For all the acclaim and think pieces, it’s surprising how much of OutKast’s praise came in retrospect. Andre 3000 actually had to take time to explain that 2000’s Stankonia was, in fact, not Outkast’s debut album. The corrections weren’t anywhere near as awkward as what had happened five years prior at the 1995 Source Awards. Southerners Andre 3000 and Big Boi were already doomed in their appearance with the East Coast/West Coast beef threatening to divide the room. Why the hell would anybody listen to what the South had to say? But that’s exactly what ‘Dre said in his terse acceptance speech: “The South got something to say!”
People eventually started listening, though, and soon OutKast’s Atlantan mentality wasn’t that foreign. The duo have carried their home’s values and drawl on their sleeves but have still managed to connect with a wide and dedicated fan base at a profound level. Utilizing the rhyming abilities honed while hanging out in Big Boi’s aunt’s kitchen or jogging around the neighborhood and harvesting the homegrown sounds of the Dungeon family (OutKast’s collective), the duo signed to LaFace right out of high school and debuted with their most straightforward album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, in 1994.
Those privy know that this was one of the first albums that truly proved the South has something to say. But something deeper started happening in the basement where the Dungeon Family began. Instead of moving its focus northward and westward, OutKast developed a panoramic view that traveled inward. ATLiens, released in 1996, used a more aquatic sound than its predecessor, as the duo ruminated on shallow materialism (“Mainstream”), lauded and criticized the opposite sex (“Jazzy Belle”), and spoke on the ephemerality of life (“13th Floor/Growing Old”).
Something special was certainly happening on that sophomore effort, but it was arguably on 1998’s Aquemini that OutKast solidified their dynamic. More ears perked as genre-bending spaceman Andre 3000 and slick-talking, earthbound Big Boi looked beyond the floss. The infectious, boisterous “Rosa Parks” made for an instant Southern classic, as did the duo’s musings about the nightlife on the syrupy, seven-minute “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”. Combining weirdness and realness, Aquemini went double platinum after its release.
In other words, OutKast definitely had a voice before they blew up with 2000’s kaleidoscopic Stankonia and 2003’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which won the Grammy for Album of the Year and included the epochal “Hey Ya”. And although the crowd at Coachella two weekends ago may have erred towards ambivalence during the duo’s reunion performance, a hip-hop wiz like Questlove clearly sees the bigger picture: “[B]est part? is Outkast has us up at 4:40 in the morning discussing hip hop,” tweeted The Roots’ drummer. “Which is incredible. can’t wait til show hits east coast.”
And why wouldn’t he be excited with what OutKast have done and still have the ability to do? So, while we and Questlove wait, here are 10 songs that best showcase why this duo is one of the greatest.
— Brian Josephs