Thursday, April 10, 2014

Return Of The G's: Outkast's Best 20 Songs, 10-1


Now I may be impartial to Ghettomusick but, after learning of Outkast’s existence in 2002, Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx acted as one of the first Hip-Hop albums I had ever heard and I was immediately hooked. Many regretfully reminisce over their first ventures into a genre at a young age, and I’m certainly not an outlier to that (having loved & purchased Baha Men’s Move It Like This), but overall Outkast couldn’t have been a better introduction into the genre for me, with Speakerboxxx holding a special place in my heart. And Ghettomusick served as the introduction. The only track off Big Boi’s half to feature his Outkast counterpart is also one of the most unique, enthralling, and entertaining. Just take a look at the format of the track to see how unusual it is: Intro/Hook/Interlude/Pre-Hook/Hook/Bridge/Verse/Pre-Hook/Hook/Bridge/Outro. All crammed within 4 minutes, Ghettomusick is incredibly fast-paced, hectic, and vibrant. The song makes slight nods to Big Boi’s success at escaping the hood while also talking about the dilemma’s faced by those trying to accomplish the same. Patti Labelle accompanies Big Boi here to provide an R&B flavored-tinge to the palate before the latter provides his single tongue twisting, rapid-fire verse. From the initial funk electric guitar pluck exploding into the highly synthesized beat carried by a flurry of swiftly paced instrumentals, Ghettomusick is a joy to listen too. Drastic shifts in sound occur when Labelle’s smooth R&B ensemble finds its way amongst the listener, creating an even more vibrant landscape.

Red Velvet

Not many rappers, and even fewer upon reaching stardom, refuse to flaunt their material possessions. But Antwan Patton & Andre Benjamin have since held up that the thing’s that matter most in their lives, despite their ridiculously lucrative life, is the one’s closest to you and the materials you take the most pride in. In 2000, when Stankonia was released, you’d be hard-pressed to find a rapper talking about rusted Cadillac’s in an appreciatory sense in much the same way these two do. As evidenced on Red Velvet, Outkast believes in saving money, not wasting it on material things that go to waste with the lifestyle it was bought up in. ‘Live fast & die young’ is not something the group condones, especially in the black community, as they feel the artists who head it force ill-conceived notions of status & what makes one succeed in life down their fans throats, only further perpetuating the problems at hand. Like Big Boi states “Cap cap, ya link snap, you slumped off in ya Cadillac/for what though, some diamonds & a Bentley what you dying for,” these possessions usually drive blacks to murder one-another out of sheer jealousy, created by the rappers themselves. Red Velvet hosts one of Outkast’s best hooks, with the closing “Cause you brag bout that watch & all them things that you got/Dirty boys turn your pound cake to red velvet,” acting as one of the best metaphors for death by way of gunfire.

The Whole World (Ft. Killer Mike)
Big Boi & Dre Present...Outkast

The first Hip-Hop song I’ve ever heard. I remember where I was when the music video came on MTV2 over 10 years ago, it was a special moment in my life, a drastic shift in dynamic occurred and from that point forward music controlled my life. The Whole World presents a striking contrast, for muddled within, something my 10-year-old self wouldn’t come to understand till much later, is a response to attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th. Andre’s somber voice begins the song with a sigh, before belting into his refrain “Yeah I’m afraid, like I’m scared as a dog,” meant to symbolize the rapper’s feelings for the new millennium. The chorus further implicates this by making subtle remarks towards the events being broadcasted on live television, although with Big Boi’s closing verse stating, “turn on the TV & everything is looking dismal.” But surrounded by all of this negativity, in typical Outkast fashion, is grandiose expressionism in the form of soul funk, a curling piano melody, and rolling drum stutter to help curb the negative message (See: Hey Ya). Killer Mike, while constructing a verse unrelated to the topic at hand, breezes through the middle section with his distinctive aggressive vocal verbiage. The refrain concluding the song as it fades out adds a synth line & blaring trumpets to close the ‘circus,’ as shown in that music video I glanced upon on that one fateful day.

Elevators (Me & You)

With its simply infectious beat conveying raw emotion through one ingenuous drum loop molded in unison with the entire album’s airy vibe, Elevators works as one of Outkast’s most likable songs. Much like elevators, Big Boi & Andre are on the rise, both financially and in popularity. The duo discusses the hardships they went through as kids growing up as aspiring musicians in the slums of Decatur, while simultaneously relating to their listeners how their lives still comes with its struggles. Andre’s final verse shows this off the best, recounting his run-in with a former classmate told so poetically that the insights made are heightened even further thanks to his skilled rapping. Other rappers have used numerous lines here as an homage to the song, with the chorus taking the cake. It’s one ingrained so far in Hip-Hop history that shirts have been made proudly proclaiming its lines. “Me & You, Your momma & your cousin too, rolling down the strip on Vogues, coming up, slamming Cadillac doors” sounds ten times better hearing it than it is to read it, thanks to the smooth recitation from Big Boi. The slow-churning track represents the vibe of ATLiens as a whole; subdued, hollow, and every bit insightful. Now that the rapper’s have taken their skills to the next level, Elevators, hitting the charts at #12, served as the group’s introduction for where they were, where they plan on going, and how they’re gonna get there.

Da Art Of Storytellin' Pt. 1 & 2

Both these songs serve right on this Top 20 list so I figured why not combine them? Da Art Of Storytellin’ Parts I & II stand idle, sandwiched in the middle of Aquemini, as their own entities. While the subject matter of each differ drastically from one another, the connector lies within the storytelling itself which follows the same idiom; time will come to an end. Andre’s beautiful final verse on Part I brings us into the life of Sasha Thumper, a recurring character for Outkast, very similar to Kendrick Lamar’s Keisha. As her portion runs its course we’re greeted with her death by way of drug overdose. Then we’re taken to a skit foretelling the events of Part II. In it, a family worries over the coming storm outside. A foreboding ticking clock transfer between the two songs eerily encapsulating Andre’s vibe that he wanted to make an “last song recorded before the end of the world.” Mother Earth had been raped to death (Andre’s verse), and God has come to lay waste to his wrecked home (Big Boi’s verse). All of this occurs in a span of six minutes. Part I’s vibe is lingering, a telling of what’s to come. While Part’s II dark, abrasive sounds with a knocking bass tell of the apocalypse. There’s no denying Outkast’s confidence on the song, titling them “The Art of Storytellin,’” played out as a book for dummies. Little did they know how right they were.

The Love Below

3 years before Kanye not-so-subtly exposed Gold Diggers for their craving ways to the wealthy, Three Stacks did so to the one girl who thought she could have it all. Playing off a litany of idioms, Andre verbalizes what many feel about woman who mooch off men, using just their looks to get by; that being, smarter prostitutes. 3000’s lyrics here, that of a girl who looks like roses on the outside but the closer you lean in the more she reeks of scum, is something relatable to anyone with a stable amount of cash in a famous lifestyle. Her attempts at mooching shows itself most prominently on Big Boi’s sole Love Below verse where he spits about his encounter with her at a party. It’s Andre’s singing here, moreso than anywhere else, which shows off his ability to lure audiences with his lyrical skill and vocal dexterity. From his utterly bizarre transfer to a sped-up mind-rambling thought process of how he wished she’d die, compared to his wholly swap of that in saying “Just playing” before falling back into the chorus of derailing this girls intelligence. Through its many movements Roses functions as the strongest message to The Love Below’s intent, from sound to style. Keyboards disguised as somber pianos mix with a synth cord that attempts the same. It moves the listener from segment to segment flawlessly, before falling apart into a verbal out-lash, attempting to arrange every combination of ‘bitch’ possible.


No song perfectly replicates Outkast more than their titled track off their first album. Southernplayalisticadillacmusik struck a cord with listeners as, for the first time ever, the dirty south was represented in the genre, and citizens of those southern states couldn’t have been more ecstatic with whom was helming the come-up. With their funkadelic sound reminiscent of that old 70’s classic soul, Outkast brought a whole new level of dynamisms never before experienced in Hip-Hop up until that point. Previously it was East & West, and now, jumping on the scene, was two young playas talking about Cadillac’s, Pimps, and Gats with a southern tinge previously unheard. With the saxophone blaring, wavy synths echoing & female lead vocals crooning, Outkast was on the map. Back and forth, Big Boi & Dre boast about not backing down and flashing their guns when the time comes, an inherent call-out to the rivals above them that their voice warrants actions too. For all the violence they discuss that happens in the South, the main message resides that no matter, the grits and gravy that bring them together will conquer those battling up North. Now look, twenty years later and the South, with artists ranging from Lil Wayne to Big K.R.I.T, have taken over and provided Hip-Hop with a respectable dose of southern hospitality.


One of Outkast’s hardest songs, only competing with the one at #2. Chonkyfire represents, once again, the shift in dynamic for the duo that had always planned ahead. With its Rock N’ Roll-esque guitar riffs, the track sounds more at place with Stankonia & its Gasoline Dreams than anything previously heard on Aquemini. It was a bold leap at the time and not something many artists were doing. In fact, many emcee’s in the 90’s, especially those of street-life gangsta rap, feel washed out in today’s society by many of the youth who feel the music is to boring and doesn’t deviate from the norm. Pressed to ask someone which year Chonkyfire released would pose starkly different answers, as no matter when the song is heard, it always feels fresh. The drastically reverbed violin cues mixed with the stumbling guitar and hard-knock bass places Chonkyfire in a league of its own. Sound is one thing, but their needs to be content to match, and the duo, especially Big Boi, provides in spades. In his show-stealing verse, with just a piano to back, the Atlanta rapper conflicts those listening as to what the true definition of Hip-Hop is at a time when most are calling it dead following the death of Tupac Shakur & Biggie Smalls. Andre’s calling during the chorus would be a cocky salute to one’s own skills if it weren’t for their ability to back it up. At this time, between releasing Aquemini & knowing the future of Stankonia, Outkast really did “reign supreme” as “dungeon kings.”


No one song in Outkast’s discography took as large a risk as Bombs Over Baghdad. It was as forward thinking as it was looking into the past. A return to electrically infused guitars, synths, and chords dominates the background while futuristic talk litters the foreground, seen most noticeably on the title itself, eerily predicting the events that would shape our decade over a year before it happened. The topic of aids, cancer, and other dilemmas in our nation are at the forefront in Andre’s stunning verse, debatably one of his best, while Big Boi’s discussion of home life and technological speak (“Before you re-up, get a laptop), seem like foreign topics to allude to in Hip-Hop in 1999. Outkast has always been renowned for their futuristic sounds that, up until the explosion of Kanye West, were the most unpredictable in the rap community album to album. This is best shown at the song’s cataclysmically, endorphin-boosting conclusion where spurts of DJ scratches over vocal callouts, guitar solos & choir hymns of “Bombs Over Baghdad” act as a dying dancehall procession mixed with the psychics clear vision of a brutally bashed American society. This all happens before the song’s departure into nonsensical head bobbing on Andre’s “Bob your head, rag top” and his backing choir’s uncanny prediction of the “power music, electric revival” that Outkast lead. B.O.B. may well be the best case of a specific song released at a specific time to create a climate surrounding it unmatched by anyone, allowing it to be ever lasting. B.O.B. perfectly represented the 00’s, the millennium shift and all.

13th Floor | Growing Old

From Big Rube’s poetic spoken word envisioning an end of days to lead off the nearly seven minute masterpiece, to Andre’s closing remarks that “See all them leaves must fall down, growing old,” 13th Floor is a real emotional rollercoaster. In much the same way D.E.E.P. foretold the coming ATLiens on Southernplayalistic with its reciting of “Greetings Earthlings” and Chonkyfire symbolized the shift to electronic Rock N’ Roll fused with funk, 13th Floor prophesized the coming spiritual journey listeners would be taken on through Aquemini. But nowhere there is there a clearer message to that spiritual plane the duo so badly desires that compare with 13th Floor. Big Rude warns the black community, and America as a whole, if our actions don’t wise up then we’re doomed to repeat the past, telling his poem through the eyes of Babylon, a failed utopia. This coming before Andre and Big Boi both interpret their belief of what ‘grows old,’ whether that be our world or the way violence perpetuates in black communities, everything grows old with time and change must happen to ensure we have that time for as long as possible. The best stories and the strongest messages are told over the simplest of beats. Wind chimes spurt behind bars, slow moving drums follow the rapper’s, while the legendary somber piano lingers behind, slowly growing old. Dre’s final refrain, so beautifully told, echoes past events and their similarities to future ones, as Autumn falls. Not one to back down after criticisms, the duo lash out against their agitators for making them stronger, with evidence pointing to the 1995 Source Awards when the duo were booed off stage by close-minded New York hip-hop heads. As Andre left the stage on that fateful night he had one more remark, “The South got something to say, that’s all I got to say.” Boy, was he right.

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