OutKast- Stankonia Classic Review
(By: Tommy Rodriguez)
The creative opus of the world famous ATLiens turns 18 years old, and ages like fine wine.
What is one thing in common between Kendrick Lamar’s powerful storytelling, Drake’s emotional crooning, the Migos’ Southern swagger, and the spacey sound of Future’s beats?
They were all, in some way, influenced by OutKast.
OutKast is the seminal Atlanta hip hop duo featuring Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000) and Antwon Patton (Big Boi). Innovators, hit makers, pimps, ATLiens, these are all words used to describe one of the most influential musical groups of the past three decades. Ever since 1994, with the release of their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, OutKast was at the front lines of the war for relevance in Southern rap.
Prior to the waves made by OutKast with their debut, as well as with subsequent albums ATLiens and Aquemini, the popularity of Southern Hip Hop was relatively minor compared to the gangsta rap dominating the East Coast and G-Funk dominating the West. Only a spare few artists could poke their heads out of the sea of crime raps and California anthems: UGK, Geto Boys, and 2 Live Crew were the only true heavy hitters in this era before OutKast invited everyone to the kingdom of chrome Cadillacs and crunk. Every album the duo released only helped to expand the Southern empire: ATLiens proved rap music could be more laid back and spacey, Aquemini showed audiences just how expansive and complex the Southern sound could be.
Stankonia? It was the coronation of Andre 3k and Big Boi as the hip hop kings of their age, regardless of region. It’s the final nail on the wall that hung the South up as a force to be reckoned with, both in the charts and in the hearts of millions of fans. It’s the soundtrack to the duo’s peak of raw creativity and energy, and the perfect example of what makes OutKast so influential today.
Before you look at Stankonia’s music itself, it’s important to see the prime conditions it was crafted in. Towards the end of 1999, the world was ready for a humongous cultural shift into the new millennium, a change that included the music OutKast made. The soundtrack to young peoples’ parties was no longer some cheesy dance-step rap like the “Humpty Dance”, but intense bouts of rave music accompanied by some wild drug use to up the ante. This was the volatile year in which Stankonia was recorded; not only were American people hitting literal and figurative highs, but depressing lows too. Tensions involving war, disillusionment with government, and greater terrorist threats all played a role in the cultural shift that finally pushed through in 2000, and the music on Stankonia reflected all of these tensions. Lead single “B.O.B” is an absolute party of a track, what with its pounding drums, wailing guitars, choir vocals and turntable cuts, but it wasn’t simply a Southern dance party on steroids. It was a perfect reflection of the turbulent times it was crafted in, especially with its refrain of “Bombs over Baghdad.”
People were partying like it was 1999 (which it was), but alongside this excitement came the lowered popularity of the hip hop gangster. Sure, a few hardcore rap records were moderately successful, but the musical shift of hip hop was bubbling underneath the surface as people slowly grew tired of every MC being another machismo street hustler.
OutKast was a big part of this sea change ever since the get-go; Big Boi and Threestacks were tough, to be sure, but they had a more nuanced presence on the mic than simply threatening violence. They were ladies men, intelligent, and surprisingly mature for their young ages. On Stankonia these guys ooze with a kind of respectable charisma that you wouldn’t find in any average rapper at the time: “So Fresh, So Clean” is a perfect example of how these guys knew that they could turn every head in the neighborhood with their swagger, and the hilariously blunt “I’ll Call B4 I Cum” is easily one of the most forward thinking rap songs ever in how ‘Dre and Big Boi treat sex as something that shouldn’t be exploited or strictly for the dude to enjoy. Its cartoony-yet-catchy hook, and head bobbing groove is something totally OutKast; no one else could make something like it. This brings us to our next point…
OutKast is really weird.
The eclectic dressing and rapping of Andre 3k, the absurd but devilishly cool one-liners from Big Boi, the funk/rock/club/hip hop production of their songs, these all come to the forefront on Stankonia. No doubt this experimental side of theirs was always there, but it really flourished when the album was recorded in Stankonia Studios. Now owning their own recording studio, OutKast could really crack down on their sound with no limit on what they could do in their production or songmaking: Threestacks wanted to work less with traditional rap and focus more on singing and melody, Big Boi was bringing in some of the most complex flows of his career. Together, the duo teamed up with longtime collaborator Mr. Dj and the legendary Organized Noise to make some of the most batsh*t insane beats ever on a Southern album.
Funk ballads, rap-rock fusions, even psychedelic synth passages; OutKast took every single beat that a rapper wouldn’t dare attempt (especially in the era of boom bap drums or Dr. Dre keys), and showed their greatness on the mic. “Snappin and Trappin” has a crazy fast drum pattern and squelchy synth lines that sound incredibly abrasive at first, but Big Boi snaps on the beat alongside J-Sweet and the renowned Killer Mike, who made his monstrous debut on this album.
The introduction of Killer Mike on a standout banger wasn’t the only way Stankonia impacted the rap game through sheer quality; there are countless moments peppered throughout the album that are extremely predictive of the times to come in rap music. “Gasoline Dreams”, besides being a politically charged opening number about the crumbling American society of the times, is a rap-rock track that set the bar way too high for every rap-rock combo that followed in the early 2000’s.
Think about it. The group’s first stab at a genre they never attempted before was better than most other rap-rock artists’ careers!
That wasn’t the only way Stankonia changed the game for music. The countless skits on the album, each serving as a short but effective transition to every track that follows it, seemingly inspired the massive amount of skits on many bling-rap albums of the 2000’s. The many skits here aren’t merely placed as bridges to eclectic songs with varying sounds and subject matters; they’re all personality driven and freaking hilarious most of the time.
“Girl, you got some pretty hair”
“Aww (*pecks him on the cheek*), thank you baby. You know, I got a little bit of Spanish in me”
“Girl you ain’t Spanish, it’s Hawaiian silk”
The persona of OutKast extended beyond how they acted in these skits, and into how they wrote and performed in their songs. Many people praise Andre 3000 as one of the modern hip hop legends, and the better of the duo, but in my opinion Big Boi is equal with ‘Dre. Big Boi plays an excellent straight man to Andre’s numerous oddball moments on the record, such as on the woozy “Red Velvet” where his straightforward but detailed rapping about gang culture and envy is a great contrast to Andre’s wacky hooks and oddball rhyme patterns. Despite their differences, the two come together flawlessly on numerous tracks here, with a particular standout being the drug riddled bars on “Spaghetti Junction”, where their skillful back and forth rapping can be a basic inspiration for the group efforts of collectives like the Migos.
Like we said before, Stankonia was something of an inspiration to many of the MC’s out there today, but the rapping and forward thinking aesthetic of the album wasn’t the only way it succeeds now and when it was first released. Stankonia also had raw explosive emotion.
Rappers like Drake and Kendrick Lamar very much take after OutKast’s influence in being introspective. The wonderfully laid back and catchy “Ms. Jackson”, besides being an incredible rap and R&B fusion created off jam sessions Andre 3000 had in his home, was also a huge hit for the duo. It showed rappers that mainstream audiences appreciated their softer side just as much as their harder side, and set off the rocket of singing-rap that truly took over in later years. The vivid storytelling throughout the album, while not unusual in a genre that is based off lyrical tales, is still masterful in tracks like “Toilet Tisha”. A heart wrenching tale of child pregnancy and suicide, Threestacks and Big Boi peel back the layers of this tragic event so vividly that it’s almost hard to listen to (even if its hook and instrumental are gorgeous). The ripples in the music industry that came from this album are still felt even today. Hell, even the intimate and sexy vibes on the psychedelic “Stankonia (Stanklove)” probably helped to inspire the sensual way singers like The Weeknd portray their feelings today!
Stankonia is in a class all on its own. It’s masterful in how ballsy it was in being unique, masterful in its performances from arguably two of the best to ever rap, masterful in its presentation of beats. It was the creative peak of two Southern giants that were like the Michael Jordans of their field: there was no stopping them, and they knew it. No group could make an album that was so appreciated by music fans of all kind. Normally, any artists that would have tracks like the fiery “Xplosion” and soulful “Slum Beautiful” on the same album would fail at making both songs sound cohesive and well groomed.
OutKast didn’t fail though.
Stankonia turns 18 years old this year, and its influence is only more and more apparent as the years go on. Now, our most popular rappers are more introspective, cross over into more genres, and have unique personalities that shine through on their bars and performances. “Ms. Jackson” is hailed as a modern classic, slapped onto every throwback playlist you can find, and Threestacks’ and Big Boi’s statuses as rap legends are welcomed by everyone. How many people freak out when they see Andre 3000 is featured on a new song?!
Stankonia was the last true collaborative album OutKast made together, as their follow up, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, was a double album that each member worked on. Is it sad that this was the last we would see of the duo together? Absolutely. Do I wish Andre would get off his talented ass and make more music? Of course. Do I still think Big Boi is underrated and is still making good music? Yeah.
But the fact that Stankonia exists at all is something to celebrate. It’s the full realization of the South being in the rap game; its borders were drawn, and OutKast sat down on their chrome throne. Stankonia? It’s a classic.
Also, “Gangsta Sh*t” is the hardest Southern posse cut ever recorded.
Favorite Tracks: Pretty much all of it.
Least Favorite Tracks: It’s a classic, take my word for it
Listen to Stankonia here!
What did you think about this album? Any comments or criticism? Comment down below and let me know; I’d love to hear what you think!
Check out my other reviews below!