Monday, May 4, 2015

Outkast - Stankonia Review (2000)

When masters of artistry hit a wall in their respective genre one noticeable choice made is that of ignoring the genre as a whole. That's exactly what Outkast did in 2000 with Stankonia, and what ensued was a ravishing display of experimental Hip-Hop that defied logic whilst simultaneously preparing for an age of rapid advancements. Few albums in Hip-Hop have ever come close to Stankonia's ability to peer out into the future of music and society despite reaching back into the annals of Funk, Soul, and R&B, all whilst improving on the genre they're best known for. At a time when laid-back flows and primal beat-making dominated the charts, which allowed listeners to vibe out, relax, and forget the stresses of the days, Outkast tackled the 21st century head-on, resenting Hip-Hop's fascination with fantasy and instilling a dramatic urgency of realism. The genre's latest resurgence can be attributed to artists' ability to branch out and welcome experimentation with other genres, thus making Stankonia's feat more than a decade ago even more impressive. Tyler, The Creator's WOLF or Kanye West's Yeezus would cease to exist in Hip-Hop in the 90's the second they were conjured up, but with Stankonia landing on shelves, propelling itself both critically and commercially, the floodgates stormed open allowing Hip-Hop to flaunt its creative stank. 

What sets Outkast's fourth lauded LP apart from the rest, even their previous iterations, is the group's focus on the future whilst admiring the past. There are few, if any, comparisons to be made with Stanknoia and its surrounding releases. The sound, from wiry electric fervor to salsa-inspired mambas to psychedelic funk rip their foundation from classic influences like Jimi Hendrix, Prince, and Parliament-Funkadelic rather than the contemporary visions of their colleagues. With a turn to the 21st century as technology began bearing down on society with the intensity revving up, Andre 3000 and Big Boi found it appropriate to associate the music to the climate in America at the time. Tracks like 'Gasoline Dreams' and 'B.O.B.' take a stifling look at the United States and how things were progressively changing, with the split black-and-white flag adorning the cover working as a fore bearer to the disparity between black and white America. The loud, bombastic, overly compressed nature of the songs lend themselves to panic, the prominent feeling of post 9/11 America. No song was as prepared for this sonic shift as 'B.O.B.,' a earth-shattering five minutes in which a splattering of genres from the past, present, and future rip through the sound waves as a call to arms for all citizens to witness the immediate change in front of everyone's eyes, all while predicting the future in many respects. 

The rest of Stankonia carried through maintaining this level of seriousness while selectively dousing interludes with irreverence, comically easing the tension. From criticisms of gangster life and showoffs to alcoholism to suicidal pregnant teens, few Hip-Hop albums can compete with the adult-themed commentary made on Stankonia. Only Three Stacks and Sir Lucious Left Foot could make a smash hit about forgiving a baby momma's momma. Without a firm grasp on their rhyming roots these slight-of-hand political messages would be faded out from a litany of eye-rolling, but there could not have been two more competent emcees up for the challenge than the ATL's two kings. As we've recently re-discovered with Run The Jewels, political commentary can be done right when simultaneously entertaining, and the duo's prowess on the mic was unmatched at the turn of the century. Big Boi's southern slang, drawled out verbiage, and menacing flows paired as the perfect antithesis to Andre's surrealism, intricate wordplay, and wonky singing cacophonies. Where famous quotes instantly lure the listener in, from "so fresh, so clean" to "forever, forever ever, forever ever?" the intense, hyper-literate lyricism of 'Red Velvet' and others like it turn Stankonia into a long-term, punishing experience that relies heavily off a gritty view of reality. 

With the looming split of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on the horizon, Stankonia attempted to please both parties as Andre's idiosyncrasies grew and his boredom with rapping intensified. The result of this was what led in large parts to the experimentation, even down to the nuance's of Andre's rapping. Big Boi maintained his tried-and-tested styles to cater to longterm fans as Dre veered outwards, leading to an increase singing, or even entire songs, like 'I'll Call Before I Come' and 'Stankonia (Stanklove).' Various bridges and mini-choruses were added throughout to spice things up, but never one to be mocked for his lack of rapping, 3000 came equipped with more breath-taking verses, especially on the snarling '?' in which he frantically raps off a litany of questions in relation to black culture, only to find a singular answer in alcohol. The minute and a half track works as a perfect time capsule to Outkast's vision, as stunning lyricism, stringent drums, and an unremitting instrumental finale cap off the sweat-inducing blur. There's other moments on here that encapsulate the character that is Outkast. From 'So Fresh, So Clean's' relentlessly addicting drums and chorus to Killer Mike's inaugural verse to mainstream audience's on 'Snappin' and Trappin',' Stankonia is never lacking in influential material that'll live decades beyond its release. 

For many Stankonia kicked off a transitional period in Hip-Hop. It may not have been evident at the time, but the year 2000 didn't just bring with it a new millennium, but it also ushered in a cultural shift in music thanks to 21st century paranoia and rapidly expanding technology, two facets of society that altered the sonic scope spearheaded by Outkast and Radiohead. The former emphasized chaos through their palate, while the latter targeted focused dread. Outkast's ability to create such a forward-thinking album during a time when few Hip-Hop counterparts were doing so, especially on the big scale, cannot be lauded enough. With the infectiously catchy tunes of 'So Fresh, So Clean' and 'Ms.Jackon,' the braggadocios boasts of 'We Luv These Hoes' and 'Gangsta Shit,' the borderline schizophrenic ramblings of 'B.O.B.' and 'Xplosion,' and the meandering darkness of 'Toilet Tisha' and 'Slum Beautiful,' Stankonia couldn't be a more diverse album worthy of its brittle, yet compact cohesion. Outkast's politically-induced opus widened eyes across the Hip-Hop world, eyes that, for the first time, were seeing things other than a mirror of themselves. 

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