I must admit that I’ve never been a huge OutKast fan. SouthernPlayalisticCadillacMusic came out at a time when I wasn’t really into the whole “country-drawl” rap music thing. (And now it’s pretty much taken over.) Subsequent releases didn’t get much attention from me either. It wasn’t until I bought a bootleg copy of Stankonia that I sat up in my chair on the bus ride home and took notice. Like most others, I liked So Fresh, So Clean and Ms. Jackson, but my favorite tracks on the album were the title track, Stankonia (which is just about the freakiest track I’ve heard — and I mean that in a good way) and Toilet Tisha. The latter track was a double entendre of sorts, playing upon the the southern pronunciation of the phrase “toilet tissue”, but more appropriately unveiling the haunting story of a 14-year old girl named “Tisha” who was pregnant and having thoughts of suicide while sitting on the commode. Pretty difficult topic, but handled very well by the two cats that I had slept on for years. (Well, maybe I didn’t sleep on them, but perhaps it took six years for their development to mature to the point where they were kicking out stuff that I was ready to receive.
I saw OutKast live with my sister in 2001 after they released a Greatest Hits album with a few new tracks. I remember hearing them shout onstage claiming to be coming out with their new album “in the fawll ya’ll!”. “The Fawll” turned out to be more like the summer — only two years later. But it was well worth the wait. Well, half of the effort was. (More on that later.)
Amidst rumors of creative differences and conflicts with regard to which direction the album should take, Andre 3000 and Big Boi seemingly took the smart route, as compared to groups that came before them. While artists like A Tribe Called Quest, EPMD, NWA and many others probably saw less revenue than they might have had they stayed together a bit longer, OutKast understood that they might stand to be more successful as a group than two solo acts. After all, the name “OutKast” alone garners a certain amount of “top billing”.
I remember standing in front of the new album, Speakerboxx/The Love Below wondering exactly what I was looking at. The album looked as if it was cut in half — literally. On one half was Andre 3000 holding a pink gun under the title The Love Below and Big Boi was sitting in a chair with a mink on under the title Speakerboxx. Two CDs for $11.98. It was certainly a bargain for my money. Regardless of the bragain, with a certain degree of hesitation, I picked up the CD case and checked it out at the Best Buy in Bridgewater, NJ. All it took was one long interstate ride home from New Jersey to New York and I was hooked — on The Love Below, that is.
I don’t know what Andre Benjamin was going through at the time that he made the album, but The Love Below has to be some of the best music I’ve heard in years. And more important than the fact that it’s just good music, it’s seemingly genre-free. Most of the songs I like don’t fit into any musical category — at least none that I’m aware of. Starting with Love Hater, moving on to Prototype, coming on strong with Hey Ya!, moving to the freaky side with Pink and Blue and Vibrate, this album was truly a classic. It’s one of the rare albums where I’ve synched every track to my iPod. Unlike many artists today, Andre understands track order and album composition. The album is creating a mood and has a flow. Listening to the album on shuffle ruins the feel. Definitely the sign of a good album.
Sadly, I listened to The Love Below first and thought Speakerboxx would be “part two” of an already wild ride. It wasn’t. Maybe it’s just my age. Could be that I just have some sort of bias. But, to me, Speakerboxx was more of the easily identifiable and uninspired southern rap that other groups were cranking out by the pound (even to this day.) In fact, if it wasn’t for The Way You Move, the album would probably have been a complete afterthought. If you check my CD collection, you’ll find these two CDs. One CD is all scratched up and used, like that favorite Al Green record, where you can look at the drinking glass circles on the album cover and remember what you were going through when you made them. Then there’s another CD that’s so new that it takes some effort to pull it out from the plastic grooves. I’ll let you guess which one is which.
I had high hopes for the next OutKast album. As long as Andre would give me half of what he gave me during The Love Below, I’d take what I could get. Unfortunately, they wrapped the effort up into one giant movie/album extravaganza. (Shades of another movie/album combo that ‘just couldn’t fail’ — Mariah Carey’s Glitter.) Now, I haven’t seen Idlewild yet, but I do know that movies set in the 1920s (particularly those featuring people of color) just don’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong — I admire the fact that OutKast is doing what they’ve always done. They’re blazing trails. They’re breaking new ground. They could have gone out and shot a Boyz In the Hood or ATL-type film and probably brought in big dollars. But this is a group that thrives on creativity. Even amidst their creativity, perhaps a movie set in the 1920s might not have been the best move at this point in their career. Regardless, the movie and the album are out. I’m rather fond of Morris Brown, but after about 3 listens on Napster.com, that’s it for me and Idlewild. It’s just not happening. It’s more Speakerboxx and much, much less The Love Below. And despite my feeling about movies set in the 1920s, now that it’s debuted at #9 in it’s opening week of box office returns and made a dissapointing $5.7 million, I’m sort of rooting for the movie now. Maybe I’ll even give it a shot in the theater. (Then again at $9.50 a ticket, maybe not.)
Perhaps this album is a sign that they should be moving in different directions? Perhaps in light of a failed Idlewild project, this might be the best oppoprtunity to create solo projects? Idlewild sounds like an album riddled with compromise. Why not follow your own creative inspiration and see how it turns out? Hey, if fellow Dungeon Family artists Cee-Lo Green can do it, why can’t you? In my opinion, Andre is primed for superstardom. And I’m not suggesting that Big Boi is holding him back. But I am suggesting that OutKast is holding them both back. It’s time that we see what each can produce on their own. I was incredibly excited to hear rumors of Andre starring in a Jimi Hendrix biopic. I believe that what Jamie Foxx did for Ray Charles, Andre Benjamin can do for Hendrix. So, what do you say, guys? Give it a shot. If things don’t work out, there’s always big money down the road in a reunion.
Depending on how you feel about this, a good sign as to whether we’ll see solo projects comes in the form of their first release, Morris Brown. The video is so creative and so….OutKast… that I didn’t even notice the fact that Andre Benjamin was nowhere to be found. I thought it was just my old eyes and the fact that there was so much going on in the video. But after watching Big Boi on The Late Show with David Letterman, not only was Andre not on stage for the Morris Brown performance, but he was present for the post performance interview. Now, you’d figure at this point in their career, Andre shouldn’t mind being the hype man for Big Boi as he performs. Big Boi, Sleepy Brown and a live subset of a marching band had a great performance, marching in unison in purple marching band suits. And Andre? Well, during the interview, he was wearing one of his classic GQ-inspired outfits that only Andre could get away with. And even though their legs seemed to be crossed in the same fashion as Letterman asked away, to me they were as far apart as those two albums that I listened to in the summer of 2003.
Who knows what the heck is going on behind the scenes. All I know is that this is probably a good sign that they understand that they are two different artists with completely different sources of creative talent — both great. I think that this is a strong indication that in subsequent Andre 3000 efforts, we’ll see the creativity that went into The Love Below continue down the road. And like their last hot single, I Can’t Wait.