Monday, April 7, 2014

Return Of The G's: Outkast's Best 20 Songs, 20-11

With their first festival appearance at Coachella this Friday, the legendary Hip-Hop duo Outkast will dazzle hundreds of thousands across the world with their first performances together in over a decade. Ever since I heard 'The Whole World' in the summer of 2002, I was hooked on Hip-Hop as a genre. Andre 3000 and Big Boi will forever remain in my heart as the first artist to introduce me to the genre, and my favorite. One would surmise, rightfully so, that I am quite excited for their upcoming performances and the secrecy surrounding them. Many others, including myself, are also salivating at the thought of another album, and while I don't believe said album will ever happen to avoid getting any hopes up, the thought of Big Boi's third solo album concluding the year after the festivals has me in high hopes. Despite what happens this year, Outkast will always be Outkast. And we will always have their legendary discography to look back on. So, without further ado, here are the funky duo from ATL's 20 greatest songs.

Hey Ya!
The Love Below

Kicking things off is the song that sent Outkast into super-stardom as definite leaders of the Hip-Hop community in relation to mainstream radio success. To put in perspective how dominant the duo was at the end of 2003, Hey Ya! topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks straight, second place for six of those? Big Boi's own single The Way You Move, that got its shine at the top for one week after Hey Ya!'s run dissipated. Andre's rendition of fused pop/rap was the first of its kind, melding beautifully sung portions that dominated one half of The Love Below, with rap dominating the other. But wrapped up in all the poppy synths, bright guitar quips, and catchy lyrics was a tragedy in the eyes of a failing relationship between a couple who no longer feels love. Not something you'd expect from a former Hip-Hop star cast with his first mainstream pop smash. But with enough “Alright’s” to go around and enough “Shake it’s” to stir up any get together, Hey Ya! succeeded in bridging the gap between all generations, down to the replicated Beatles-inspired music video. The construction of the track alone, using non-linear progressions, short stop/go verses, and multiple breakdowns, is not something one would expect to hear on the dance floor. And yet, there it was, the most insanely infectious pop single to come out of the early 2000’s.

Flip Flop Rock (Ft. Killer Mike & Jay-Z)

One of the most underrated ‘Kast tracks, hidden near the backend of Speakerboxxx. Flip Flop Rock features Jay-Z at the peak of his career on hook and final chorus with Killer Mike, years before his ‘supposed’ beef with the aforementioned rapper, filling up the middle. Big Boi’s first verse deals with the topic of discrimination against the black community and how those that judge the race are ignoring the fact of the growing knowledge being imposed on the community itself. His next, along with Killer Mike’s, are about the rap form itself and how they excel at it, while Jay-Z cleans up in typical braggadocios style. The real charm of the track however lies within the production and attractiveness. The chorus is catchy, the synths bouncing in the back are hypnotic, and the piano breakdown during Killer Mike’s verse goes as delicately hard as the rapper himself. But the crowning jewel in the composition lies within the undeniably memorable interlude, bringing funky, groovy talk about tennis shoes and flip flops to the forefront. It’s a hilarious, inviting, and entrancing contrast to the rest of the song, while simultaneously remaining grounded in the production’s clear vision. The final DJ scratching, piano melodies, and hollow drum hits excellently mellow the song down to a close.

So Fresh, So Clean

Before swag rap, bragging in extraneous detail the affairs that surround the lifestyle of a rapper, whether true or made up, graced systems all across the country in the late 2000’s, So Fresh, So Clean stood as the original. No one, not even competing rappers, would dare claims themselves to be fresher than Big Boi and Andre. The addition of Sleepy Brown crooning ever so seductively on the hook, formulating a style and line that would be mimicked throughout college campuses for years to come, only enhanced the sense of panache the two rappers exuded. All three verses on here, two from Big Boi, one from Dre, successfully showcase the dominating flows the duo has been known for since their come-up. Southern slang and twang litter the rhymes with talk about Cadillac’s, Ho’s in leopard print, and Honeycomb Hideout’s. Taking a quick look at the lyrics, it’s astonishing how much words append or is prefixed by apostrophes in an attempt at explaining that classic Southern drawl. It’s remarkable how much swagger can be condensed into one track. The overly simplistic, yet downright dirty beat, lead with a bass line and keyboard in unison, is one of the best off Stankonia, and help all three artists articulate the best, flow-wise, over the production. Not to mention Andre comes crystal clear with one of the most oft-putting pick-up lines known to man, “You’re so Anne Frank, let’s hit the attic to hide out for ‘bout two weeks.”

Return Of The G

During a time when gangster rap ruled as the jazz-rap of De La Soul & A Tribe Called Quest began dying down, anyone caught deviating from the mold was bound for extinction. That’s exactly what Outkast did off their second album, ATLiens, choosing to morph into rappers from outer space discussing serious issues about the landscape of us as a people. Not violence, hoes and the ghetto. At the expense of their urban listeners, ‘Kast developed into full-fledged rap stars thanks to that album. But Big Boi & Andre 3000, through Aquemini, melded both facets and came out of the gates with a vengeance on Return Of The G. Sampling Giorgio Moroder’s contribution to the Midnight Express soundtrack, the duo lands themselves in deep water, using 3000’s initial verse to pulverize any opinions about the group and their public perception. Andre’s furious, complex and hard-hitting verse to kick things off put things into perspective for what was to come. Addressing issues of the group’s mentality and toughness, their work on gospel rapping as opposed to street life, and the naivety of it all places Dre’s verse as one of the group’s most stunning. Big Boi closes with a solid verse stating that, while his life is different than those of the gangbangers, no action they’ll take on his part will go unnoticed or undefended. The beat, with its mirage of sounds motioning in and out of focus, with the only thing’s consistent being the sample and drum, creates a haunting production style unmatched by anything the group had done previously. In fact, the only resemblance of a former ‘Kast track here are the horns that blare during the chorus, their position a sign of things to come. 


The title track off Outkast’s second album, one which took a drastic change in direction from the last, focusing on aliens and outcasts, through a unfettered, dirty south feel. Beginning with the spacey noises and a slash of whiplash, ATLiens takes us to Atlanta to be properly taught the ins and outs of southern vocabulary, led by Big Boi’s grin-inducing lyrics. “Cause I’m cooler than a polar bear toe nails” is now engrained in the lore of Sir Luscious Left Foot and his demeanor. Later on however, Big Boi introduces yet another of his monikers, Daddy Fat Sax, carrying it, and the aforementioned title, to his debut solo album. But where Fat Sax delivered on being cool, 3000 poised himself as the sexual ladies man. His lyrics say it all: “Now, my oral illustration be like clitoral simulation to the female gender, ain’t nothing better.” Beneath the saucy mannerisms lie provocative conflicts of outcasts in the black community. However, towering over the track is the hook itself, one of the most memorable from the duo. The lines themselves showcase nothing special, in fact quite the contrary, but the slang, drawl, and cadence carried throughout breathe fresh excitement into the typical Hip-Hop callings. A simplistic classic southern-induced beat, ripe with snare hits and warped female vocals compliment the track, fading until its close.


Something really interesting happens at the turn of the back third on Aquemini. While previously dominated by gritty, realistic raps, the album slows itself and spends an alluring seven minutes detailing the nights at Charles, a discotheque “nestled in the ghettos of Niggaville, USA.” Difference being, no raps are uttered. Instead, Andre 3000 & Big Boi disguise there story-telling through the use of spoken word, done to perfection. From the former’s glorious “lulls lukewarm lullabies in your left ear, competing with ‘Set It Off’ in the right” to the latter’s seductive yet hilarious “the way she move reminded me of a brown stallion horse, with skates on ya know” SpottieOttieDopaliscious never fails to entangle the listener in a trance of beautiful harmony. Leading us through all of this is the production. Crowned by the iconic trumpet section, listeners are blessed with an experimental field trip through slow-moving drum loops, percussion hits, and a dozen of so blurps of melodic impulses, all aimed at diving us into that one fateful night in Atlanta. Not unlike other verses performed by the group, what begins as a joyous affair in an attempt to escape to fantasy only returns us to reality as gang members get hauled off in ambulances after stabbings, and booty call’s change lives as an unexpected youngin’ comes along the way. SpottieOttieDopaliscious marks a unique and untouched time in Hip-Hop where one song represented the realness of the ghetto’s to such a degree that typical verses weren’t needed. 

Hootie Hoo

Formed straight out of the dungeon itself, Hootie Hoo, with all its references to smoking weed, sounds just like a lost haze traversing the underground beat studio. The production has a dark, dank feeling with an incredibly low-end bass line that echoes throughout the backing of the track and rears its head right from the get-go. The building procession of percussion and drums add to the dazed out feeling the track so rightfully exudes. Beginning it all is Big Boi’s show-stopping verse filled with classic lines, on-point flowing patterns, and more southern speak discussing the events of a smoked-out teen driving around the streets of Atlanta. Another classic hook with a now-infamous phrase of “hootieeeee hooooo” meant to symbolize the White Owl brand of blunt wraps they’re using turned into a rallying cry for when the police arrive. Dre’s incorporation here, before tearing up his own verse, lends itself even further to the claustrophobic feeling of the track, with the rapper drawling “tight like hallways, smoked out always.” Calling out the woman who seek him every weekend, Dre melds his gangsta-pimp persona with that of the weed-connoisseur on his first verse, bringing his classic style of flow to the record. For where Hootie Hoo succeeds the most is the Southern elegance that the two youngster’s holds within them, magnificently drawing in inspiration from around the area they grew up in to formulate a new sub-genre of Hip-Hop.

Ms. Jackson

While Hey Ya! succeeded in being Outkast’s biggest song while making grave undertones throughout, the band’s first Top 100 hit came from the outright proclamation of problems within a failed relationships over the custody of the child; not something you’d expect from a chart-topping single. But through its use of catchy lines (“baby momma’s momma’s | forever, forever ever, forever ever”), sing-a-long chorus, and relatable topic made Ms.Jackson a surprising hit off Stankonia. That topic being something not touched upon often in the Hip-Hop community. Big Boi’s verse about child support causing conflicting issues with once-lovers hits a cord with those struggling to make ends meet. Andre’s apologetic verse to Ms.Jackson (in reality, to the mother of Erykah Badu as this song is very much based off real life) uses a flurry of flows, including a beautifully sung prologue to match the song’s somber mood as an apology to someone through the use of song. Big Boi’s final verse, detailing the relationship gone sour, incorporates more tongue-twisting flows in glorious effect to close it out. With a piano piece in the form of a wedding reception gracefully backing the production ironically, the piece comes together as a whole with the reverb-esque hollowed out beat accompanying it. A slight nod to the American theme, played abridged during Big Boi’s second verse, adds another layer to the complex story, with topics of American inequality (“She need to get a piece of the American pie and take her bite out”) seeking its way underneath the album already plastered with a divided flag.

Rosa Parks

Comparing Rosa Parks’ defining moment of sitting at the front of the bus with Outkast’s proclamation that everyone else in the game should just move to the back is a bold claim to make. To no surprise, it got them in hot water with Ms.Parks herself who filed a lawsuit against the duo for wrongfully using her name. But regardless of the backstory, the track itself, the first lead single off Aquemini, is a beautiful collection of sounds and messages aimed at declaring Outkast as the leaders of the pack. Following the cast of doubt laid over them and their departure from typical Hip-Hop on ATLiens, the duo felt it was necessary to dissuade those criticisms by taking it back to the basics. DJ scratches, an acoustic guitar, black gospel choirs, and an immaculate interlude of harmonica and wooden floor stomps reminiscent of dancehall floors marks Rosa Parks as one of the most unique points in Hip-Hop artistically. Andre’s verse however, shows a man conflicted with the future outlook on his music career. While Big Boi doubted the naysayers, Andre accepts their worries as something he can relate to when his favorite band doesn’t meet expectations. Kendrick Lamar’s third verse in Sing About Me definitely took inspiration from this, as both their thoughts on being remembered long past their retirement is of constant concern to the rappers. 3000’s verse is much more subtler, but ever still effective.

A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre
The Love Below

While The Love Below contained Andre’s departure from rapping in the typical sense for his lustful, inner-Prince singer to come out, the closer snaps the ATL-bred poetic storyteller into consciousness for the masterpiece of a send-off to his solo work. A Life In The Day of Benjamin Andre does exactly what the title suggests; retell the artist’s life story up until the point of this song’s creation, all crammed within five minutes. Outkast, ever since their inception, have been leaders in storytelling and nowhere better does it show their skill than on Andre’s ‘final’ song. From his relationships with woman, Big Boi, the duo’s albums, successes and failures, and everything in between, the finale acts as such; an ending to sum up the artist’s career. All of this over a haunting beat of handclaps and finger snaps. It’s not catchy and delectable though, but ominous and enthralling. Andre’s lyrics weave us through metaphor after metaphor, explaining the situation of life during the 90’s for the boy who was catapulted out of the south into stardom, surrounded by woman, drugs, and alcohol. Down to his extended interpolation to conclude the album, swapping a beat-up old ride to symbolize his music career stands as just one of many metaphors sewn throughout the fabric of the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment