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“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – ancient Chinese proverb
Has it really been almost ten years since we were first introduced to the funky ATLiens Andre and Big Boi? Believe it or not Ripley, but “A LaFace Family Christmas” was released November 9th, 1993. If the journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step, this footprint in the music world might have gone unnoticed were it not for the CHRISTMAS inspired rap song “Player’s Ball” by OutKast. Those who heard it later in ’94 probably weren’t even keyed in on the song’s holiday spirit: jingle bells in the background, Andre’s distaste for “decking the halls” for the season (“Oh naw, I got other means of celebratin”) and Big Boi’s opening refrain of “Halle-lu-jah, halle-lu-jah” in his first verse. These things are easy to overlook though, since this song has more to do with the gifts of PIMPING than GIVING. Even the Curtis Mayfield style falsetto of the chorus proved OutKast was all up on that funky mackin’:
“All the players came.. from far and wide
Wearin afros and braids, kickin them gangsta rides
Now I’m here to tell ya.. there’s a better day
When the player’s ball is happenin, all day ery’day”
The swelling tidal wave of their popularity could have crashed after this song, leaving them yet another “flash in the pan” new jack hip-hop group. What few people suspected at the time was that this rebelliously named duo and their producers Organized Noize were on the verge of a long journey which they still travel today and may well for the rest of their lives. Of course, one steps always follows the other, and the next step was the April ’94 release of “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” a long-winded title to be SURE but one full of meaning. “Southern” for their roots in Atlanta, “playalistic” for a rap style that embodied the vibrant flair of 70’s soul, and “cadillac” for the perfect car to cruise in while listening to their “muzik” – sometimes smooth, sometimes hard, but ALWAYS stylin’.
After a short introduction by their friend “Peaches,” the aptly titled “Myintrotoletuknow” clears up any misconceptions to the naive listener about what these MC’s stand for. Using a layered sound that would make the Bomb Squad proud, Organized Noize sets a deep musical background for Big Boi to explain his hustle to survive. In today’s rap world the “I made it off the streets selling drugs” story is cliched; maybe it was even in ’94, but Big Boi’s silky flow and smooth verbals give him a depth greater than your average street pharmaceuticals dealer:
“Time and time again see I be thinkin about that future
Back in the day when we was slaves I bet we was some cool ass niggaz
But now we vultures, slam my nigga back out
to make his ass black out..
Just bein a hustler, servin the loyal customers
Rent was due on the 1st of the month so I’m hustlin
I buy a 50 box of Phillies at the Citgo
And niggaz be wantin drinks and shit from the fuckin sto’, yo
But that’s aight, tho’, cuz I be gettin paid
And every trip I take, there’s a dollar to be made”
The yin and the yang of OutKast though has always been how Big Boi’s more hedonistic tendencies are balanced by the more introspective Andre. Although not as colorfully eccentric as he’s known to be today, the lyrical skills he displays are just as sharp and full of subtle points that make you go “hmmmmm.” In fact, you may even recognize a phrase in his rap that Jay-Z used in a sample later on:
“I got the Peter Paul, and plus that Mary Jane
I’m rolling reefer out of a Regal, how could I refrain
from bein rough, from bein tough, from bein dangerous
I’m hangin with the P.A., niggaz ain’t no changin us
See you can try, if you try, if you don’t, you don’t
If you wanna battle, it’s either that you will or you won’t
See that rap shit is really just like sellin smoke
If you got some fly shit, yo’ niggaz gonna always toke
Dope, is not what I be slangin on this track
Niggaz don’t comprehend that it be deeper than Cadillacs”
Throughout their debut album, Andre and Big Boi make a point of making it deeper than it appears on the surface; but the crossover hit “Git Up, Git Out” offered no disguise at all on their positivity. It was also the national introduction of the crew known now as the Goodie Mob, and in particular their soulful/spiritual leader Cee-Lo:
“I admit, I’ve done some dumb shit, and I’m probably gon’ do some mo’
You shouldn’t hold that against me though (Why not?)
Why not? My music’s all that I got
But some time must be ingested for this to be manifested
I know you know but I’m gon’ say this to you I…
Get high but I don’t get too high
So what’s the limit ‘posed to be?
That must be why you can’t get yo’ ass up out the bed befo’ three
You need to git up, git out, cut that bullshit out
Ain’t you sick and tired of havin to do without?
Man, whattup with all these questions?
You act as though you know somethin I don’t;
do you have any suggestions?
Cause every job I get is cruel and demeanin
Sick of takin trash out and toilet bowl cleanin”
OutKast continues to show their funky, politcal, and pimpish sides with with songs like “Claimin’ True”, “Crumblin’ Erb” and “Hootie Hoo” (they can legitimately argue that No Limit Records ripped this off wholesale) but as a journey of a thousand miles has many steps it also has a few steps in the wrong direction too. “D.E.E.P.” is as conceptual and mind-expanding as they come, but the monotonous bassline and chorus don’t really capture the imagination. “Funky Ride” featuring Society of Soul is a nice groove that would be at home on any P-Funk album, but seems a little out of place given nobody IN OutKast raps on the song. With four interludes, an intro, and a “Player’s Ball (Reprise)” on the album to boot, it’s not nearly as long as the 64 and a half minutes your CD player will otherwise indicate. This should not detract from the fact this was a stellar debut album for OutKast but instead serve to remind us that it WAS just that – a debut album. There’s a lot more to come on this journey, and many miles more to go.