Genre: Hip Hop, Neo Soul
Label: LaFace / Arista
Chart: US Billboard – 2
The first album on the list is by Outkast, a band I only know through their 2003 hit “Hey Ya”, I’m not sure whether this is a good sign or a bad one. I must admit I liked the song when it was released but have a feeling that it may not be a true representation of their style or other works. I’m not deterred though because one of the main points of the quest we are embarking on together is to find and listen to music which we ordinarily wouldn’t have sought out or come across naturally. Let our adventure begin.
Ok after a bit of googling I will share my new found knowledge about Outkast.
After meeting in an Atlanta shopping mall in 1992, native Georgians, Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton initially formed a duo called “2 Shades Deep”, this name already being taken and their second choice “The Misfits” also being unavailable they settled on “Outkast”. Outcast being a synonym for Misfits. The groups original style was a mixture of Dirty South and G-Funk (I don’t know what this is so we will see).
I have no pre-conceived ideas with regard this album so lets begin.
I am with Brit Boy on this one…. I only know Outkast from the song “Hey Ya”, which came out in my early twenties, so I probably shook my buns to it on the dance floor a few times. I am a bit surprised that this album made the list when the only Outkast song I have heard of isn’t even on this album… I too don’t have any preconceived notions entering into this album, I don’t even know what “neo-soul” is… However, it has made the Rolling Stone Top 500, so one would think it is on there for good reason. Now I am looking forward to trying to find out why….
Aquemini is the vessel used by Big Boi and Andre to answer many of the critics of their second album ATLiens. It garnered a mixed reception following a more spiritual route taken by Andre, which was at loggerheads to the Southern gangsta’s point of view portrayed in their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmusik, where the songs were mainly regarding drugs and pimping. This step away from the shallower, flashier gangsta rap prompted some fans to question whether OutKast had “gone soft”.
Firstly I have to admit that this post has been a true baptism of fire, my first album review, a band I would not normally seek out, and a genre which I have dabbled around the edges of but never really embraced. To say that this has been tough on all of these fronts would be an understatement. Not knowing what to expect and with some trepidation I started the first track “Hold on Be Strong”, did I press play?? Is there a problem with I-tunes?? Have I the volume turned up?? All of these questions fleeted across my consciousness as I waited for something to happen, eventually after the first 10 seconds of an insanely quiet intro this short first track got started. This was an interesting start to the album with some melodic choral singing and a heavy baseline, but I did wonder what ‘was the point’? This got me thinking, it’s been a long time since I actually listened to an album front to back without jumping around the track listings. I know in the good old vinyl days it was an art and took a great deal of planning and insight to arrange the track flow for an album. Is this still the case in the modern digital age, where people are just as likely to download a single album track as they would be the entire album? With this in mind, I have decided to take a mental oath to always listen to the albums in this blog in track order, so that I can get the full ambience….
I am unsure where to even begin in reviewing this album. I should preface this by saying that as a single mom to three children under the age of 10, I am probably not actually in the target market. While I was not excited for this album, I also embraced it with an open mind. I have listened to it a few times now, and have scoured over the lyrics trying to find a greater connection with the artists and the music, but to no avail. I think I have an idea what “neo-soul” means now, even though I do not feel I could adequately describe it. There is a very unique musicality to this album, I would go so far to say even soothing at times, but then with the constant N-bombs, and crass lyrics I never got lost in any of it.
Moving onto the second track I got the full ‘in yer face’ gangsta rap which I had been expecting from the start, with our first N-bomb being dropped after 12 seconds. This seemed to set the tone for the album. As a white Brit who grew up in middle-class suburbia, I found it really difficult to associate with any of these tracks, is it my background? Am I just old? I don’t know….. I just find it lazy the way they judiciously use the term ‘Nigga’ throughout the tracks, is it supposed to bring their listeners together with some form of solidarity? Is it to alienate white people who may stumble across this strange new sound….?? I just don’t know, there is no poetry in these lyrics, I love Eminem and believe he is a true modern day poet, projecting his rhetoric and anger but it in an intelligent way, this just felt like words put to a really good beat. The anger doesn’t invoke sympathy for me; it’s just an outpouring of emotion with little direction. I want to feel an affinity with the rappers, but I don’t have any connection, and they don’t even extend a hand to welcome me to their world. This wasn’t a nice feeling listening to this album and I felt like a confused voyeur at times.
Brit Boy hit on something important here… I too felt a voyeur as though I was peering in on a society/way of life which I am unfamiliar with. However, I listened to this album at the tail end of our movie review for “The Untouchables” and I can’t help but wonder when the image of an American gangster shifted? In the 30’s an American gangster was a middle aged white man dressed in a suit, committing crimes like a well-oiled business, Capone is still legendary these many years later. While the modern gangster creates an image of gang members, violence, drugs. Yet, it does seem that many of today’s “gangsters” are fighting solely to protect their families.
Man, a nigga don’t want no trouble
A playa just want to kick back with my gators off and watch my lil’l girl blow bubbles
But still ready to rhyme, standing my ground never back down
Willin’ to rob steal and kill any thang that threatens mine
All of this being said there was one outstanding track on the album “Rosa Parks”. Even before I’d listened to this track it interested me, sharing its name with African-American civil rights activist. I was intrigued as to how much this would reflect her life. Well the answer is in my interpretation not a great deal there is the obvious bus reference but nothing beyond that. In spite of feeling a little short-changed at the deep and meaningful song I was expecting, I really loved ‘Rosa Parks’, it had a great multi-layered feel with harmonies, rapping and guitar all overlaid. This had me bouncing along to the music.
Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk
This is also my favorite track on the album. It has a nice beat, and I did find myself dancing along. I feel Outkast missed a real opportunity in recognizing a civil rights hero, and the lyrics lacked any respect for Rosa Parks. I can’t help but wonder if they were actually looking for controversy when they wrote this song. (Negative publicity is better than no publicity….)
It’s worth noting that Rosa Parks tried to sue the band in 1999 for misappropriate use of her name, the case was settled out of court.
Regardless of the disrespect to Rosa this was still one of my favorite tracks on the album. It seems to have a slightly higher moral compass than many of the other tracks on this album. Mamacita originally intrigued me, (probably because when I was a child I had a cat called “Mamacita”), and while the song has some great female vocals, the lyrics were too much for me to stomach. Um, no thanks. I’ll keep my Brit Boy and my flowers thank you….
Can you come over, somethin, I wanna show ya
Told ya once we was gon’ take a trip, touch you
with my lips where you like it, it’s time, don’t fight it
Piggy-back ride to the sofa, in the microwave
I got your favorite Stouffer’s, lasagna, that’s how much
I want ya, fuck flowers
This process has certainly changed my approach to listening to music, which I am thankful for. I’m glad that I took the time to listen to an album which ordinarily would have passed me by, will I listen to it again? Probably not. However I’m sure “Rosa Parks” will get the occasional play.
Should this album be on the list? I guess it’s too early to say at the moment. Maybe we should look at Rolling Stone Magazines reasons for its appearance.
“At a time when formulaic albums by Master P and Puff Daddy topped the charts, OutKast’s Andre Benjamin and Big Boi unleashed an explosive hip-hop sound that used live musicianship, social commentary and a heavy dose of deep funk. Hits like “Rosa Parks” put the duo’s “Hotlanta” on the rap map.”
I am hopeful that this album solely made the list as a representation of hardcore hip hop/rap. I am going to keep my faith in Rolling Stone magazine, and continue my trek down their top 500 albums of all time and remain cautiously optimistic that not all albums will be such a chore to listen to (or review).
I am equally hopeful that the process will become easier as the albums progress, I’m pretty sure though that this won’t be our last taste of hip-hop. I will be interested to see when we progress higher up the list, whether the albums get more hardcore or more mainstream, only time will tell…..