There was some astute cat on an internet messageboard once, and he wrote probably the most accurate observation of OutKast I’ve read: OutKast is to the mid-late nineties what Tribe Called Quest was to the early 90’s. Different sounds, quality tracks, and classic albums you could play all the way straight through without having to lift the needle off the platter. Two emcees with two different styles, yet meshing perfectly together, always complementing, never canceling each other out.
Yet Tribe called quest stumbled on their 4th, and fell completely off on their 5th. The quality of their first 3 held steady at brilliant, but was tarnished by their failure. And word on this 4th OutKast was that they too would fall prey to the ailments that struck down Tribe. They ventured too far into a new sound that wasn’t quite workin, stuck with it too long, and got stagnant while alienating their fanbase. The new album would be all technofied. They’d abandoned the funk. And the leak of B.O.B seemed to confirm that suspicion among the hardcore heads. People started voicing their worries that Andre (now Andre 3000) had finally gone off the deep end, that he was dragging Big Boi into some weird space shit. It was gonna be Tribe Called Quest’s fall all over again. Were the perceptions correct? Were the leaks indicative of the downfall the group was inevitable heading for?
What the fuck we’re ya’ll trippin on? The streak is still intact. 4 straight bomb as fuck albums in a row. The only major change in sound is that Organized Noise doesn’t handle even half of the production. Earthtone’s got his thumbprints all over this one, and the results are satisfyin. This isn’t OutKast’s “Beats Rhymes and Life.” Not to say there aren’t any stumbles on this one, but they’re more like snagging the house shoe on the phone cord than slipping on the concrete an banging their head: Easily recovered from and few and far between. Let’s get a lil in depth, shall we? As always, with me, we will skip the interludes and intros, because no matter who do em, they’re almost always wack as fuck, and don’t count. So here we go.
“Gasoline Dreams”: Hype shit. Easy to get into, get you head noddin. Dre kills on the chorus, ain’t heard him this amped since Southernplayalistic, even surpassing the energy on the previous albums “ChonkyFire.” Actually, this song can be seen as picking right up where “Aquemini” left off, the songs are similar enough to draw that conclusion. Khujo makes his presence felt as always, and Big Boi drops a verse that lets you know cat has improved over his improvement on the last cut. People making the claim that Dre is better than Boi might have to think on that one harder after hearing this album. Boi’s caught up.
“So Fresh, So Clean”: Singalong brag track. Beat is oddly infectious, which is to be expected with OutKast.
“Ms. Jackson” is the fuckin shit. Soulful shit, on the surface a “baby momma” song, but taking the subject serious for once, and carrying out powerfully. Big Boi especially painting a somber picture, outshining Andre on the track, with lyrics about the wedge driven between a family: “Look at the way he treats me, shit, look at the way YOU treat me/You see your little nosy ass homegirls done got your ass sent up the creek G/Without a paddle you left to straddle and ride this thing on out, now/You and your girl ai’nt speakin no more cuz my dick all in her mouth/you know what I’m talkin about, jealousy, infidelity, envy, cheating, beating..” The beat is a perfect compliment, and the hook anchors the whole thing to that funk solidly, guaranteeing you’ll be humming along long after the joint leaves your deck. And thinkin on shit, too..
“Snappin and Trappin” is the kind of gangster track that No Limit been wantin to make forever. Killer Mike subs in for Andre and drops some battle shit in an aggro voice. The beat is a little TOO odd, though, what with aimless squigglin keyboard lines wrigglin on top of the drums like someone tipped over an oldschool arcade game on an SP-1200, but the 808 almost covers it all up. This motherfucker will bang a trunk hard, yet for some reason, is hard to groove to. So at this point, the weirdest track on the album don’t even have Andre on it. Funny, huh?
“Spaghetti Junction”: You can tell ONP took over on this one, as it funks like a motherfucker, horns stabbin off in the track as Andre and Big Boi trade off like a millenial Run DMC (who they even reference in the song) stoned out of their mind and kickin it with George Clinton. Subject matter is “don’t bite us and watch the fuck you doin.” and they flip it nice. And yet again another chorus catchy as hell, with turntable trickery on the fadeout roundin the track nicely.
“The Kim and Cookie” interlude is alright, even if it sounds like Cita, the digital chickenhead from BET happened upon a pound and found a microphone.
“I’ll Call Before I Come” is DEFINITELY twistin it a lil: The whole beat sounds like it was done on and oldschool Wurlitzer home organ, and at first I wasn’t feeling it, but it starts to grow after the first few bars. It lends the track a cheezy little charm, almost as if it was a Funkadelic outtake, circa 1975, especially on the chorus, with it’s playful nonsensicalness. Basically, if OutKast was to perform on Sesame Street, this would be the song they play. Gangsta Boo shows up and shows yet again that she has the poorest judgment in the south by staying with the 3-6 mafia and not dumping those suckers in a gutter somewhere. Eco drops a respectable little verse, doesn’t shake the fun vibe the track has.
“B.O.B.” y’all heard, and it’s one of two things. Either the throwback booty bass vibe hooked you instantly, or you wrote it off as techno soundin bullshit–for the first few weeks before the utter funk dopeness sucked you in and had you shakin your ass relentlessly. Either way, you can’t duck the funk on this motherfucker. It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. However, the track DOES differ from the single version out now, in minute ways. The keyboard lines in the “bob your head, rag top” break is missing, and the track doesn’t seem as jam packed as the original version was. Minor quibble, tho.
“Xplosion” I ain’t feelin, honestly. it’s a little TOO jaggedy sounding, on first listen, although the keyboard line kinda smooths shit out on repeated listens. B-Real’s cadence fits a little better over it, as the beat is more along the lines of the shit Hill’s doin now anyway, and if anything, sounds more like a Cypress Hill song feat. OutKast than OutKast featuring B-Real. He uses this shot to rail against XXL, who apparently does nothing but piss off rappers anymore anyway. Almost makes me want to check the mag out again, actually. Big Boi comes in and tries to up this track to the level of the rest of the album, and just barely succeeds. I wouldn’t fast forward past it, but I’d probably turn the shit down and start yappin at my boys in the ride when this song came on instead of vibin hard to it as I had been to the rest of the album.
“We Luv Deez Hoez” redeems instantly, though, with some pimpish shit, funky keys squirmin along with the humpin bassline. ONP on production again, and it’s instant to tell, as the low end makes a return, which is odd because you almost expect OutKast to be bumpin like a motherfucker on EVERY track, but on this one the 808’s seem bottled up for the most. Backbone lends some syrup smooth flow to the track, and Gipp locks it down. I love this cats flow, that scratchy smooth shit. The chorus (“hahahahahaa, we love these hoes!”) kinda balances that thin line between catchy and unintentionally corny. it could be one of the other on any given day, depending on mood.
“Humble Mumble” is the return of the Wurlitzer soundin beats, and the flow is better on this one, as a latin/jazz tinged track compliments Big Boi’s verse nicely. and then the track switches up to straight funk shit, ditching the wurlitzer and bringin in a dope ass bassline that will have you up out your seat if you weren’t already tappin your toes and noddin your head in the first place. Andre brings a fat little verse about dealing with a critic and hip hop elitism in the same verse: “I met a critic, I made her shit her draws/She said she thought Hip Hop was only guns and alcohol/I said “oh hell naw!” but yet it’s that, too/You can’t discriminate because you done read a book or two” Erykah does her thang nicely, as well, which is kinda unexpected, because I think this is the first time I’ve heard her over a tempo faster than dripping molasses. This cut is HIGHLY satisfyin.
“?” is Andre’s shit, and to be honest it’s skippable, and it’s all because of the beat. The lyrics themselves are pretty decent (“What make a nigga wanna loose all faith in/Anything that he can’t feel through his chest wit sensation”) but the beat is just too irritatin to make it through.
“Red Velvet” picks it back up though, even if it sounds like an Aquemini outtake. Like that’s a bad thing. A stutterin, skippin beat stalls out and plinks along as Big Boi drops his verse, and locks down for the chorus. Dre brings his helium voice style to this one, and it works better here than it ever has on any of the other tracks he’s done it on. Solid slab of funk right here.
“Gangsta Shit” got that slow 808 burn goin on, as Slimm Cutta Calhoun, C-Bone and T-Mo get down on this posse cut. T-Mo just drops a real quick hit and bounces out in about 30 seconds, C-Bone holds his own, Big Boi does a K-Solo impersonation, turnin his verse into a spellin bee, but pulls it off. Slim lends some drawlin funk to it, but Andre bring it NICE: “We’ll pull your whole deck, fuck pullin your card,/and still take my guitar and take a walk in the park/and play the sweetest melody ever heard/now bitches sucking on my nouns and I’m eatin their verbs.” You see why cats, even though they appreciate Andre 3000, still wish the southernplayalistic pimp would show up a lil more often.
“Toilet Tisha” is the Kast attempt at a Prince song, at least musically, to me. Subject matter is pretty deep, (14 year old pregnant) and handled very well, evoking a somber, desperate mood that Prince himself never really got a good grip on. Big Boi fills in the details that Andre only hints at in his singin. Think of it as the dark sequel to “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.” Put it right up there with “Retrospect for Life.”
“Slum Beautiful” can’t help but pale in comparison to the preceding track, but that doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment. Boi, Dre, and especially Cee-Lo spend the track praising the beautiful women around their way. The track complements nice, never overpowering, but never really catching, either. But the voices and the lyrics, like Cee-Lo’s shit right here–“Exploring everything about you from the ground to the God above/ Suddenly I started dreamin, travelin in time so fast/ I could almost taste outer space/ I saw the face of God and it looked like you and me too..” elevate the cut.
“Stankonia (Stanklove)” doesn’t just sound like some old P-Funk. It IS some old P-Funk. How they managed to clone George and Garry Shider and Bootsy and get em on this molasses thick slow jam is beyond me, but I ain’t fuckin complainin in the least. The logical progression from “Funky Ride” on the first album, the beat oozes funk from the grooves on the wax. Sleepy Brown adds the sangin, and Big Rube, with that odd helium effect that Andre been usin lately, drops yet another lil jewel on an OutKast album. While I think the voice detracts from Rube’s power, his words still fit the track like a glove and ends the track perfectly.
And there it is. “Stankonia.” If you ain’t picked it up, you better do that shit now. Don’t let that foolish notion that OutKast has gotten too weird fuck with your head. Like OutKast ain’t successfully tweaked their sound with every progressive album out. It’s still funky as a motherfucker, it’s still smooth most times, it still drills home messages with more force than most touchy feely emcees could ever hope to do, and it still makes your trunk rattle, your windows shake, and your ass move. The shit don’t get stagnant in Stankonia. Take a trip.