Erykah Badu. It's thought the songs titular character is based largely on Badu's mother. As a result Outkast won two grammys in 2001, with 'Stankonia' picking up Best Rap Album.
A wait of a few years heralded the groups most bizarre and ambitious project to date. Speakerboxx / The Love Below was effectively two solo records, that came out simultaneously, though each member did feature noticeably on the others effort. The differing styles made for an odd partnership two; Big Boi opting for the more traditional dirty south party vibe, whilst André 3000 preferred electronic music, spacey funk and jazz, with only the tiniest nods to hip hop in its base form.
The album(s) heralded hits from both parties; Big Boi with 'The Way Ya Move' and 'Ghettomusik', and Andre with 'Hey Ya!' and 'Roses'. The packaging and promo styles too, offered further glimpses into the different mindsets of the duo; Big Boi still opting for thugged out, street videos whilst André 3000 took elements of high school movies, The Beatles and clever CGI to create a retro-futuristic audio visual treat.
The double album also won the 2004 Grammy for Album of the Year, the first time a solely hip-hop based record had ever won the accolade.
Since then the output has considerably slowed down, with only the soundtrack to their prohibition based film Idlewild being released. Big Boi did release a solo record in 2010, the brilliantly monikered Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty and one in 2012, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors. More OutKast records will be made according to both artists, so keep them eyes peeled, 3000 making appearances on releases by Jay-Z and Fonzworth Bentley amongst others.
I think I speak for many when I say that I really do hope OutKast make a return soon, it's long overdue and will only offer up new treats. In this age of bland, rap by numbers we need, nay deserve hip-hop that's relevant, that's humourous, that actually has a point.
We need the mavericks, the genre hopping madmen. We need the records that shock us, that provoke thought. We need people in music to take issues and rather than bleat on (a la Chris martin, Bono et al), actually offer up a more realistic aspect.
In short, the world is a shittier place without Big Boi & André 3000.
- - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)
- - ATLiens (1996)
- - Aquemini (1998)
- - Stankonia (2000)
- - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
- - Idlewild (2006)