“They say ‘Big Boi can you pull it off without your nigga Dre?’ / I say ‘people stop the madness cause me and Dre be O.K.’ / Outkast, Cell Therapy to cell division / We just split it down the middle so you can see both the visions / Been spittin’ it damn near ten years, why the fuck would we be quittin’?”
The above is a quote from “Tomb Of The Boom” taken from Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx, the first of a two-disc set that presents individual solo albums from the members of Outkast. Dispelling any rumors that the two have broken up, Big Boi and Andre 3000 have merely spliced the Aquemini concept in two, each delivering their own personal Aquarius and Jemini sound missions, clearly defining who brings what to the table in that Southern rap phenomenon called Outkast.
Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx plays much like any other Outkast album, as although it is a solo disc, Andre 3000 does step in and add his kooky sounds to tracks like the opener “Ghettomusick”, a “Bombs Over Baghdad” type joint that plays like booty-bass on cocaine until it unexpectedly breaks down with a sultry R&B sample that is clearly Outkast. Again on “Church”, where Andre’s production takes a different approach to a spiritual song with a metallic, bouncy track, rather than the typical hand-clap gospel sound found on your average Kirk Franklin record.
But even though Andre steps in from time to time, this is still Big Boi’s record, clearly defined by smooth pimped out tracks like “Bowtie”, a flamboyant club banger that celebrates getting freshly dipped in cold gear, or “The Way You Move”, a bass-heavy trunk rattler that celebrates the female form (check the video). Big Boi get his most personal on “The Rooster”, examining the trials and tribulations of trying to hold down a family and also be involved in the music industry, with a track that’s as busy as his mornings as a parent seem to be. Two of the albums strongest moments lie on “Flip Flop Rock” (feat. Killer Mike & Jay-Z) and “Reset” (feat. Goodie Mob), both of which take it back to the classic ATLiens sound.
While this is a strong album in itself, Big Boi is forced to share his mic time with a number of guest artists to make up for a missing Andre 3000, and on tracks like “Tomb Of The Boom” or “Last Call”, when people like Lil’ Jon & The Eastside Boyz show up, you find yourself wishing Ice Cold Andre Benjamen would replace them. But that’s Big Boi, and the diversity of his own sound is captured here on an otherwise solid album.
Meanwhile Andre 3000 delivers The Love Below, which heads will most definitely not be ready for the first go-round, reason being is because Andre has chosen to sing for most of this album, rather than rap. But Andre doesn’t care, he pulls you right in at the beginning with his strangest transformation yet; Andre Benjamin – lounge singer – but separates himself from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin with lyrics like “Everybody needs to quit actin’ all hard and shit / before you get your ass whipped (I’ll slap the fuck out ya!)”. But while this intro might seem like just an excuse to go against the grain, or just to be different for different’s sake, what lies beneath is something far more brilliant.
That’s right, The Love Below is a concept album. It’s an album that tells the story of Andre Benjamin, a lost soul looking for love, trying different personalities on for size in order to capture it. In this search, he delivers an abundance of sounds, and over the course of 20 tracks, he tells this story. It begins with the aforementioned lonely lounge singer, who by track #2 (“Happy Valentine’s Day”), decides to get out there, take the bull by the horns, and meet Ms. Right-For-Tonight. This incredibly musical excursion kicks the album off with Funkadelic inspiration, as Andre defines himself as a player looking for action, never one to be struck by Cupid’s “bullet”. His night on the town leads to the melodic “Spread”, a fast paced, drunken romp through the club scene that ends up an intoxicated drive home and zippers coming quickly undone as Andre sings “Spread, spread for me!”. The next morning, Andre begins to wonder if his one-night stand was more than that, over a breezy morning ballad (“Prototype”), singing “I think I’m in love again….”. As Andre settles in with his new boo, he reveals himself sprung on the spacey “She Lives In My Lap”, then celebrates his new love on “Hey Ya!”, where he plays Mick Jagger on this lively 60′s rock anthem.
But Andre’s newfound fascination doesn’t last, as he begins to scratch the surface of his relationship on “Roses”, where he sings “I know you like to think your shit don’t stank / but lean a lil’ bit closer see / roses really smell like poo-poo”. But “Behold A Lady” and “Pink & Blue”, Andre instead takes interest in an older woman. However Andre’s new interest doesn’t seem to last either, despite his plea on “Love In War” - “let’s kiss, not fight”. He examines his own mother’s plight as a single parent on the incredible “She’s Alive”, driven by its mellow jazz pianos, however gets cold feet at “Dracula’s Wedding”, as fear of commitment scares even The Count from settling down. Andre’s future is then put into his hand, as “Vibrate”, says “the hell with love”, and chooses masturbation instead.
What may at first seem like an experiment gone wrong (especially to those looking for an album of standard hip-hop), is actually a brilliant piece of music produced entirely by Andre himself, pushing the boundaries (actually dancing outside of them) of what hip-hop is; and one that must be ingested in whole, rather than a piece at a time. Those looking for Andre to simply spit lyrics can turn to the last track “A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)”, the only full rap song on the album, which not only sums up his real life relationships with Girl #1 and Girl #2 (“you know her as Ms. Erykah ‘On & On’ Badu”), but also parallels the story told on the rest of the album, in one long verse. However, it’s left “incomplete”, just as Andre is left incomplete in the end, as the lonely single man.
While Outkast have impressed us the last ten years or so with each release, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below could actually be their most defined release yet, simply because it separates the members and forces them to instead delve deeper into who each of them are. It’s almost a classic - an it’s no doubt that Andre’s disc will be considered that in the mainstream music press, thanks to his Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill-esque exploration of his character. However, for the heads, it will be argued over which disc is better, and that the two are better off together, and in a sense they are. But there were things done on both of these albums (moreso Andre’s) that could not have been accomplished on a regular Outkast LP. Regardless, this is the strongest major label album released thus far, and will be treated as a classic in years to come.
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