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Buy one of the following Outkast CDs from amazon.com:

'Southernplaya
listicadillacmuzik'
(1994)

'ATLiens' (1996)

'Aquemini' (1998)

'Stankonia' (2000)

'Big Boi and Dre Present... Outkast' (2001 greatest hits CD)

'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' (2003)

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Lovers Rock: In recording 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,' Antwan "Big Boi" Patton (left) and Andre "3000" Benjamin found that two CDs are better than one.

Separate But Equal

Two views on Outkast's new double CD, 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below'

By Oliver 'O-Dub 3000' Wang and Todd 'Natto Boi' Inoue

FEW HIP-HOP albums have received the slavish anticipation of Outkast's latest, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. That's because Outkast--Atlanta duo Andre "3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton--is like no other hip-hop group. Outkast began as the voice of the new South, but with each release, it transcended geography and genre alike.

The ATLiens communicate from a distant pirate station of their own creation, blasting rock, soul, jazz, blues, gospel, psychedelic rock, electro, Miami Bass and the dirtiest of Dirty South. Outkast consistently pushes hip-hop past the comfort zone into the end zone, leading the league in excessive celebration penalties.

But trouble was rumored. It was reported that during the recording of 2000's epic, Stankonia, Andre and Big Boi were rarely in the studio at the same time. The situation was magnified for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, as both Andre and Big Boi led completely different lives and schedules. The two recorded separate CDs, packaged them together and, on Sept. 23, released the best album of 2003.

In the spirit of collaboration, Oliver "O-Dub 3000" Wang (of Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide book) and Metro music editor Todd "Natto Boi" Inoue split the wishbone for the following review.

Andre 3000: The Love Below

Some disgruntled Outkast fans have accused The Love Below of being a self-indulgent vanity album, and they are absolutely right. It is self-indulgent, and it is a vanity album, but these are precisely the qualities that loft The Love Below far above anything else you'll hear this year. Armed with the creative power to record anything he wanted, Andre delivers an album that is as joyous as it is adventurous.

Like last year's creative standout, N.E.R.D's In Search of ... , The Love Below is a hip-hop album that sounds nothing like it. Naysayers grumble that Andre sings far more than raps, gloriously missing the point that in channeling his inner diva, he rejects all the stifling conventions of what contemporary rap and R&B is supposed to sound like.

In this respect, Andre follows a genre-bending course already carved by the likes of Beck, Björk and especially Prince but few rappers have been brassy enough to try. On his eclectic excursions, Andre indulges in everything from suave, Rat Pack loungers ("Love Haters") to moody New Wave ballads ("Pink and Blue") to the hyperactive verve of "Hey Ya," a single that channels equal parts Beatles and Toni Basil.

Andre walks a deliciously tangled line between sincerity and parody on The Love Below. For an album all about love, he rarely offers raw, undiluted sentiment, but he's not all pimp-preened aloofness either. In this regard, Andre doesn't go nearly as far as Prince, whose sexiness followed his rejection of the '70s mack model of black masculinity. Instead, Andre channels more of Bootsy Collins, spiking his love croons with a touch of the sardonic.

That explains tongue-in-cheek ad libs like "Don't want to meet your daddy / Just want you in my Caddy" ("Hey Ya") or "I wanna say stank you / Very much" ("Prototype"). It's only on songs like "She's Alive"--an unexpectedly heartfelt dedication to single motherhood--or the powerful, choirlike exhortations of "Vibrate" that Andre lets his guard down and shines all the brighter for it.

Equally impressive is Andre's music--glittering ribbons of color that float. On the sweet, syrupy "Prototype," the layers of texture--surf guitars laced with a touch of gurgling funk--would make Brian Wilson proud while the unlisted "My Favorite Things" gives this jazz standard a frenetic drum 'n' bass update that shouldn't work yet does.

There are few guests on here, save for a surprisingly effective duet with Norah Jones on "Take off Your Cool"--Jones' breathy alto makes a fine contrast with Andre's falsetto slivers. Instead, The Love Below swells with Andre's magnanimous presence, so much so that Big Boi's absence is hardly noticeable. This is no wish for the group's dissolution. In the end, Outkast works best with both men playing off one another but at the same time, Andre's creative greatness has always been hinted at in the group's previous LPs. With The Love Below, he finally unleashes his full potential, only to leave the listener--and pop writ large--reeling in delight.

--Oliver Wang

Big Boi: Speakerboxxx

The prominent feature inside Antwan "Big Boi" Patton's living room is a stripper pole. Whether worrying over war games, political hustling or music industry shadiness, the pole is a gleaming metaphorical reminder that good times exist amid chaos. Even the boss needs time to grind.

That said, Speakerboxxx most closely connects with the Outkast "party inside your mind" aesthetic ingrained on previous albums Stankonia and Aquemini.

Here, Big Boi weighs his set with as many messages as catchy hooks. He makes pleas for peace ("War") and PSA's about acting correct ("Church" and the Mayfield salute "Knowing"). "Unhappy" examines the cycle of sadness and at one point describes his disbelief learning Santa Claus was as fake as Milli Vanilli, "which is silly because Mom and Pop worked for every penny."

Big Boi allows songs to stylistically morph within themselves. The effect is jarring but never boring. "Ghettomusick's propulsive electro groove breaks into a slow jam before merging back into the diamond lane. "The Rooster" bridges New Orleans and Long Beach in a greasy bicoastal cheeseburger and gumbo combo. Check the Latin soul feel of "The Way You Move," all soft shoulder caresses and tight dresses, then at the break, the song jumps into a cab headed straight for an Earth Wind & Fire gig across town.

Speakerboxxx is also heavy on the posse cuts, with appearances by the Dungeon Family, Ludacris and Jay-Z. "Flip Flop Rock" pits Killer Mike, Big Boi and Jay-Z in one such formation, yet the least reason to dig "Flip Flop," surprisingly, is Jay-Z, who sounds put off to be relegated to the hook. The amazing beat counters Jigga's inert mumblings.

The stripper pole emerges in the album's feel-good standout, "Bowtie." The track celebrates the Outkast aesthetic to the fullest--all second line horns, compressed guitar, P-Funk rhythms and an impossibly dope hook about letting loose. "Crocodile on my feet / Fox fur on my back / Bow tie 'round my neck / That's why they call me the gangsta mack in the Cadillac." One can feel the August humidity dripping from the speakers.

In the grand melon that is Outkast, it's tempting to position Andre on the right brain controls and Big Boi on the left. As The Love Below centers on Dre's creative impulses, Big Boi is about maintaining brand management. He jacks his Speakerboxxx into the nearest lamppost and cranks it up to 11 while hot bodies pour out of the nearby clubs and converge on the street for the crunkest party of the year.

--Todd Inoue


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From the October 16-22, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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