“I got to hit ‘The Source,’ I need my other half-a-mic because that Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was a classic, right?” exclaims Big Boi “Skew It on the Bar-B.” In the publication’s November 1998 issue, Big Boi got his wish as the self-proclaimed “Hip-Hop Bible” slapped the coveted Five-Mic distinction on Outkast’s third album, Aquemini. Big Boi and his accomplice in rhyme Andre 3000 have always been hip-hop’s odd couple. The street smart, pimp-influenced Aquarius (Big Boi) and the eccentric, enigmatic and poetic Gemini (Andre) had displayed this brilliant balance of Yin and Yang on their previous releases, the aforementioned Southernplayalistic, and the sophomore release ATLiens, but never had reached such levels of perfection.
Aquemini was given to us on one of the most cherished days in hip-hop history. On Sept. 29, 1998, the record store shelves were flooded with the likes of Jay-Z (Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life), Brand Nubian (Foundation), Mos Def and Talib Kweli (Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Blackstar) and A Tribe Called Quest’s last album together (The Love Movement). While all of these releases were significant and incredible in their own right, none changed the face of hip-hop like Aquemini.
At the time of the album’s release, hip-hop was a community divided. Jay had yet to claim “The Throne” left behind by Christopher Wallace, Eminem had yet to grace the majority of the world with his presence, and Dr. Dre was still in the lab concocting 2001. With no one holding a distinctive top spot, each section of the game had niche artists catering to a certain sound. The West Coast was still feeding off of the Death Row remnants with people like Daz and MC Ren trying to get theirs after going solo. The East Coast was still the home of “real hip-hop” and lyricism, according to its residents. When it came to the South, it was almost considered a necessary evil.
As far as lyrics and breeding real MCs, the South was far from respected. It was being run by Master P and the No Limit Army who seemed to drop a new album every Tuesday. There was no single artist or group who could really unify the community —except for Outkast.
The Dungeon Family, made up of Outkast and groups like Goodie Mob, P.A. and the production crew Organized Noize, were the one voice of the South that didn’t sound like a bunch of screaming drug dealers mixed over 808s. They all came up together making song after song, locked up in a basement in East Atlanta, Ga., aptly named “the dungeon.” They all had a familiar sound, a soulful mix of the area they came from and the rest of the world that they were trying to reach. Building on the heels of Goodie Mob’s beautifully eclectic Still Standing that released earlier that year, Outkast would emerge from the Dungeon as the voice that would shine a new light on the South. They took what they had accomplished on their previous two records and grew into that beacon that would open the eyes of the rest of the country while still staying true to their Southern roots. Combining every necessary element of hip-hop; the flow, the lyrics, the storytelling, the consciousness, the music; the duo cemented their place in music.
The album opens with a slow-building, hypnotic instrumental that bleeds perfectly into “Return of the G,” where the two seem to be almost fighting against the current of the track to attack the cerebral cortex and challenge the listener to question exactly what a “G” is. Backed by a harmonizing chorus and the horn-laden beat, Aquemini starts you in one direction by lulling you into a zone and then breaks out the marching band to snap you out of it, as that album’s signature cut implores you to move to the back of the bus.
“Rosa Parks” is a hype track that is really a meaty message in disguise. It’s a subconscious call to action for the listener to challenge the status quo, like the track’s namesake did, and energize one’s self for change … with harmonicas.
The title track slows things back down as Big Boi brings back his street-friendly tales of drug deals and car jackings, and Three Stacks takes on the role of mind-expansion for the first part of the track. A small interlude find the two snapping back into beast mode as 3K comes back in with a fury not seen in him before. “Synthesizer” stays on the same path, but funks it up by bringing in George Clinton himself as they address issues such as hypocritical preachers and plastic surgery.
“SpottieOttieDopaliscious” expands the music with more funkadelic hints and angelic horns while Dre alludes to Charles Dickens and Old English and Big Boi speaks on the vision of a seemingly vivacious woman. Things slow down even more for “Liberation” and lend to the future of things to come as 3K croons along with old flame Erykah Badu sounding like a modern day Gospel anthem.
“Chonkyfire” lights up with a blaring electric guitar and deep synthesizer as Andre poetically begins his last verse with the simplicity of “This is my story, this is my song,” and proclaims the group’s supremacy in the tracks Pied Piper-themed hook.
They carved their place in the game and grabbed the world’s attention. Every hip-hop album after it, including their follow-up Stankonia, had something to aspire to both musically and lyrically, no matter the area of the country. This is the album on which Big Boi solidified himself as a pimp with his ear to the streets. This is the album that launched Andre 3000 into space. No two people with a similar background could be more different and no two artists could have made this masterpiece.
Outkast – Aquemini tracklist:
- “Hold on Be Strong”
- “Return of the ‘G'”
- “Rosa Parks”
- “Skew It on the Bar-B”
- “West Savannah”
- “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)”
- “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 2)”
- “Y’all Scared”