OutKast had been hitting dwelling runs for 4 years after they dropped their critically-acclaimed third album Aquemini in late September of 1998.
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, launched in ‘94, was a critically acclaimed, Platinum-selling debut that established the duo as formidable rhymers with a uniquely southern method -- the sound of legendary manufacturing trio Organized Noize’s velvety productions and the attitude of the 2 fresh-out-of-high-school MCs cast a template for Atlanta’s hip-hop id. The follow-up, the much more profitable ATLiens, dropped in 1996, and pushed past the youthful wannabe-pimp picture cast on their debut, as ‘Kast received spacier and extra cerebral, over a backdrop as lush because it was soulful.
But there was a purpose why Aquemini resonated as deeply and broadly because it did. Hip-hop’s viewers had exploded between 1996 and 1998 -- years after Andre (not but 3000), infamously declared “The South received one thing to say” because the duo was booed on the 1995 Source Awards -- and hip-hop’s “third coast” had bum-rushed the sport and was reshaping the rap panorama. And Aquemini, the album that gave the impression to be affirmation of the whole lot, was OutKast’s masterpiece.
By 1998, the South was starting to leapfrog the West Coast as hip-hop’s second most necessary hub. In the early 1990s, Cali acts like Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Ice Cube and 2Pac wrested the nationwide highlight away from New York City, solely to have the Big Apple claw its manner again main crossover success for artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and Wu-Tang Clan, with The Fugees and Jay-Z later additionally having fun with high-profile industrial hits. The 1996 homicide of Tupac Shakur and subsequent deterioration of Death Row Records left the West Coast’s common standing into freefall. Around the identical time, the South was surging.
In-roads had been made for years. Pop rappers Kris Kross had gone Platinum in 92, artsy Arrested Development received Grammys in 93 and bass stars Tag Team noticed sudden crossover success with “Whoomp! There It Is” that very same 12 months. But these disparate acts hadn’t actually introduced ATL’s hip-hop id, and the South was nonetheless pretty marginalized from a nationwide perspective.
Following OutKast’s Platinum-selling debut in 1994, a wave of southern rap acts have been out of the blue gaining nationwide showcase on mainstays like BET’s Rap City and Yo! MTV Raps, which was then in its last years. Over the subsequent 4 years, established artists like Houston legend Scarface and Eightball & MJG of Memphis loved newfound visibility, as did newer acts like South Circle and Memphis native Tela of Tony Draper’s Houston-based Suave House Records, and even OutKast’s fellow Dungeon Family members Goodie Mob.
Meanwhile, southern-based labels like Suave House, J. Prince’s Rap-A-Lot, Master P’s upstart No Limit Records, and the fledgling Cash Money Records have been making inroads right into a market that was hungry for gritty gangsta shit, and associated to the southern perspective. In 1997, No Limit broke by means of to the mainstream, with P’s Ghetto D album beginning on its technique to multi-Platinum success late that 12 months. As far as hip-hop was involved, the South had arrived.
But OutKast was all the time pushing towards the grain. And as southern hip-hop was lastly breaking by means of, Big Boi and Dre nonetheless set themselves aside from the rising wave. On “Return of the G,” Andre raps:
“It’s the return of the gangsta thanks ta'
Them n---as that thanks gentle
And say ‘y'all be gospel rappin'’
But they be regular clappin' once you discuss
Bitches and switches and hoes and garments and weed
Let's discuss time travelin' rhyme javelin
Somethin' thoughts unravelin'…”
It was a gap bar that threw a center finger as much as anybody who tried to place OutKast in a field. Similarly to how De La Soul reveled of their oddness nearly a decade prior of their video for 1989 hit “Me, Myself and I,” OutKast was making it clear that conformity was not within the playing cards. From the declarations of “Return of the G” to the tongue-in-cheek “Pimp Trick Gangsta Clique” sketches that will pepper their new album, it ought to have been apparent the place these guys stood, creatively -- in an area of their very own.
Aquemini is the proper synthesis of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’s earthy grit and ATLiens’ ethereal spirit; an ambitiously assorted assortment of tracks that run the stylistic gamut. The sonic basis was the sort of soul-infused hip-hop the South had turn out to be recognized for, however melded with a P-Funk-like affinity for Afrofuturistic imagery and and odd prog rock samples from bands like Genesis and Camel -- even Henry Mancini’s theme from Police Woman. The musicality is as wealthy as something Dre and Big Boi had finished with Organized Noize; right here working alongside the 2 emcees and Mr. DJ, who themselves produced as Earthtone III. The eclectic sensibility feels born of an alchemy that may solely come from Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton’s uniquely complementary artistic items; and that capacity to be unerringly quirky whereas sustaining the relatable SWATS-bred aura they’d all the time had was by no means higher showcased than right here.
There’s a ghostly essence all through Aquemini, a vibe that gave the impression to be on the coronary heart of a lot of what was popping out of mid-1990s Atlanta. It was a uniquely ATL spirit; birthed on Joi’s 1994 debut The Pendulum Vibe, bred on 1995’s underrated standalone Society of Soul album Brainchild, embodied on 1996s ATLiens, informing Witchdoctor’s A S.W.A.T.S. Healing Ritual in 1997 and defining Goodie Mob's glorious Still Standing, launched earlier in 1998. OutKast’s third album is the head of a stirring mixture of soul, funk, hip-hop and rock that was the Organized Noize sound and The Dungeon Family’s spirit.
As against repurposing sounds funk/soul/jazz samples, as East Coast producers had finished, this was extra instantly reconnecting music born within the Bronx to its broader heritage in African American sounds that had grown under the Mason-Dixon, utilizing extra conventional, natural musicianship. It made OutKast torchbearers for a particular sort of Peach State spirit of innovation. After all, Otis Redding, James Brown and Little Richard are all from Georgia; and all might be thought of founding fathers of soul, funk and rock & roll. They took pre-existing kinds and repurposed them their very own distinctive voices; and OutKast was now doing the identical. Hip-hop wanted the spirit and the spirituality that pink clay artists gave it, and no different album illuminates how potent that particularly southern voice might be.
Sampling in hip-hop was as soon as once more below scrutiny within the late 1990s, as hitmakers like Trackmasters, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Jermaine Dupri have been scaling the charts with slick hits that have been principally retreads of pop and R&B smashes from the 1980s. The dense, collage-like sampling method of The Bomb Squad and Prince Paul had been nearly erased by clearance points and litigation, and the extra streamlined method of pop rap hits was drawing criticism for its lack of creativity. Organized Noize’s manufacturing had all the time featured little-to-no samples, and OutKast thrived in that mode -- even with out their mentors behind the boards. They had no aversion to sampling, however there was all the time an inventive commonplace to keep up.
“Some folks get on the market and abuse [sampling] and use no creativity by any means,” Big Boi advised Chicago’s John Reed in 1998. “They would possibly take an entire track, simply three and a half minutes, simply busting on any individual else’s beat. But what OutKast likes to do is, we do artistic sampling; we pattern a horn riff or some sort of drum kick or a snare or something, you’ll by no means know the place it got here from as a result of we alter it a lot to suit what we’re doing. It’s OutKast.”
The earthy southern sound of Aquemini and different basic rap albums of the period would quickly get replaced by extra high-energy, synth-heavy manufacturing because the ‘90s got here to an in depth. Cash Money Records would break huge in late 1998, following the multi-Platinum success of Juvenile’s hit album 400 Degreez. Via a slick, bounce-driven sound helmed by superproducer Mannie Fresh, hits by Juvie, labelmates like B.G., The Hot Boys, The Big Tymers, and a teenaged Lil Wayne would put the label squarely within the mainstream rap highlight on the daybreak of a brand new decade.
Also all through 1998, the seeds of crunk music have been starting to bear fruit. Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz dropped their debut Get Crunk Who U Wit in late 1997, and regional hits like Three Six Mafia’s “Tear Da Club Up ‘97” and Pastor Troy’s “We Ready (No Mo’ Play In GA)” had been southern membership staples all year long. Crunk was hyperkinetic and aggressive, just like the offended stepchild of bass music and Beats By the Pound. By the early 2000s, the slicker sounds of southern producers like Juicy J, Jazze Pha and DJ Toomp would flourish on mainstream airwaves, having usurped the earthier music related to southern producers like Mike Dean, T-Mix, Pimp C and Organized Noize from a decade prior. Even OutKast’s smash follow-up to Aquemini, 2000s Stankonia, was extra futuristic and digital than what they’d finished within the 1990s.
The success of Aquemini was vital however muted. None of the album’s singles have been as profitable on the Billboard Hot 100 as earlier hits like “Player’s Ball” or “Elevators,” however the album itself was broadly hailed as a masterpiece -- incomes the then-coveted distinction of 5 mics from The Source journal. Released on the identical day as A Tribe Called Quest’s seemingly last album The Love Movement, it appeared to verify that OutKast was now the gold commonplace for mainstream creativity in hip-hop, having assumed the baton from that legendary Queens crew as Tribe dissolved over the late ‘90s. Andre 3000 was now being extra commonly hailed as some of the peerless rhymers within the sport, and if Big Boi was turning into overshadowed by his extra unconventional companion, it didn’t imply he was ignored, as he grew into some of the constant scene-stealers in hip-hop, showing on hits by everybody from Missy Elliott (“All N My Grill”) to Slick Rick (“Street Talkin’”) and YoungBloodz (“85”).
The album additionally introduced some undesirable litigation. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks filed go well with in 1999 towards OutKast and LaFace Records (subsequently Sony/BMG), claiming use of her title on Aquemini’s hit single with out permission constituted false promoting and infringed on her proper to publicity. She additionally claimed it defamed her character, and interfered with a enterprise relationship involving a gospel album known as A Tribute to Rosa Parks. A federal choose dismissed a part of the lawsuit in 1999, however in the end the go well with can be totally settled in 2005, six months earlier than Parks’ demise. The episode uncomfortably linked an album steeped in Black southernness to the complicated historical past of that very same Black southernness, and served for example of the divide that usually stored the Civil Rights technology at odds with the brazenness of the hip-hop technology.
Twenty years later, the third album from OutKast feels just like the fruits of the whole lot the duo, Organized Noize and The Dungeon Family appeared to got down to accomplish again in 1993/1994. It’s arguably the final nice hip-hop album from the South’s first nice period, as each 400 Degreez and the rise of crunk music would push issues in fully new sonic instructions within the years to come back. It’s the high-water mark for OutKast, who haven't any scarcity of fantastic albums of their discography. It’s Big Boi and Dre, each nonetheless totally dedicated to the concept of OutKast -- that's, this synergy that was signified within the album’s title, the yin/yang magic of 3000 and Sir Lucious earlier than they turned pop superstars and pulled in several instructions.
It’s not all the time commendable -- the homophobia of “Mamacita” has not aged nicely -- but it surely’s remained some of the good albums of the ‘90s, hip-hop or in any other case, as a result of it efficiently melds a lot. The spirit of 90s Atlanta, from Yin Yang Café to Club 559 to the nation hole-in-the-wall spots one may hit up inside 20 miles of downtown -- it’s all there within the sound. In 1998, OutKast made The A sound and really feel just like the funkiest, most futuristic place on earth.
And you understand what? It was.