As stated before in the article on the great album Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins, the 1990’s wasn’t the greatest decade for rock music. However, to hip-hop and dance it most certainly was. The third Outkast album was one of those examples. A fantastic hip-hop album, filled with superior funk and raps.
Outkast is a group that was made up of Big Boi (real name Antwan André Patton) and André 3000 (real name André Lauren Benjamin), both hailing from Atlanta, Georgia. They released their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik in 1994. At that time, both Big Boi and André 3000 were just 18 years old. The album turned into a platinum success. Because of the success the group gained a lot more (creative) freedom when making the successor. In 1996 ATLiens was released, on which the group self-produced a great number of songs. The album entered the American Billboard 200 charts at number 2 and sold over 350,000 copies within the first two weeks. Not bad for a second album.
After ATLiens‘s release, André 3000 got into a relationship with (neo) soulsinger Erykah Badu. Badu’s waywardness influenced André 3000’s way of presenting himself, which got more outspoken, including wearing enormous glasses, (blond) wigs and uniforms. In November of 1997 the pair became parents to a son. The relationship (which ended soon after) would be an inspiration for a great number of songs on Acquemini‘s successor: 2000’s Stankonia.
Outkast was a part of the ‘Dirty South’: dance-able up-tempo hip-hop, based on the so-called G-Funk, a music style introduced on the 1992 Dr. Dre album The Chronic. However, Outkast was more positive than Dr. Dre. Besides coming from hip-hop, Outkast is highly influenced by James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, Rick James and Prince. It all makes for highly funky music filled with melodic beauty and ultra fast raps (particularly by André 3000).
Despite the obvious similarities Big Boi and André 3000 share, they are quite different. Big Boi grew up on the Atlanta streets and was no stranger to drugs, theft and other criminal activity. André 3000 is the artistic, flamboyant part of Outkast. He is a vegan, doesn’t use drugs (anymore) and is a very engaged rapper.
Aquemini is the third studio album by Outkast, which was released on September 29th, 1998. The title is a compound of the group members’ zodiac signs: ‘aquarius’ (Big Boi) and ‘gemini’ (André 3000), who were also presented as The Player and The Poet. Most of the recording was done at Bobby Brown’s Bosstown Recording Studios and the Doppler Studios, both located in Atlanta, Georgia.
Based on ATLiens‘s success Outkast was granted even more freedom when recording Acquemini. Once again many of the songs were self-produced. An impressive list of musicians took part in the recordings for the album (see paragraph Musicians), many of whom just visited the studio and were asked to contribute. The album is all the more varied and rich because of it. Live instrumentation was used more heavily, which made the music sound warmer.
Much of the music was constructed during jam sessions, during which reggae was a huge influence (André 3000 used to listen to Bob Marley constantly). After the music was done, the lyrics were written, making them fit the ‘feel’ of the song’s music.
Originally, a film was planned to accompany the album. Negotiations with MTV were initiated, but MTV wanted to hire Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes, due to a lack of “star power” from Outkast. The idea for Aquemini was put on hold, but it would ultimately turn into the musical Idlewild, which was released in 2006 and, to this day, remains the last Outkast release.
Around the time of Aquemini‘s release a lot of other hip-hop albums were released (nowadays, almost all of them are considered to be classics): Jay-Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Despite the competition, the album did really well, particularly in the United States: 227,000 copies were sold in its first week. In November 1998 the album was certified double platinum, for selling over 2 million copies.
The first single from the album was Rosa Parks, named after the human rights activist Rosa Parks, who garnered national attention on December 1st, 1955, for refusing to listen to a bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama. The driver had ordered Parks to give up her seat in the so-called “colored section” of the bus for a white passenger, because all the seats in the “whites-only section” were taken. Parks quickly turned into an icon for the ‘black-rights movement’.
Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
© 1998 Outkast
In 1999 Parks started a lawsuit against Outkast and record company LaFace Records because of the song. Parks stated there was insufficient similarity between the title and the content of the song, because the lyrics didn’t reference Parks at all. Parks meant that the lyrics contained the message: “[b]e quiet and stop the commotion. Outkast is coming back out so all other MCs step aside. Do you want to ride and hang out with us? Outkast is the type of group to make the clubs get hyped-up/excited”. The lawsuit was dismissed. In 2001 Parks tried again and, once again, the suit was dismissed. In 2003 the Supreme Court decided that Parks’ lawyers could continue the suit.
In 2004 the suit against Outkast was dropped and was exclusively targeted against LaFace Records and BMG (of which LaFace was a part). On April 14th, 2005, the case was settled out of court. Parks received a secret amount of money and Outkast and LaFace Records agreed to help develop programs target at youths to “enlighten about the significant role Rosa Parks played in making America a better place for all races”. Within six months after the verdict Rosa Parks died.
Next to Public Enemy (see also It Takes A nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black), Outkast is my favorite rap group. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see them live during their heyday, but I was lucky enough to catch them on their reunion tour in 2014. At the time I saw them as the closing act of the Dutch North Sea Jazz Festival. Two hours of Outkast! Even though the group stated (André 3000 in particular) that the tour didn’t entice much enthusiasm within the group, I thought it was brilliant!
On the album ATLiens Outkast came closer to finding their own sound. Funk with a hip-hop flavor, (fast) raps coupled to a kind of ‘lazy’ swing, which makes the music simply irresistible. Aquemini is the first album that presents Outkast in its true form. The music is rich, warm and different from what was considered to be the norm in hip-hop. The standards, set by the West-coast (Los Angeles) and East-coast (New York) rap, were discarded. No-one could ignore the ‘Dirty South’ anymore.
The album proves that the 1990’s were more than a ‘lost decade’ (musically speaking). The album innovates, excites and stays away from all the hip-hop clichés. Still, the songs have ‘street credibility’. The album’s production makes the music sound very open. The (acoustic) instrumentation provides warmth, without compromising hip-hop’s excitement. On top of that, Outkast experiments. That combination made Outkast discover themselves: live musicians, social commentary, funk and humor. A masterpiece that defied the boundaries on hip-hop and was thé hip-hop album of the year.
Beginning of the end?
According to some, this album also announces the inevitable end of the group. Big Boi and André 3000 appear to have a lot in common, but ultimately differ to much. The album title is a primary example. The combination makes for a unique blend that creates new music (or words), but the individual input is undeniable. André 3000 was largely responsible for the production and Big Boi mainly focused on the songs’ hooks/riffs. While recording differences of opinion started to show: André 3000 tried singing, upon which Big Boi warned him they might lose their loyal fanbase (André 3000 would sing on many songs on the 2003 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below).
An argument arose about the order of the songs. Big Boi wanted to open the album with Y’all Scared. André 3000 wanted it to be opened with Return of the ‘G’, because that song didn’t contain outside help. During the final mastering session, which Big Boi didn’t attend due to missing a plane, the running order of the album was determined. Around the time Bog Boi arrived decisions had already been made. André 3000 and the other producers were in agreement. Big Boi was not. After a huge row Big Boi contended.
The following album, hip-hop classic Stankonia, was still a perfect symbiosis of both musicians, but on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below the end of their fruitful cooperation became obvious. The album is a double album, giving Big Boi full control over Speakerboxxx and André 3000 over The Love Below.
|Hold On, Be Strong|
|Return of the ‘G’||Giorgio Moroder, Organized Noize, Antwan Patton, André Benjamin|
|Rosa Parks||Antwan Patton, André Benjamin|
|Skew It on the Bar-B||Morton Stevens, Organized Noize, Antwan Patton, André Benjamin, Corey Woods|
|Aquemini||Antwan Patton, André Benjamin|
|Synthesizer||Antwan Patton, André Benjamin, George Clinton|
|Slump||Antwan Patton, Jamahr Williams,Frederick Bell|
|West Savannah||Organized NoizePatton|
|Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1)||David Sheats, Antwan Patton, André Benjamin|
|Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 2)||David Sheats, Antwan Patton, André Benjamin|
|Mamacita||Organized Noize, Antwan Patton, André Benjamin, Masada Hogans, Erin Johnson|
|SpottieOttieDopaliscious||Antwan Patton, André Benjamin, Patrick Brown|
|Y’all Scared||David Sheats, Antwan Patton, André Benjamin, Robert Barnett, Willie Knighton, Jr.Cameron Gipp|
|Liberation||Antwan Patton, André Benjamin, Ruben Bailey, Erica Wright, Joi Gilliam, Myrna Crenshaw, Thomas Burton|
|Chonkyfire||Antwan Patton, André Benjamin|
- Hold On, Be Strong contains vocals by 4.0 (also known as The Four Phonics)
- Slump contains vocals by Backbone and Cool Breeze
- Mamacita contains vocals by Masada, Witchdoctor and Buulllllll!
- SpottieOttieDopaliscious contains vocals by Sleepy Brown
- Liberation contains vocals by Erykah Badu, Ruben Bailey, Joi and Whild Peach
- Return of the ‘G’ contains pieces of Superfly by Curtis Mayfield
- Rosa Parks contains pieces of Cancion de Amor by The Sandpipers
- Skew It on the Bar-B contains pieces of Police Woman performed by Henry Mancini
- Synthesizer contains pieces of Rock Dirge by Sly Stone
- SpottieOttieDopaliscious contains pieces of Dancing with the Moonlit Knight by Genesis
- Y’All Scared contains pieces of Air Born by Camel
- Andre 3000 – vocals, kalimba on Hold On, Be Strong
- Big Boi – vocals
- Raekwon – vocals
- The Four Phonics – vocals
- Erykah Badu – vocals
- Ruben Bailey – vocals
- Big Gipp – vocals
- Pat Brown – vocals
- Cee Lo Green – vocals
- Cool Breeze – vocals
- Delvida Flaherty – vocals
- Joi Gilliam – vocals
- Lil’ Will – vocals
- Goodie Mob – vocals
- Witchdoctor – vocals
- Joi – vocals
- Khujo – vocals
- T-Mo – vocals
- CJ Jones – vocals
- Jamahr Williams – vocals
- Whild Peach – vocals
- Charles Veal – concertmaster, orchestra arrangements
- The South Central Chamber Orchestra – orchestra
- Marvin “Chanz” Parkman – bass, piano, synthesizer
- Victor Alexander – drums
- Omar Phillips – percussion
- Darian Emory – wind instruments
- LaMarquis Mark Jefferson – bass
- Skinny Miracles – bass
- Kenneth Wright – synthesizer
- Craig Love – guitar
- Tomi Martin – guitar
- Martin Terry – electric guitar
- Jim Sitterly – violin
- Mr. DJ – scratching
- George Clinton – background vocals
- Sleepy Brown – background vocals
- Jermaine Smith – background vocals
- Jim Smith – background vocals
- Debra Killings – background vocals
Aquemini was Outkast’s first classic in their body of work. Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below would follow later. With those three albums Outkast secured their position within hip-hop: innovative hip-hop funkateers.
What do you think of this album and Outkast? Let me know!
Outkast (André 3000 and Big Boi) image: factmag.com
Outkast image: reddit.com
Outkast – Aquemini image: vibe.com
Outkast MTV 1999 image: mtv.com
Outkast – Rosa Parks (single) image: hiphopdx.com
Outkast (André 3000) – Reunion tour 2014 image: ew.com
Lack of “star power”? image: lugz.com
Outkast – Aquemini ‘dedication’ image: djbooth.net