“We make timeless classics, whether it’s ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,’ ‘ATLiens,’ ‘Aquemini,’ ‘Stankonia’ or whatever it is. We put it out, and that shit still stands the test of time. You can pop that shit in right now and still knock it. We take pride in doing that. There’s no expiration date with our music.” -Antwan “Big Boi” Patton
Every style of music has its form of the duo, but Hip-Hop had the synergy of 2 people baked into its DNA from the very beginning. Initially, this came in the form of the DJ and the MC who would perform the beats and rhythm and poetry (or “rap”) at the same time. Today DJ’s have been replaced by producers who cook up instrumentals in a studio to play back pre-recorded at the show, but the early days of Hip-Hop saw duos like Eric B. and Rakim or Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince making a show of the whole thing, together. As Hip-Hop evolved the rapper only duo became more and more popular as 2 people could trade off verses to bring new flows, perspectives, and tones to the same beat in order to keep the song from stagnating. Hip-Hop as a genre is home to some of the most legendary musical duos ever, and among them are 2 guys from Atlanta called Andre and Antwan. Better known as Outkast, today’s album pick showcases the talents of these 2 unique performers in one of their most celebrated works, 1996’s ATLiens.
Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton, better known by pseudonyms “Andre 3000” and “Big Boi”, respectively, met and started working together in 1992 when they were both 16 years old. Both grew up in the East Point section of Atlanta, Georgia, developing their talents in rap battles at the cafeteria and getting signed to a record label before graduating high school. They may have been raw, but they were good, nonetheless. Their 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik gained popularity off the success of single “Player’s Ball”, but their sophomore album 2 years later really saw the 2 come into their own. That album was the cleverly titled ATLiens. ATLiens‘s title carries a number of meanings. Obviously, Andre and Big Boi are both from Atlanta (abbreviated ATL) and have branded themselves as misfits, as evident by their group name “Outkast”, but the title goes a little deeper. The pair deliver otherworldly rhymes and rhythms over spacey beats, suggesting that they must be from another world to be as dope as they are. More interestingly, over the course of the album they express the alienation that they felt growing up in Atlanta, the alienation that people living on the street feel in every day life, and the alienation that they still face within the music industry for doing things differently. The album is proud but honest, delivering a great unique Hip-Hop experience.
In terms of subject matter, I have and will continue to celebrate this album. Unlike most rappers and Hip-Hop groups, Outkast didn’t get caught up in the shallow subject matter of partying, making money, doing drugs, and getting women past their debut album. In the wake of Big Boi becoming a father the duo wanted to become more mature in their music despite only being about 20 years old. As a result, ATLiens isn’t bogged down by the substances, violence, and misogyny that plagued much of Hip-Hop at the time (and still today). They still rap about people living on the street and hustling, but they don’t glorify it. They offer an honest look at the lives of people struggling to make it, forced to do bad things in order to survive. Other songs ponder intelligent life beyond Earth and space travel. On the album’s title track the pair show pride for their past singing “Throw your hands in the air// and wave them like you just don’t care// and if you life fish and grits and all that pimp shit let me hear you say oh yeah-yur.” Not only is it catchy and funny, but it manages to display southern pride while completely divorcing misogyny from pimp culture. In the verses of the same song Andre explains the drug-free lifestyle he’s adopted. Filled with stories, reflections, characters, and great verse after great verse, this album is a great way to spend 57 minutes.
Obviously, this album is lyrical treat. If you’re the kind of Hip-Hop listener who doesn’t care about the words and is only in it for sick beats, this is not an album for you. The lyrics are the centerpiece of this album and every instrumental is carefully crafted to compliment the verses and set a tone for the subject matter of the song. This is not an album which can be appreciated as background music, but I really don’t think that the album is any worse for it. This album demands your focus and participation in order to get much out of it, but it’s all worth it. When rapping, both Andre and Big Boi are effortlessly cool, easily dealing out smooth verses and sharp raps one after the other. Their storytelling talents really develop on this record and, while their debut is still good, this album is the first inclination we get at how great these 2 (particularly Andre) would become at rapping.
I know that this won’t be the kind of album that a lot of my readers will appreciate as much as I do, but when it comes to musical duos, there are few as influential, celebrated, or worthy to start a Musical Training Plan as Outkast. That’s it for this blog, if you’re going to be listening along this week I hope you get something out of this album!
Cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.