A little more than a year ago, Andre 3000 and Big Boi of OutKast christened themselves “the coolest motherfunkers on the planet.” That declaration of funkadelic supremacy was accurate, given that Stankonia, the album on which said declaration appeared, had more bounce to the ounce and assumption-smashing bravado than just about any other record released this millennium.
If Stankonia captured OutKast at its peak, the journey from upstart Southern pimps to the undisputed Kings of Crunk is documented in earnest on its new greatest-hits package, Big Boi & Dre Present …, which adds three new tracks to a dozen cuts taken from the duo’s four albums.
As a whole, it’s not as consistent as either Stankonia or 1998’s Aquemini, but as an overview of one of the best hip-hop groups in the world, it works damn well.
Musically, the early stuff can’t compete with “Ms. Jackson,” the greatest apology to the mama of your baby-mama ever written, or the drum ’n’ bass romp “B.O.B.,” or the polit-hop “Rosa Parks,” all of which are included here. Alongside four cuts from Stankonia and three from Aquemini, hazy funk jams such as “Player’s Ball” and the previously unreleased “Funkin’ Around” come off as less hooky and less memorable, with Andre and Big Boi too often stuck in bong-toking, velvet-clad pimp mode. Which isn’t to say that the older cuts aren’t worthy of your disposable income — the rhyming is top-notch, and the oddball Parliament/Funkadelic grooves are stronger than the bulk of the Dr. Dre-style G-funk that held sway among hordes of ’90s rappers.
What really separates old from new is that over the course of their career the men of OutKast have become great songwriters — not tunesmiths like the Lennon-McCartney model, but architects of tracks that yoke ghetto vignettes and dexterous flow to visionary grooves. That evolution is summed up nicely in “The Whole World,” the newest song here and a sanguine sing-along propelled by a bouncy shuffle and Big Boi’s lightning-speed rhymes. Where that track epitomizes the hooky whimsy written into OutKast’s worldview, a woman Andre quotes in “Rosa Parks” captures its envelope-pushing work ethic: “Baby boy, you’re only funky as your last cut.” Only thing is, these 15 cuts prove that OutKast has been pretty funky (and then some) all along.
E-mail Christian Hoard at firstname.lastname@example.org.