Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
Of all the Southern hip-hop acts of the past thirty years, few if any are as versatile and eclectic as Atlanta’s OutKast. Coming into prominence in the aftermath of the East Coast vs. West Coast hip-hop feud, the duo of André Benjamin and Antwan Patton ignited a new fire thorough America’s hip-hop culture. With their maximalist pop production and two completely independent and unique flows, they would go on to become a defining force of the genre in the beginning of the new millennium. Although they haven’t released new music since 2006’s Idlewild, they have performed together off and on, most recently as the headlining act on a slew of festival dates. Here are five of their best songs.
1. “Player’s Ball” from A LaFace Family Christmas (1993)
Benjamin and Patton met while both were students at Tri-Cities High School, an arts academy. By the time they graduated they had been signed to L.A. and Babyface’s LaFace Records. After they appeared on the remix of labelmate TLC’s “What About Your Friends”, the duo released “Player’s Ball” as their first single on the 1993 LaFace Christmas compilation. The song, featuring an old school funk arrangement performed with live instruments and numerous references to the holiday season, quickly shot to the top of the US Rap charts. The track was also used as the lead single of their debut albumSouthernplayalisticadillacmuzi
2. “ATLiens” from ATLiens (1996)
OutKast didn’t immediately follow up on the success of their debut. André decided to continue his education and go to college while Big Boi had his first child. They also underwent some significant stylistic changes, inspired by a trio to Jamaica. Tired of portraying the stereotypical “gangsta” image that was so prominent in hip-hop at the time, the duo exchanged their “Player’s Ball” image for a more futuristic kind of hip-hop look. André in particular went all out on the change, becoming a vegetarian and giving up his marijuana habit. This is obviously what inspires his line on this standout title track from their 1996 sophomore album, “The world’s a stage and everybody got to play their part/God works in mysterious ways so when he starts/The job of speakin’ through us, we be so sincere with this here/No drugs or alcohol so I can get the signal clear”. It became clear on ATLiens that OutKast was more than another couple of rappers – they had experienced a spiritual and artistic awakening most can only dream of.
3. “Ms. Jackson” from Stankonia (2000)
With ATLiens and its 1998 follow up Aquemini brought OutKast immense commercial success and critical acclaim. With the latter album and its lead single “Rosa Parks”, the duo affirmed themselves as the best duo in hip-hop. Believe it or not, though, they still hadn’t reached their peak power. It’s disputed as to which album is the duo’s magnum opus, but 2000’s Stankonia is a serious contender, and the second single “Ms. Jackson” promoted OutKast to international superstars. Featuring what is probably one of the greatest music videos of all time, the song showcased a more inward looking and reflective lyrical structure than their previous work. Big Boi alleges the song is about André 3000’s relationship with Erykah Badu, but it obviously has more general references to the struggles of love and the complications that come with it. The quoting of “Here Comes The Bride” at the end of the song really ties the whole thing together. The success of the single would help Stankonia hit number two on the Billboard albums chart, as well as going double platinum.
4. “I Love The Way You Move (feat. Sleepy Brown)” from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
Most groups would be content with the immense success OutKast faced at the turn of the millennium, but Andre and Big Boi weren’t through yet. Their next album would be their biggest and baddest yet. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is reminiscent of an epic double album from the 70’s. Instead of it being a full on collaboration between the two rappers, the two records are essentially independent statements that shows their musical and lyrical versatility. To promote the album, both members kicked one single from their respective album to be released simultaneously in September of 2003. Big Boi’s pick was the sensual and (very) sexual “I Love The Way You Move”. Essentially the album’s mission statement, the song features some of Big Boi’s best bravado and an inescapable chorus that dominated the airwaves for months.
5. “Hey-Ya!” from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
Andre’s record, unsurprisingly, was a bit more laid back and groovy than Big Boi’s. The Love Below takes you inside Andre’s views of love and devotion, as well as sex and seduction. The lead single “Hey Ya!” features the best of both those worlds, and its call and response section became a staple of pop culture for years (“I said what’s cooler than being cool…”). The duo’s massively successful double record would end up going Diamond in the US and to this day it’s their only album to top the the Billboard chart.