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The Greatest Group You Never Heard
OutKast have sold almost three million records, but how many of their songs can you sing?
The very fact that the word "OutKast" isn't one of the first words out of most people's mouths when the words "rap music" come up shows that there is something very wrong with the way we're looking at media. Two of the most innovative lyricists ever to approach a cartoid microphone, Dre and Big Boi may not fit the normal category of "rapper" -- they're country as hell, talk about all kinda crazy stuff, and dress like a paint store exploded on them. However, there are two things about OutKast that should have even Kurt Loder hollering their praises: they're incredible lyricists, and they have sold almost three million albums. That's not a typo, friends and neighbors, and it's not a mistake.
Their 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, their 1996 LP ATLiens, and now the groundbreaking Aquemini. Platinum, platinum plus, and on its way, not to mention a platinum single or two. The fact that they're brilliant lyricists will gain them the respect of all the backpack wearin', beadie smokin' hip hop heads, but three million albums gets the respect of a whole other class of people.
Playas if you choose it you'd better make sure ya don't abuse it
we gonna get ya hi-i-i-igh, hi-i-i-igh ...
The "two dope boys in a Cadillac" unleashed their southern fried funk in 1994 -- bass heavy but smoother than their gangster counterparts, featuring quick paced yet oddly accented lyrics and the unmistakable twang that shows one was raised south of the Mason-Dixon -- and things began to change. "Southern hip hop" became a phrase more writers would use, more music programmers were ready to hear. "Player's Ball" their debut single, became a nationwide urban hit after starting off at #3 on the Billboard R&B charts. Followed by "Git Up, Git Out," "Hootie Hoo!" and the title cut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik made the rounds, garnering critical acclaim and becoming one of the first sucesses for this wacky little Atlanta record company called LaFace. What were they talkin' about? "Hootie Hoo?" Or when Dre said, "Time to drop these vogues like Dusty Rhodes/ then I yell, 'Ho!'/ we knock 'em all off they feet like a Southern hustler 'sposed to do." In 1994 this was some off the wall stuff, but for people who grew up in the Dirty South, watching Jerry Lawler in his prime wrestling on Saturday morning, these were just some boys kickin' some stuff we could relate to. Speaking to the Southerner in all of us.
"Me and you ... yo momma and yo' cousin too ...
rollin' down the strip on Vogues, comin' up slammin' Cadillac doors ..."
OutKast dodged the sophomore jinx when they dropped ATLiens in 1996, a cosmic, comic-book-like journey through the ATL. See, Big Boi's player influence was heaviest on the first album, and Dre's extraterrestrial inspiration made itself known on the second. The resonant "Elevators" boomed from low cars rollin' down strips from Birmingham to Detroit. Dre and Big Boi had managed to keep the anger of a newly sucessful artist out of the mix, even while commenting on the change. Dre said, "I replied I'd been goin through the same things that he had/ true I had more fans than the average man but not enough loot to last me/ to the end of the week I live by the beat like he live check to check/ if you don't move your feet then I don't eat so we like neck & neck/ we done come a long way like them slim ass cigarettes/ from Virginia, this ain't gon' stop so we just gon' continue ..." Like any good Southerner, OutKast used their newfound fortune to give back to their people. Their production house, Organized Noise, had already made a splash with hits for TLC and En Vogue. But nobody was ready for Goodie MOb, blastin' from the kitchen window with an even grimier taste of the Dirty Dirty. Who coulda predicted the fatback and gumbo soulfulness of Witchdoctor, the refreshing Cool Breeze, and Dre's girl Erykah Badu, or Gipp's girl Joi. Who are these people, and why was nobody recognizing how hot the rap is in Atlanta? The low baseball caps of the west turned away, and the bombers and suits of New York shunned their counytry cousins, not just in terms of musically but businesswise. Hot 97 wasn't hearing no Southern hip hop. Power 106 and the Beat in LA weren't tryin' to hear it. It all looked like one big ol C-O-N-spiracy. They should almost be thankful for the deaths of Tupac and Biggie -- the already strong backlash against the thug mentality opened up the door for not just OutKast's brand of country jamboree, but Suave House came up, Rap-A-Lot had a resurgence, and the signs were clear. The South had risen again, fool, and you'd betta know dat!
"Ah hah, hush that fuss
everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump wit us?
We the type of people make the club get crunk ..."
The balance came on Aquemini, OutKast's current and probably best album. Learning the reins of production from Organized Noise, the album has gem after gem, featuring their whole collective. Now christened the Dungeon Family, this latter day Juice Crew is straight Tropicana, with Witchdoctor, Goodie, and Erykah all making appearances of quality, not corny cameos for a check.
OutKast started wreckin' your scene with "Rosa Parks," featuring that sinfully catchy chorus and the multiple refrain technique that made the Goodie MOb's debut so memorable, finally starting to get the airplay you'd think a multiplatinum group would deserve. It's a song that everybody can enjoy, and the video symbolizes how OutKast has reconciled the dichotomy between them. Big Boi is always going to be the player who knows more than the average, and Dre will always be the forward thinking space traveller who would roll a 'Llac before a space shuttle. They summed it up best in the chorus of the title track ...
"Even the sun goes down
heroes eventually die
horoscopes often lie
and sometimes 'y'
nothing is for sure,
nothing is for certain nothing last forver,
but until they close the curtain,
it's him and I,
With a strong sense of loving who they are, knowing how to make solid music, and dedicated to not only their musical families but their personal ones (both are fathers), OutKast have a sound that has only matured over the years and ripened like fine fruit on the vine. Not strange fruit hanging from Southern trees this time, but rich crops that return hit after hit. Perhaps now, with three brilliant albums under their belt and no signs of stopping, OutKast can be recognized as one of the greatest groups in hip hop, and in music.