OUTKAST: A UFO Sighting in 1996
Hip Hop is one of the most unique genres of music in world history. The culture has pretty much become a way of life globally and the soundtrack to various Fortune 500 companies. Rap Music, once called a fad is now the CNN of a community that has been under attack from racial injustice for generations. Through these struggles a sound was discovered within the pain, hope, and spirit of African American youth. During the early days of Hip Hop, Rap Music was displayed more in the form of parties until record deals became a reality. Around 1984 you started to see Rappers (MC’s) and/or Groups move toward making albums as opposed to singles with an instrumental on Side B. This is vital to Hip Hop because albums became somewhat of a novel for the neighborhood, city, and state where artists resided. It became a road map or tour guide, if you will. For a select few acts, their debut album shifted Hip Hop Culture and introduced a new sound, environment or movement. If you were fortunate enough to drop a Classic Album, the pressure to repeat that accomplishment or even come close, is nothing short of monumental. In 1996, Outkast released their sophomore album ATLiens in an effort to surpass their landmark debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. To truly understand the complexity of this goal, we must first take a brief look at their 1994 debut for context.
In my humble opinion, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is the East Coast Chronic. No, I’m not talking about shifting an entire Coast or selling 4-5 Million records like Dr. Dre succeeded in doing. The comparison is in the form of music guiding me to a specific destination. In 1992, I had yet to visit Compton, California but Dr. Dre took me throughout the city with each record. Dr. Dre exposed a High School kid to the slang, streets, cars and day to day life that Compton had to offer. Two years later Outlast took me to Atlanta as a College student, a few months before actually visiting Atlanta. Outkast provided a map around the Atlanta Metropolitan area. By the time I visited ATL, I knew about College Park, Decatur, and the Strip Club Culture. As for the actual Music, it was DOPE. Outkast used a lot of live instrumentation, soul, funk and some straight up great Mcing to give the Southern Region of the East Coast a serious boost. After winning new artist of the year at The Source Awards, Platinum Accolades, and notoriety, it would have been easy to hit a brick wall. Looking back, Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton had more ammunition in the chamber.
“It's like this though, I'm tired of them Closed Minded folks, It's like we gotta Demo tape but don't nobody want to Hear it but it's like this: The South got something ...That’s I got to say” – Andre 3k...
At times giving your all and being ridiculed can provide the necessary motivation to prove all doubters wrong. Outkast were booed at The 1995 Source Awards in the middle of growing tension between The East and West Coast. Some fans thought Outkast were a one trick pony and got lucky with their debut. These individuals didn’t believe Outkast could top tracks such as “Players Ball”, “Get Up, Git Out”, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” and “Hootie Hoo" with a follow-up. Well, on July 9th in 1996 Outkast took doubters to school once again with “Elevators”. I mean, good lord Family. The beat alone took the Hip Hop World by storm. It was hard. It was something we had never heard before in terms of style and production. It was Outkast sticking their middle finger up at the opposition or should I say, competition. Make no mistake about it, “Elevators” was a battle rap. When I say “Battle Rap”, I’m more or less saying Outkast welcomed the East and the West to test their lyrical skills. The single “Atliens” was released a week before ATLiens LP (Aug. 1996). This track had a futuristic sound, while providing southern slang and incredible performances from Big Boi and Andre 3000. It was clear that Outkast had elevated (no pun intended) their sound from a rhyming and production perspective. Let’s travel into outer space with Outkast a little while longer.
ATLiens does not sound like another album in our Hip Hop Culture. On a quick side note, Andre 3000 and Big Boi are BETTER MC’s on Atliens as opposed to their debut. They could straight up rap better and were more polished. This is the same thing I said about Nas on It Was Written and Biggie on Life After Death compared to their RAW styles on Illmatic and Ready to Die. I would assume this is the goal for all musicians. Rakim was a better rapper on Follow the Leader compared to Paid In Full. I think you get the point. At any rate, the space influenced sound in the beats were almost like a new form of Rap Music. You could also hear psychedelic rock, dub, and gospel in their sound. The Album intro “You May Die” is poetic and if you close your eyes you can imagine riding on the Highway looking at Atlanta’s skyline. This is a beautiful way to start an album. It’s damn near hypnotic. “Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)” is the first actual song you hear and as I stated earlier, it felt like a challenge to other MC’s. The deepness of their rhymes from an emotional standpoint stood out to me as well. Even though “Crumblin Erb” and “Get Up, Git Out” off the debut has some layers, it doesn’t provide the spiritual energy felt on “Babylon” and “13th Floor/Growing Up”. Big Boi talked about the death of his favorite Aunt as Andre talked about his birth and the power of a corrupt government on “Babylon”. The honesty delivered on “13th Floor/Growing Up” is rarely heard in most artist. I would also say the only time Outkast was able to top these tracks from an emotional perspective was “Liberation” off Aquemini, but I digress. Other standouts such as the 3rd single “Jazzy Belle”, “Ova Du Wudz “, “E.T.”, and “Millennium” round out Outkast graduating to legendary status.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to top a classic debut. I mean, it’s almost impossible. I truly believe Outkast did so with ATLiens. The beats and rhymes were elevated. As artists they became more well-rounded as Big Boi and Andre produced the lead single “Elevators”, “Wheelz of Steel”, “Atliens”, and “Ova Du Wudz” with little to no assistance from Organized Noise. To be frank, Andre 3000 and Big Boi rapped their asses off on ATLiens. The album crashed into our speakers like a UFO crashing into a mountain. The openness and honesty displayed was refreshing. I believe Outkast touched every aspect of life on Atliens, eclipsing Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and leaving nothing else left on the table. The track “E.T. (Extraterrestrial)” is the song that best describes ATLiens. A song filled with subliminal messages and a vibe that provides listeners with the reality that Outkast would forever be in a class of their own. I have always praised artists such as DMX, Eminem, Tupac, Joe Budden and Kendrick Lamar for allowing us to enter into their world with no reservation. True artists give you a piece of themselves even when it’s uncomfortable. Andre 3000 and Big Boi showed a vulnerability as opposed to just being “Playas”, and showing us what it’s like to be urban youth in the greater Atlanta area. On Atliens, Outkast showed us what it’s like to be urban youth in America, the importance of spirituality in the South, and numerous political gems sprinkled throughout the project. Just like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and BDP, Big Boi and Andre 3000 managed to put themselves among some elite company and for that we are forever grateful.