Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: Mr Bravo
In the land of the A T L, where Cadillacs with candy paint are standard, where Freaknik is one of the largest gatherings annually, and where flossin jewelry becomes heavy enough to break necks, the duo of Andre and Big Boi, better known as Outkast, began their journey into what has become one of the most innovative, original, and above all, respected travels into hip hop. By name alone, they set to stand apart from hip hop while virtually all other acts attempt to cash in on the current style. ‘Rosa Parks’ may have been the catalyst for many 1st time listeners, and while recent hits from “Stankonia” have only expanded their appeal, but if many would look back at their initial efforts, you could safely say these boys were on some other shit since way back.
“Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”, Outkast’s 1st album, was filled with bass heavy and pimped out tracks, yet Outkast introduced their style in the subtlest way. In between the party tracks and odes to the ATL lifestyle, their were true gems, such as ‘Git Up Git Out’ and ‘D.E.E.P’, which where peepholes into the realm of Outkast: tight production with thought provoking lyrics. In retrospect, “Southern…” seems to be the tracks everyone expected from rappers out the South, only tighter and with meaning. I admit it, I listened to their album and was into the tracks, but I didn’t expect the next chapter. Honestly, I think hardly anyone expected the innovation Outkast showed on their next album.
“ATLiens” was definitely on some other shit. Where “Southern…” was the countdown, “ATLiens” was the blast off. The album is a complete 180 that many people were not prepared for, and many did not welcome the change. I remember buying the album and lovin it, but not everyone liked it. The metamorphosis between the two albums almost seems impossible, unless it’s one of the standard artists who change his style to accommodate the current trend (in which case, the change sucks). However, “ATLiens” followed no trends. Although reserved somewhat when compared to “Aquemini” and “Stankonia” in it’s experimentation, it’s innovation comes in its self reflection, awareness, and its withdrawal and refusal to conform.
“ATLiens” begins without even listening to the album. The inside cover of the CD has a comic book where the Outkast boys battle evil throughout the world. I lost the cover somewhere, so I cant remember what was in it exactly. Musically, it begins with the intro ‘You May Die’. A fitting intro, making sure listeners are aware that the experience may alienate (no pun intended) some listeners. The slightly haunting vibe forewarns the mood of the album. ‘Two Dope Boys (In A Cadillac)’ has a funky beat that Outkast rips with good lyrics that let people know that even though they are musically changing, the mentally remains. Andre makes the point of evolving with: “…challenged Andre to a battle and I stood there patiently As he spit and stumbled over cliches, so called freestylin’ Whole purpose just to make me feel low, I guess you wildin’ I say look boy, I ain’t for that fuck shit; so fuck this…”
The title track is just a phat ass track that makes anybody get up and bounce. Released as a single, Oukast demonstrates an important element: their appreciation and seriousness of their art. The flow is incredible, with both seemingly fitting their voices as if the beat is bobbing to what they say, not the other way around. Where most tracks on radio don’t have anything to say, this track continues the barrage to the mind. No wack Neptunes beat with Fab lyrics here boys. The ‘Wheels of Steel’ continues the pace. The tracks beginning the album have that spacey feel, but as you venture deeper into the album, the mood grows, as if Outkast wants to guide you along gently, not trying to overcome you. The ‘Kast never sound like a couple of preachers on the pulpit, but instead like former students who graduated from college with education majors coming back to the hood to work at their old school. “…The Pope and his folks got us under a scope But for unknown reasons cuz we don’t sell dope That you distribute, we don’t contribute, to your clandestine Activity, my soliloquy, may be hard for some to swallow..”
The progressiveness continues with ‘Jazzy Belle’ a subtle plea to women to be responsible. Big Boi’s initial verse is a bit self aware, himself saying “…chill Boi because them folks might think you soft…” but he don’t care. Big Boi address women who could be admired, but their actions fuck up any chance of acceptance. ‘Elevators’ (and the remix thrown in at the end of the album) is a trunk rattling song that lays down the struggle and period where Oukast 1st began. Instead of talking about how poor they were and how now they got Bentleys, they give you a mental image of the environment they were in. Andre drops one of the most fluid verses ever towards the end. The 1st single from their album, it signaled the beginning of the evolved Outkast. ‘Ova Da Woods’ is probably the weakest track on here, the chorus isn’t that tight, but it still manages to continue the flow.
‘Babylon’ begins the world of 100% self reflection for the rest of the album. Andre’s solo strip down to its core just asks to question things. The track at times has a spoken word vibe to it, which may trip a few. Throughout the album, you can see the difference between Andre and Big Boi as they have evolved into their separate personas. The quasi interlude ‘Wailin’ and ‘Mainstream’ continue the progression into more self awareness. ‘Decatuar Psalm’ disrupts the cohesiveness of the album, with its Scarface-like song rhythm, but continues the theme.
‘Millennium’, ‘Extraterrestrial’, and ’13th Floor/Growing Old’ are tight tracks that just fit so nicely, so well placed, natural. The 1st track rushes you in and picks up the pace from the preceding tracks. Both members tear up the track with thought provoking lyrics. At 1st glance, their words appear to not say much, but they force you to think about what they say. If you still didn’t listen close enough, then they throw in ‘Extraterrestrial’, with no bass or drums, just an aura and lyrics. The beginning initiates with what seems as a entry into another arena, as if saying that if you made it this far, you’ve arrived to a new level where Outkast resides on. ’13th Floor/Growing Old’ is, in my humble opinion, the best hip hop track ever. A strong statement indeed, but to me the lyrics are on point and the point is organic, yet futuristic, classic, but not dated. The spoken word, by Big Rube, alone could be a good reason to hear the track. Powerful words, but more importantly, truthful words spoken to a piano as it drifts in the background. The lyrics are very deep, they go beyond any explanation, my advice is to just play the track and see what meaning you get. Oversimplified, what goes up must go down. The ‘Kast bust knowledge that is well beyond many 20 somethin year olds wit college degrees and diplomas.
Outkast started as just that: outcasts. Time and time again, they defy common logic and do things in a way that benefits not only them, but their fans. “ATLiens” is a timeless masterpiece incredibly underrated, but in a sense that makes it more of a gem to those fortunate enough to listen to it. Instead of releasing a diluted album every 8 months, instead of albums with a slew of guests, instead of doing anything the typical rap cat(s) does, they do nothing but what they feel benefits hip hop. With that, they accomplish everything.