Big Boi and Andre 3000 — the duo known as Outkast — scored the biggest victory of their storied career by convincing conditioned hip-hop fans to accept them for who they are, a weird-ass rap group that will never give you the same album twice.
Their sixth album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, is easily the biggest creative challenge issued to their 4 million-member fan base. Be clear — it is not Outkast’s best album, and it’s not supposed to be. But it will be historic.
Going solo under the umbrella of a double-disc release, they have placed themselves in unenviable positions on two fronts. How many Outkast fans have asked whether Big Boi can hold his own, lyrically, without Andre 3000 offsetting him? And who has wondered whether a solo Andre album would be too weird to follow? Fans will be happy to know that Big Boi, in all his verbal mediocrity, oozes enough personality and confidence to compensate, most of the time, while Andre weirds out to groundbreaking delight.
Speakerboxxx, the Big Boi album, picks up where Stankonia left off. He shows on “The Way You Move” that he is the bearer of the duo’s “old soul.” He is also the fraternal member, enlisting the help of longtime collaborators and marquee names like Big Gipp, Ludacris and Jay Z. Big Boi’s Southern style influences joints like “Church” and “Bowtie,” but he falls out of character on “War.” His social commentary based around the Iraq debacle is much-needed these days, but it sounds contrived. Still, it’s an above-average album that captures of Outkast’s usual flava. Highlights are “Unhappy” and “The Rooster.”
Don’t expect Speakerboxxx to prepare you for disc two, The Love Below. It won’t. Andre 3000 shows how much he has held back in order to satisfy the palates of Outkast fans. He raps just four times on the album, starting it off with a Sammy Davis Jr.-like intro, and launching into the swing of “Love Hater.” The single “Hey Ya” gives every indication of the direction of the album, where Andre invokes a whole lot of Prince and George Clinton on cuts like “Happy Valentine’s Day” and the hilarious “Roses.”
The Love Below is the more compelling of the two discs. You’ve got to respect a cat who can drop his inhibitions on the public square and create a song like “Hey Ya.” It’s apparent that Andre has become a musician, and most will listen to this with a chuckle and a raised brow.
There are low points here too. “Pink & Blue” sounds underproduced, unfinished. “Prototype” and “She’s Alive” are simply boring. “Behold A Lady” reveals that Andre shouldn’t try to sing some songs. Still, it’s quite an enjoyable listening experience. Plus, the four-and-a-half-minute verse on “A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre” is a clinic on mic control and rhyme skills.
This album should cement Outkast’s place as one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time. It takes woolly mammoth balls for an artist to go here and expect fans to follow. And follow we did.
E-mail Khary Kimani Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.