Brent DiCrescenzo, Pitchfork Media, September 23rd, 2003
The twelve-lane Connector plows through Atlanta like the
Nile of pavement. Along its fenced banks lie the majority of the city's
attractions. Turner buildings, blossoming with neon network logos, lure
Yellowjacket grads from the adjacent campus cluster with the sweet nectar
of Powerpuff Girls money. Across the way, The Varsity serves grease
between buns, communicating with an enigmatic fast food lexicon that
rivals rhyming Cockneys. Tourists walk the overpass to the ghostly Olympic
park, built on the graveyard of Techwood projects, in the shadows of
Vick's pastel dome. Hipsters and reluctant yuppies settle in the
gentrified Five Points and Cabbagetown, giving their quaint subdivisions
more verdant "___________ Park" monikers. And finally, there's Turner
Field, reverberating collective October sighs, before the highway splits
back into its tributaries in East Point, the cultural fountainhead. The
hip-hop id to New York's ego: the home of Outkast.
Lauded retroactively in 2000, upon the release of Stankonia, for a formula
that had been perfected by teenagers on 1994's
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Outkast charged up the public with silly
amounts of reserved anticipation for this double-disc marathon. Since
dropping that debut nearly ten years ago, Outkast's singles have charted a
steady incline of genre-defiance and pop virtuosity. But now, in the wake
of the commercial and critical smash that yielded such classic tracks as
"Ms. Jackson", "B.O.B.", and "So Fresh, So Clean", Big Boi and Andre 3000
have, for the first time, chosen to work in separate corners, like Beatles
after India. Here, on the resulting Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, the two
wander down the blacktop from East Point, each plotting their own distinct
course: Andre, like I-85, shoots off to the airport and sky-high trips
before dipping into the Mardi Gras marshes of New Orleans, while Big Boi
rolls deep down I-75 into south Florida, home of booty bass and baby blue.
The consensus in rock circles had unfairly anticipated that The Love Below
would reign supreme over Big Boi's Speakerboxxx, since Andre was the one
with the guitar in the fuzzy boots. As it turns out, his Prince-mimicking
fusion looks a lot better on paper than it sounds in your ears. On too
many songs, Andre repeats space-playboy choruses over repetitious,
unfinished digifunk. As the brief orchestrated outro to "Pink and Blue"
suggests, each track feels like it's missing something-- strings, guitars,
harmonies, organic instruments, and, oh right: Big Boi. Andre does have
his moment, though: "Hey Ya!" glitters and towers like the silver Westin
hotel over an 80s Atlanta skyline, blending Flaming Lips-like synth-bass
and ebullient acoustic guitar with the rebellious joy of "Little Red
Corvette"-- and like all classic songs, it introduces new vernacular with
a genius that transcends product placement. Even indymedia.org feeders
will shout "Polaroid!" while miming spanking at this fall's Not-Dog
Of the few other tracks on The Love Below that come close to reaching "Hey
Ya!"'s apex, the one that most succeeds is "Spread", which showcases
trumpets and piano weaving through a rubber bassline and scattering
rimshots. Its chorus has Andre putting on his Camille voice, while the
verses contain some of the only moments on the album in which he actually
flows. When he does, he's tight enough to pose the question of why he
decided to cut back on rapping at all-- particularly since, frankly, he
ranks just above Pharrell Williams on the "brilliant but mosquito-throated
crooner" list. Elsewhere, the quite literal "Dracula's Wedding" boasts
guest vocalist Kelis over whistling squelches, while Norah Jones' lovely
turn on the acoustic "Take Off Your Cool" hints at the true stylistic
breadth Andre is capable of achieving. "Baby, take off your cool/ I want
to get to know you," they both sing over plucks and strums. Heed your
lyrics, Andre. (Except for that "become the master of your own bastion"
Big Boi's Speakerboxxx coolly upstages its counterpart: Although it, too,
provides the world with one earthshaking single, it differs from The Love
Below in that it also manages to maintain a consistent level of brilliance
and emotional complexity. Here, Big Boi effectively asserts himself as man
who wants both a stripper pole in his home and his nostalgic place saved
on the pew-- "Unhappy" conveys that in its beat alone! Comparing the
selection of Speakerboxxx to Andre's limper Love Below, it's clear who won
this bet: Machine-heavy, horn-driven funk stomps behind "Bowtie" and "The
Rooster"; reverberating woodblocks (a trademark Outkast signifier since
"Elevators") starkly soundtrack pondering rhymes on "Knowing"; "Church"
takes gospel into the 21st Century, accelerating aluminum Stevie Wonder
disco-pop into Teutonic techno; propulsive kickdrums pump under drunken
guitars, scratches, and a Jay-Z hook on the standout "Flip Flop Rock"; and
"Ghettomusick", the aforementioned earthshaking single, is, emotionally, a
celebration and a lament, braggadocio and beatitudes. Musically, the
record shifts from punk-cadenced, cellulite-quivering woofer booms to
three-wheeled slow-jams and back before snake-charming with George Clinton
Of course, there's one department in which neither disc succeeds: Despite
how forward-looking these albums can be, both members have failed to
envision a future without skits and intros, which make up no less than ten
of the 39 tracks here. It's one reason why Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,
like no albums before, beg to be ripped, sieved and re-sequenced. Cutting
out the dialog, along with The Love Below's silicon-smooth, Rainbow
Children-esque jazz and lulling middle-section, and Big Boi's guest-laden,
been-there street tracks, leaves one genius full-length that fits on a
Sam Smallman, Playlouder, October 5th, 2003
These are two albums, not one, but you know that. The
most celebrated Southern American hip-hop group of all time have gone
solo, together. 'Speakerboxxx' and 'The Love Below' will finally, one
thought, oust the true nature of hip-hop's odd couple. Andre 3000, legend
had it, wuz the weirdo, the right on leftie artist, and, whispered they
with the flat brims in certain circles, the possible homo. Big Boi, now he
wuz the P.I.M.P., son, the man with the "fat sacks" and "all them
Cadillacs". He pissed off straight thinking females on Outkast's
breakthrough 'Stankonia' by singing about "hoes". Dre, they said, brought
the craziness to Boi's traditional hip-hop mindset.
NOT TRUE! ANY OF IT!
Well, Boi's album is more "hip-hop". But that's where it stops.
Hear Dre holler, sweetly: "I don’t wanna move too fast/but I can't
resist/your sexy ass/just sprea-eh-ead! Spread for me!"
And hear Big Boi teaching his one year old son to rap.
On Dre's side cop brilliant male R'n'B. Male R'n'B is a pretty lame and
ugly place - plasticated, over produced bland balladry, following that
straight down R Kelly route. So it is good that Dre is holding off on the
raps here - because it gives him space to get his croon on proper… the
silky, fonky voice you recognise from all those platinum hooks gets to run
wild here, and mostly the results are wicked. It might take a few listens
to fully appreciate the joys on offer here - from the rude boy playerisms
evident on 'Spread' to 'Prototype' (far too lush soul that comes on like
Air Supply jamming with Marvin, and the immortal lines, "I think I'm in
love/again/stank you! Smelly much")... the intro alone is better than most
cat's albums. His skits are on some otherness also. Hear Andre waking up
after a one might stand and debating protocol in his mind - "act cool, act
cool... but what if... she's the one?" Catch a conversation between the
man and God about women. And cop the return of Andre's British Accent on
the humorous and sweet 'Good Sir'.
And musically? It is everywhere that fink and beauty can exist. Hs version
of 'Favourite Things' shows UK rap - hell, rap - the fuck up... where Big
Brovaz bragged about Bentleys over bullshit Irv Gotti-styled beats, Dre
turns it into a free jazz drum and bass orgy. And when we say free jazz
drum and bass we mean drum and bass-styled beats over which pianos and
horns frolic like lambs in a field on a hot day. And it is totally future.
And don't think just because he's not rapping too much it's all some soft
ladies' shit. 'She Lives In My Lap' rides coolly over a clanking tuff beat
and some jagged guitars. The aforementioned 'Spread' matches clackety
beats with rude rapping, sweet pianos, and a prohibition party time
vibe... And 'Hey Ma' pops the party like stackers.
The best bits, however come towards the end - 'Dracula' is brilliant. The
vocal performances of Dre and Kelis are both fucking beautiful. It is the
So Big Boi, unexpectedly, is the pure pop element. 'Unhappy' oozes genius.
It's like Cube's 'It Was A Good Day' now with a sense of regret and hope
that few artists ever convey effectively... 'Bowtie' hits all the
barbershop buttons that make a man scream in delight "Cadillacs! Yeah!",
and the horns parp and the ladies sing the chorus and shit, the rap busts
in and a great big grin erupts over the face of the listener. And you
heard 'The Way You Move' already, yeah? So you know... You throw bows
Kiler Mike brings the rap Andrew WK shit on 'Bust', the Outkast heavy
metal number, and 'War' is like Howard Jones and George Clinton got it on
with Plastikman, Lee Perry and The Human League.
See, sonically, it's both of them, but Boi tops it on innovation and
variety, albeit just. Techno mashes into funk and boogie and pomp rock and
gabba and breaks and Ferris doing that shit on the float and Batman and
electro and marching band stomps... and the flavouriest raps! So flavoury!
So flavoury. Outkast always were. And they continue to blossom, and bear
intoxicating and bounteous fruit. No one musical entity, or group in the
world comes close to the sum of their parts. Truly, they are on the Next.
When we come to write the big book of 21st century noise, the greatest
creations will all trace back to the attitude, and spirit, of these two
Good Ole Southern Boys - nothing is out of bounds, and all that matters is
that one executes the song (or even the essence in the spirit and style
that best suits, regardless of genre or technological constraints.
Cynthia Fuchs, Pop Matters, October 17th, 2003
Reinventing hip-hop is hard work. And yet it must be
done, if for no other reason than to repromote the idea that it's been
reinvented. Again. Once more attended by prodigious hype, OutKast's latest
release, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, right here, right now, would do well
to be even half as good as everyone apparently needs it to be. And what a
relief: with an eye toward the constant shifting of hip-hop's relations to
funk and pop, history and politics, the duo rejiggers the whole business
one more time, with a two CD set that is imperfect and ambitious,
sometimes startling and always smart.
Picture this: Eight André 3000s, performing on an Ed Sullivan throwback
stage, dressed in coordinated Kelly green costumes, smiling for screaming
girls with Polaroid cameras. He's a pop star, he's a drummer, he's a set
of three back-up singers dressed like lawn jockeys, the crowd is mad for
them. And picture this too: One Antwan (Big Boi) Patton, binoculars in
hand, scoping a prototypical African savannah, surrounded by long-legged
girls stepping through the grass like giraffes. Southern Player
appreciates the scenery as Sleepy Brown croons, "I love the way you move."
Provocative (and plain weird), these images introduce essential themes in
the double CD (two solo albums packaged for single sale) explores two
essential concepts: looking and being looked at. André, like his many
models -- from Prince to Sly Stone to Fred Astaire -- is all spectacular
spectacle, loving your look as he works out what it means to love. Antwan,
while hardly opposite (he's got the great plaid suit going on), positions
himself as shrewd spectator: as he told one CNN interviewer, he sees his
work on Speakerboxxx as similar to her own: observing and reporting.
Intertwining and interrelated, each brings a new perspective on the other.
Dropping at number one on the charts (selling some 510,000 units in the
first week, half that again the second), the CDs lean back and push
forward at the same time. Like other OutKast records, they are about
movement, over time and through space. Speed and simultaneity: honestly,
sometimes it's just hard to keep up. That's not to say that
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below moves in one direction, or even wholly
smoothly. Instead, it lurches and leaps, with mad respect paid to all
manner of evolution. In "Behold a Lady", André sings, "Today I might snow,
tomorrow I'll rain, / 3000's always changing, but you stay the same. / And
I need that, hey I need that (in my life)." Grateful to perceive the very
constancy that eludes him, he can extol his own motion while lamenting
that, as time persists, "Sad, but one day our kids will have to visit
museums / To see what a lady looks like."
In the face of loss, change fuels desire and encourages recovery. "Ready
for action, nip it in the bud, / We never relaxin, OutKast is everlastin'
/ Not clashin', not at all, / But see my nigga went to do a little actin'."
Antwan's familiar Southern-speed rap in the first single off Speakerboxx,
the thrilling "The Way You Move". Get it: there's no trouble at home, just
brotherly love and mutual appreciation. Lush and swank, the track features
trumpets (as does much of the album), alongside a sweet, swaying guitar
and sturdy bass. The video illustrates the shifting moods, beginning in an
auto garage, where big bootied girls change tires, check under hoods,
strut in hotpants for low angled cameras: "I don't have much time,"
announces the boss lady, cars are in need of service. Antwan appears in
his loudest plaid jacket, and the song commences: "We tappin' right into
your memory banks, thanks! / So click-it-or-ticket, let's see your seat
belt fastened. / Trunk rattlin', like two midgets in the backseat rasslin'
/ Speakerboxxx vibrate the tag."
The scene cuts among displays: the well-populated garage, a
coliseum-looking dance hall, that savannah where near-naked, "wild" girls
amble for Big Boi's point-of-view binocular vision. "You light me, and
excite me," offers hookmaster Sleepy Brown: time may be short, but desire
is long, and more than willing. The album's first track, "GhettoMusick",
written by Dre and bumping with get-up noise, challenges hip-hop's current
norming of ghetto roots (claim realness by getting out of the projects and
back into trouble): "He from the dirt, now here come the paranoia, /
Although you couldn't have jacked the disrespect." Sampling from Patti
LaBelle ("I just want you to know how I feel"), the song reflects on the
meanings of surfaces and the values of communication. Or again, on
"Church", against a rousing gospel chorus, Antwan urges care and
repentance: "Talk to the coach or break out the huddle, / Whatever. Should
you fumble, your rebuttal should be subtle, / Cause he who lives in the
upper room is never gullible."
Produced by Antwan, Mr. DJ, Carl Mo, and André, much of Speakerboxxx
resembles other hip-hop records, down to the big-deal guests (Ludacris, a
lazy Jay-Z, Killer Mike, Cee-Lo and Khujo Goodie, as well as Antwan's
three-year-old son, Bamboo, who appears in an "Interlude", ready, he says,
"to do rap", that is, a baby-cover of "The Whole World" (when Bamboo says
he wants to do Michael Jackson next, daddy schools him: "Not on my record,
you ain't doing no Michael Jackson"). Luda's contribution, on "Tomb of the
Boom", is cleverest of the guests ("Y'all driving Subarus, stuck in your
cubicles, / I'm stuck in the air with weed crumbs under my cuticles"), but
Antwan just has ideas for days (and still more ruminations on football):
"Should I take the three point field goal for the score? / Or should I
roll around and take / The ball up the middle, up the gut, the what? / The
hole, cranium overload, overthrowed. / Now we got seven more points on the
board, fa sho."
On "War", Antwan lays out his version of CNN: "I refuse to sit in the
backseat and get handled / Like I do nothin' all day but sit around, watch
the Cartoon Channel. / I rap about the Presidential election and the
scandal that followed, / And we all watched the nation, as it swallowed
and chalked it up. / Basically, America you got fucked, / The media
shucked and jived, now we stuck: damn!" Though he's looking hard at the
world around him, Antwan isn't offering a means to get unstuck; still, the
critique is welcome, as OutKast and hip-hop activists get down to the
business of engaging change.
Also about change, but in a more intimate sense, The Love Below is the
roundabout result of a movie soundtrack that lost its movie. (In "Love in
War", for instance, he muses, "These ain't the times to be alone, cliché,
the end is near / Cliché, the end is near, / Cliché, the end is / Quickly
approaching while we carry on.") Initiated as André's solo project, the CD
turned into constructive inspiration for Antwan's own CD. The first track,
"Love Hater", swings into action, with lush coordination of
piano-guitar-high-hat and lyrics as cautionary as they are celebratory:
"Everybody needs a glass of water today / To chase the hate away." By way
of jumpstarting the festivities to come, he imagines preparations ("You
know you've got company comin' over. / You scrub extra-hard" before he
cuts loose with the point: "And everybody needs somebody to love, / Before
it's too late, / It's too laaaaate, oh. / Don't nobody wanna grow old
alone!" Love is about the fear of being alone, the rush headlong. You must
"Cupid Valentine", as André calls himself on "Happy Valentine's Day",
urges loving love at least for the moment, when fluids flourish and eyes
burn, as they say, bright. (For "Pink & Blue", he sings -- following a
scratch sample of "Age ain't nothin' but a number" -- "You could have been
born a little later, but I don't care. / So what if your head sports a
couple of gray hairs? / Same here, and actually I think that's funky / [In
a Claire Huxtable type way].") For André (as you know), love forever, for
ever ever, that's a test, and disquieting. Rosario Dawson (recalling her
scariest, He Got Game-iest incarnation) introduces "She Lives in My Lap",
threatening and soliciting: "What's wrong? What are you afraid of? / The
Love Below." And above and all around. "She lives in my lap," sings Andre,
"Forever my fiancée" (that is, never the wife, always the adoring,
anticipating wife to be -- sorry, Ms. Jackson).
The CD includes a drum'n'bass cover of "My Favorite Things", by way of
transition between "Dracula's Wedding" (with Kelis, who sings, so
pleasingly, "Give me the chance to dance romance. / Don't run, I'm not the
sun. / So much at stake . . . oh!") and "Baby Take Off Your Cool" (with
Norah Jones: "Baby, take off your cool, / I want to get to know you" --
she's never sounded so cool, frankly).
Even the interludes do work on this album (this from someone with little
patience for filler-skits). "Good Day, Good Sir" features a two-character
exchange of the "Who's on first?" variety, with each trying to decipher
the other's identity. Mr. Bentley Farnsworth, a fiddler ("on the fuckin'
roof") is questioned by a passer-by, who observes that he looks "fine."
Fantastically well I am, certainly not Fine by far, but you could say I'm
close to spectacular." When asked what he means, Farnsworth exclaims,
"Open your eyes: spectacular's right in front of you." Fine, it turns out,
is on her way over. And beauty -- fineness, fantastic wellness, or even
spectacularity -- is in the eye of the beholder.
Like Prince (to whom he has often been compared, and who has conjured his
own grand concept-soundtrack albums [Batman and Girl 6]), André
understands lust and appreciates the humor of sex, he embraces bodies and
beats, comprehending their continuity, welcoming their comedy. The back of
the CD features a photo of André with a bracelet of pearls and smoking
pink gun (recalling, yet again, Prince in his "Sexy MF" phase), the front
has him posed in brilliant red plaid under the Eiffel Tower. "Hey Ya!",
The Love Below's brilliantly rousing first single, is a rush about romance
at its poppiest, sweetest, and most enthralling: "My baby don't mess
around / Because she loves me so," it begins. "And this I know fo shooo .
. . / Uh, But does she really wanna? / But can't stand to see me / Walk
out the dooo . . ." Laced through with contradictions and fantasies, hopes
and losses, the track pulses with pleasure and doubt reconsideration (and
the pleasure of doubt).
Here as elsewhere, André (the persona, the mirror image) swaggers and
swoons at once, spazzy with electrifying multiplicity. Indeed, the Bryan
Barber video for "Hey Ya!" evokes but also changes up the Beatles when
they first appeared on U.S. TV. Introduced by "manager" Antwan ("This is
hope money," he warns, "I hope you get out there and do your thing. Don't
mess it up for everybody"), the video features an eight-man act, all
individuals played by André: acoustic guitarist Johnny Vulture; a backup
trio called the Love Haters; bassist Possum Jenkins, with white go-go hat;
striped-tied keyboardist Benjamin Andre; shirtless drummer Dookie
Blasingame; and vivacious lead singer Ice Cold 3000. Girls shriek and snap
Polaroids, vintage TV monitors reproduce and refract the show, all the
layers suggesting the complications of pop cultured music -- by creators
and consumers alike. The song is unstoppable ("Lend me some sugar," he
cries, "I am your neighbor!" just before name-checking Beyoncé and Lucy
Liu), the love self-perpetuating. "Now what's cooler than bein' cool?"
While André doesn't protest so much as his partner concerning the group's
long-rumored, ever-imminent breakup, he also spends so much time looking
at himself, and imagining others looking at him, that the CDs speak to one
another as if from slightly skewed angles. Their differences are telling
and energizing; like motivating mirrors for one another, they provide
frames through which the artists can see and be seen. Incorrigible
rummagers and rearrangers, OutKast comes together and apart in ways that
are, as yet, relentlessly inventive. You can't hardly look away. "Shake it
like a Polaroid picture," sings André/Ice Cold 3000 at the end of "Hey Ya!"
It -- whatever you want it to be -- comes into focus as you look,
simultaneously rewarding your gaze and making you want more.
Jon Caramanica, Rolling Stone, Issue
933, October 16, 2003
OutKast's Big Boi sees the sharks
circling, sniffing for blood. On "Tomb of the Boom," from his half of the
duo's new album, he raps, "They say, 'Big Boi, can you pull it off without
your nigga Dre?'/I say, 'People, stop the madness, 'cause me and Dre be
When OutKast first hit in the early Nineties, they were like-minded
neighborhood intellectuals, and the most creative, if often unlikely,
pairing in rap -- a street-savvy hustler (Antwan "Big Boi" Patton) and a
poet on a perpetual mission of self-discovery (Andre "Andre 3000"
Benjamin). The tag-team rhyming and easy-Sunday soul of their 1994 debut,
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, showed that Southern hip-hop could be
more than booty talk and rote gangsterism. In time, though, the seams that
held them together began to fray. 1998's aquatic-funk attack Aquemini was
their first masterpiece, but it was also the first time Big Boi and Andre
felt palpably out of step, with flamboyant risk-taker Dre sitting out a
couple of his partner's rougher numbers. By the time of 2000's whip-smart
Stankonia, the most expansive and promising black pop record of the last
decade, Big Boi had taken a big artistic leap forward, only to find that
Dre was practically off the map. There they are on the album's back cover:
Big Boi defiant in a Cubs throwback jersey and a mild blowout Afro, Andre
in Hendrix head wrap and bandleader uniform, laughing at a joke it's
likely no one else in the room -- or the world, for that matter -- hears.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, their fifth album, is as divided as its
title: two separate discs -- the former by Big Boi, the latter by Dre --
packaged together. On Speakerboxxx, Big Boi continues exploring the
future-crunk OutKast perfected on Stankonia -- bubbling psych-soul on the
politically minded "War," minimalist 808 electro on the outstanding "The
Way You Move." Perhaps not surprisingly, many of Speakerboxxx's best beats
are Andre's: "Ghetto Musick" resembles the fight song of an
Afro-psychedelic superhero, and "Last Call" is punctuated with maniacally
stabbing horns and what sounds like a theremin gone wild. But Speakerboxxx
doesn't quite achieve the transcendence of Stankonia -- the hooks aren't
there, and neither is their earlier albums' sense of risk and possibility.
Andre's The Love Below, on the other hand, is all about disorder. Below
wants to be Prince's Lovesexy, but even more unhinged. He almost
exclusively sings, often in falsetto ("Love Hater"), occasionally like an
eight-year-old at a family holiday party ("She's Alive"). On the beguiling
"Hey Ya!" he yaps like an indie-rock Little Richard over a breezy Abbey
Road arrangement. Sometimes Andre's sonic guesswork is genius -- he holds
his own alongside Norah Jones on the lithe duet "Take Off Your Cool" (and
plays guitar to boot) -- but not all the accidents on The Love Below are
happy. Often Andre sounds like he's trying to make an album that's more
eccentric than he actually is -- and that's saying a lot.
Each of these albums is as noteworthy for what's missing as for what's
there. Big Boi is trying to shoulder the burden of OutKast on Speakerboxxx
-- to essentially re-create the group on his own. With The Love Below,
Andre 3000 has packed up what he wanted to keep from the group (the right
to be peculiar in a hip-hop context), slung it over his shoulder and
headed out toward parts unknown. "Today I might snow/Tomorrow I'll rain,"
Andre croons on "Behold a Lady." "3000 is always changing/But you stay the
Laurence Station & Kevin
Forest Moreau, Shaking Through. net
The Great Divide
by Laurence Station
Where The Love Below finds Andre 3000 going it primarily alone, following
his Prince/George Clinton/Beatlesesque-psychedelic love-jones to its
logically illogical conclusion, Speakerboxxx finds Big Boi, the more
earthbound of the OutKast braintrust, sticking with tried-and-true hip-hop
formula: The all-star cast of rappers overwhelming whatever deficiencies
one single rapper might possess. Big Boi certainly doesn't lack the skills
or confidence to go it solo, but one can't overlook the talented
heavyweights bolstering his rapid, rough-hewn rhymes. From household names
Jay-Z and Ludacris to up-and-coming rhyme-slingers Killer Mike and Mello,
Speakerboxxx overflows with a wildly diverse cast of vocal stylists (and
sharp, imaginatively inventive beats).
When this smorgasbord of flavors works (and it certainly hits more often
than it misses), Speakerboxxx is as exciting and expressive as any album
released this year. The hyperactive, wildly schizophrenic "GhettoMusick"
sets the tone early, from the volatile torrent of Big Boi's machine-gun
delivery to the tension-balancing sample of Patti LaBelle's "Love, Need &
Want You." It's to Speakerboxxx what "Gasoline Dreams" was to Stankonia --
a potent, infectiously hook-laden opening shot. Equally impressive is the
Gangsta Mack tribute "Bowtie," utilizing an appropriately big-noise brass
section and Sleepy Brown's smooth flow. "War" allows Big Boi to get off
his dance floor platforms and onto a soapbox as he criticizes everything
from the post-9/11 loss of freedoms to the contested 2000 Presidential
election. In the midst of so many songs about getting one's groove on and
the importance of looking good in the 'hood, Big Boi promises to "always
bring food for thought to the table." And instead of coming off as preachy
or self-important, his stab at politically charged commentary blends into
the overall mix refreshingly well.
Speakerboxxx flounders when it overplays the trite macho posturing angle
("Tomb of the Boom") or indulges in pointless nepotism ("Bamboo
(Interlude)" -- wherein Big Boi's young son gets his shot at hamming it up
for the mic). But the overall freshness and consistency of the heavy bass
and horn-backed sound ties the nineteen selections together nicely, and at
just under an hour, it never feels top heavy or padded with filler, as so
many rap albums regrettably do.
Big Boi cranks his Speakerboxxx up in the same East Point neighborhoods
that inspired back-to-back masterpieces Aquemini and Stankonia. And while
it may lack the unpredictable P-funk edge Andre 3000 brought to the table
on those efforts, in keeping it real and paying its debt to hip hop
culture, Speakerboxxx stacks up as a worthy addition to the impressive
The Love Below, by Kevin Forest Moreau
There's a school of thought that attributes the success of the Beatles
solely to the contributions of John Lennon. Paul McCartney, adherents of
this school insist, was the sappy, "boring" (read: traditional) Beatle;
only Lennon's more flamboyant and gritty edges, they say, saved the duo's
collaborations from well-executed mediocrity. It's instructive to bear
this argument in mind when digesting The Love Below, unquestionably the
more aggressive and adventurous half of OutKast's double-solo-album
tandem. Because like much of Lennon's solo work, The Love Below finds
Andre in sore need of an editor to exert some discipline over his rampant,
attention-starved Id, and makes a strong case for just why the revered
Atlanta pair is much stronger than the sum of its individual parts.
It's tempting to compare Andre's work here (as many critics have done) to
Prince, whose yin-yang duality of sexual aggression and emotional yearning
is indeed strongly echoed here. Prince, however, built a legacy not just
on cult of personality but on songwriting, a skill set in which Andre
proves sorely lacking. The Love Below's liquid, freeform vibe takes its
structural cues from past OutKast records, where the loose grooves that
permeate hip-hop held more sway. But the rambling sprawl of "Happy
Valentine's Day," "Prototype" and "Behold a Lady" suggest a performer
perhaps a bit too caught up in his creative urges, unable or unwilling to
apply the elbow grease to expand the tracks beyond repetitive showcases
for his inventive freakout aesthetic. The 1% inspiration is definitely
present: the 99% perspiration... well, that's not so evident.
Not that there aren't moments where Andre's hyperactive muse scores big.
Lead-off single "Hey Ya!" is a tight, insistent blast of summertime radio
frolic; the lounge-ballad pastiche "Take Off Your Cool" (a debut with
Norah Jones) is an effective exercise in genre immersion; and a spirited
instrumental version of "My Favorite Things" is an impressive burst of
jazzy proficiency. "She's Alive," meanwhile, starts off strong, but its
stab at relevant lyricism (addressing the toils of single motherhood)
loses steam about halfway through. It's as if being serious proves so
taxing for Andre that he can't harness his talent for freshness to breathe
life into the song.
At least, it's certainly clear that being less than focused, musically and
lyrically, comes easier to Andre here. From belabored skits like "Where
Are My Panties" and "God (Interlude)" to the inane "She Lives in My Lap,"
the eye-rolling "Spread" and the faintly intriguing "Dracula's Wedding"
(which uses vampirism as a clunky metaphor for male fear of commitment),
it's clear that Andre (apparently feeling his oats after a split from
Erykah Badu) confuses sexual candor (and immaturity) with insight. (Let us
quickly forget the regrettable "poo-poo" references of the
While these moments might prove fascinating to Andre's analyst, for the
rest of us, they show an artist still struggling with the confines of his
art. The Love Below doesn't break or ignore genre rules so much as it
loses interest in them, enthralled as it is with its own "daring" in
laying bare Andre's inner sexual pathos. Unfortunately, Attention Deficit
Disorder just isn't a workable substitute for craft, nor is a
preoccupation with sex (and the scary concept of commitment) quite the
same as art. Who knew that Big Boi, the rapper with a stripper's pole in
his den, would prove OutKast's stabilizing influence?
Nick Southall, Stylus Magazine, September 23, 2003
Dre, a.k.a. Andre 3000, a.k.a. Andre Lauren Benjamin,
says he’s run out of ways to express himself via hip hop. Big Boi, a.k.a.
Antwan Andre Patton, says he hasn’t.
It’s difficult to comprehend just how much Outkast have done in the last
ten years, and not just what they’ve done for hip hop. Because it’s no
longer about just hip-hop, make no mistake. People think it was Stankonia
that broadened horizons, that broke them into new creative ground, but all
that (stupendous) album is, really, is a continuation of what they’d
already started on their previous three records. If anything Aquemini is
better than Stankonia, a more complete realisation of an aesthetic (and
what an aesthetic!), more consistent, less indulgent, and just as loaded
with wild hooks and genius rhymes. But anyway, I digress. This is all talk
of the past. Outkast in 2003 are about the future.
Not that it looks very bright, because Speakerboxxx/The Love Below isn’t a
double album according to any normal understanding of the concept. Rather
Big Boi and Dre have delivered two distinct solo albums under the Outkast
moniker, their union perhaps a cynical marketing push to increase sales,
as post-split solo ventures by either half of the duo would be bound to
flounder commercially. Seen together they remind me of two other bloated,
career-crumbling epics; The Beatles’ eponymous white album and The Clash’s
Sandinista!. The former is the work of four discontented individuals
pulling a band apart at the seams as they pursue their own visions, while
the latter is the sound of a supremely talented group believing their own
hype, the end product resultantly distended and foolishly ambitious.
Despite Big Boi’s protestation that Outkast “ain’t no uno / we a duo”
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, at 39 tracks and 140 minutes, could be said
to suffer from the ills of both.
Seen separately, Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx is an album of progressive, p-funk
influenced southern hip hop, a continuation of the Atliens, Aquemini,
Stankonia sequence, perhaps lacking the unpredictable synergistic spark of
previous albums but still classy, funky and hook-laden. The Love Below,
unsurprisingly, is a different beast altogether, Dre’s frustration with
the limitations of hip hop driving him into wide new sonic territories, a
semi-concept album in debt to Prince, Coltrane, D’Angelo and Frank Black.
So far, so (un)predictable. It will come as no surprise either to learn
that Big Boi’s disc is the more consistent of the two, or that Dre’s is
the most inspired.
Taken together, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a series of spectacular
moments and memorable events. In an album of this size and breadth the
highlights become all the more important, emerging like beacons of quality
in a fog of filler. And what highlights they are! Big Boi begins his
proceedings with the outrageous acid-funk of “Ghettomusick,” 1000 mile per
hour breaks crashing into laconic Patti LaBelle samples, Dre’s
helium-soaked voice popping up in the bridge/chorus/slow bit, one of the
few collaborations on the album(s). It makes “B.O.B” sound sane.
Speakerboxx also excels with the sweet, existential “Unhappy” (“might as
well have fun cos your happiness is done and your goose is cooked”), the
irresistible horn-led funkiness of “Bowtie” and the low key groove of
“Reset”. Jay-Z drops by for “Flip Flop Rock”, a slice of exquisite hip-hop
built on a springy guitar loop, some hyper-scratching and a beatific piano
roll, while “The Way You Move” is Spanish-inflected r’n’b dancefloor-fodder
of the highest quality. The rest of Speakerboxxx is consistent and
unremarkable, even the skits lacking that certain something to mark them
The Love Below, on the other hand, is a sonnet cycle about falling in
love. No, really. A modern day, hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic
psychedelic-pop-funk-electro-jazz sonnet cycle with no regard for iambic
pentameters or 14-line rhyme schemes put together by an estranged vegan
hip-hop superhero, certainly, but you get what I mean. Loosely the binding
concept is about the romantic imperative at the heart of hedonism; or,
finding love amongst the madness, where you least expected it. Discovering
that the one-night-stand you never expected to lead to anything is
actually your introduction to the one. Or something. (The “Where Are My
Panties?” skit expresses it much better than I ever could.) So we wade
through exquisite, commercialism-masquerading-as-love-baiting Prince
workouts (“Happy Valentine’s Day”), lurid and lucid future-funk r’n’b
psyche (“She Lives In My Lap”), lounge-jazz noise-rock easy listening
(“Love Hater”), catchy pseudo-drum’n’bass odes to anal sex (“Spread”),
duets with Norah Jones, songs about vampires falling in love (featuring
Kelis), risible drum’n’bass covers (“My Favourite Things” – wisely
unlisted), moody, sparse-jazz-tinged ruminations on onanism (“Vibrate”),
skittish, falsetto-laden electro-minimalism (“She’s Alive”) and two of the
best things Outkast have ever recorded (the blissful Prince slink of
“Prototype” and the Frank Black-goes-psyche-funk-power-pop of “Hey Ya”)
and come to some kind of conclusion with “A Life In The Day Of Benjamin
Andre (Incomplete)”, in which Dre tells the story of how he got here,
You could of course, if you like, rip the best tracks from each album and
burn them together into some kind of RIAA-baiting SuperLoveBoxxx CDR that
creams all opposition with its x-ray vision, amazing strength and ability
to leap multiple genres in a single bound, but that would be missing the
point. Life, like hip-hop, is a messy, ever-evolving process, with peaks,
troughs, and long passages where you’re not really sure what happened.
From comic-book heroes to guardians of black America, Outkast have come a
long way in the last decade. Whether they’ll go much further together is a
matter for debate, but where they are now is a frustratingly sublime and
Greg Tate, The Village Voice, October 1-7, 2003
Love and Crunk
Rowdy Big Boi and fly Andre 3000 divide and conquer the
Dirty South book of hiphop rules.
Six hot jawns into the game, the release of any OutKast album is an Event.
They've given us the most scrumptious moments counter-nihilistic hiphop
has offered in recent memory. But none has loomed as more Event-ful than
Speakerboxx/The Love Below, because it may also be the group's last. This
time the OutKast banner flies over two solo albums:
The first in jewel-box order by the rowdy and irrepressible Big Boi, the
second by the belovedly fly eccentric Andre 3000, latest link in a lengthy
chain of supersoulful African American eccentrics stretching from Charley
Patton and Jelly Roll Morton to Andre's guiding light in eclectic
negritude, Prince. All folk who wielded weirdness like a scalpel, albeit
one that carves order out of the cosmic slop of their free-associative
Since hiphop is now the Kmart of the American id, where our dark and
unconscious shit turns into shinola, we need its democratic ideals to be
messy. The Roots' Ahmir Thompson credits crack for the genius of '80s
hiphop music, and faults Bill Clinton for the generally agreed suckitude
of the music's '90s genus. Fair enough, but Bill Clinton also presided
over the rise of hiphop's Dirty South oligarchies, an apt legacy for the
country prez who whipped his dick out in the Oval Office. Just as dirty
Bill kept the White House close to the outhouse, Southern hiphop's
progressive wing was sustaining the tradition of brain-teasing verbal
panache and shock-of-the-new funk we once snootily considered the sole
province of us uppity upsouth cosmopolite muhfuhs. They also proved you
could keep it thoughtful and pimpstrollful, goofball and gangsta,
conspiracy-theoried and crunk. Being Dirty Southern means never having to
say you're sorry for Master P or The Matrix Reloaded.
No, we ain't about to get it twisted. We know that in the rhyme-soloist MC
gladiator arena New York, home of J-hova, Nas, L.L., and DMX, 50 Cent
still rules the roost. But if you the kind that needs that good old P-Funk
freaknigga headcharge in your modern-day life, OutKast has been your
hiphop band for more than a minute. I'm talking about BASS. And Brides of
Funkenstein girlchorus moments. And those Blackbyrd McKnight-style guitar
fusillades tearing through "Bombs Over Baghdad." And all those
insouciantly inscrutable bootysnatching lyrics to go. Not to mention
hiphop's only rockstar, our best-dressed clown prince of phools, Andre
3000, as much a vision to behold as a voice to be heard. Role play becomes
him. Inside the new album you'll find flicks of him seminude, Dionysian
centaur dude surrounded by a bevy of browngirl space angels in an
astrological space-time continuum. Worth the price of the ticket if you
already think Andre's a god.
If you worship at other altars, know that Mr. 3000 talks more than he
rhymes on The Love Below
and sings profusely about Love. About Cupid and Valentine's Day and
"Dracula's Wedding Day" and "Love Hater" and "Love in War" and our
romantic hero's love for ladies, lap dancers, unicorns, and prototypes.
There's lotsa love and nostalgia in the music too: a drunken Art Ensemble
of Chicago swing thing here, an Earth Wind and Fire torchsong there, a
punk rockabilly stomp, the ever Princely combo of swooping symphony and
gooseneck woodblock beats, and an instrumental jungle variation on
Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" up in here. One sexy, smart, stylish,
tuneful, and above all silly record for starters—Andre Benjamin 3000 in a
nutshell, in excelsis, in spades. Cutting to the chase: If the very
thought of Andre or Gilbert and Sullivan doesn't make you smile, The Love
Below might not be your cup of topsy-turvy ambrosia, bojangles, and
laughing gas. It's a concept album and there's supposed to be a movie
version next year. Yay.
In any other group Speakerboxx would be the box Andre decided to start
thinking outside of. But there's plenty room in Big Boi's house for the
Andre Benjamins of this world as well as Ludicris, Jay-Z, Big Gipp, Killer
Mike, Cee-Lo, Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, and Slimm Calhouns. You
could hear the Big Boi disc as providing coverage for Dre the ATLien's
spacecase act of fey bravery in the unfrilly world of Southern rap. But
Mr. Boi more than expoobidently holds it down for all those OutKast
fanatics not quite ready to join Mr. 3000 in the elysian fields of romance
in psychedelic Tin Pan Alley, and proves himself no slouch with the
freakness either. And Dre, still by his brother's side contrary to
band-breaking-up-yo theory, produces and rhymes on the 120-bpm Eurodisco-turns-swooning-Patti
Labelle sampling track that is Speakerboxx's first cut and graces three
more before album's end.
Where Dre twists Prince remnants to his own astroboyish amorous ends, Big
Boi holds up OutKast's P-Funk revival tent. "Bowtie" is very
Gloryhallastoopid, "The Rooster" could find a home on Motor-Booty Affair,
the crunkadelic Killer Mike cameo "Bust" is some Standing on the Verge for
your shelf ass while Trombipulation could have used the fetching "Church."
No copycatting here, though. George Clinton and company's best ideas,
especially the harmonic ones, have been needing a change of venue. They've
been barely touched let alone exhausted by G-funk. And never fear: Big Boi
also maintains Uncle Jam and the OutKast of yesteryear's ghettocentric
take on world politrix. Suckas will bounce.
Dan Leroy, Yahoo! Music, September 18, 2003
Even for OutKast, who've given hip-hop a new language of
flamboyance and ambition, packaging two solo albums as a nearly 40-track
double seems excessive. In practice, though, it was the only avenue left
for a restless duo committed to upping the ante with each release, even if
this one won't satisfy fans knocked out by the genre-bending perfection of
The short, superficial take is that dividing Big Boi and Dre provides the
former a chance to explore his Southern rap roots, and the latter an
opportunity to go buck wild. That's especially true on The Love Below,
which finds Dre unleashing his every Princely impulse; the result has the
manic brilliance and maddening digressions--from Beatles jangle to
continental jazz--of many a Purple platter. Abandoning rhymes for a
substandard croon, Dre compensates with guitar-based experiments ("Hey Ya!"
and "Roses") with charm and catchiness that can't be denied.
Yet while not as exhilarating (except on the techno-crunk monster "Ghettomusick"),
Speakerboxxx mirrors its less-flashy creator and emerges as the more
substantial listen. A refinement of OutKast's deep-fried but futuristic
funk, its hooks, horns, and bounce make it seem a respectable successor to
Stankonia, even though Big Boi's everythug tales sometimes miss Dre's
off-the-wall spark. Combining the two discs might have insured an
unbeatable follow-up; however, the flawed, fascinating separation reveals
what makes this partnership so special.
Angus Batey, Yahoo UK & Irel.,
September 30, 2003
In the decade since beginning their
singular journey to beyond the boundaries of what hip hop could deliver,
Antwan 'Big Boi' Patton and Andre 'Dre 3000' Benjamin have seemed
inseparable, counterbalancing parts of the same unified whole. But here
they are, a double CD set essentially splitting the duo down the middle,
delivering a disc-length missive apiece from the musical worlds each now
seem to separately inhabit.
You have to deal in over-simplifications if you want to discuss this
amazing record in less than a book-length format. So think of 'Speakerboxxx'
as 'Stankonia' Part 2, and 'The Love Below' as Dre does Prince. But
there's much more to 'The Love Below' than Dre's ambitions beyond hip hop,
and much more to 'Speakerboxxx' than Big's attempts to make hip hop
encompass more than it already does.
The sticker that appeared on the cover of their third album, 'Aquemini',
hailed "the poet" and "the playa". Conventional wisdom has always had it
that bohemian, loud-dressing Dre is the former, and Big Boi, with his
penchant for pole dance clubs and pit bull breeding is the latter. 'Speakerboxxx
/ The Love Below' turns this theory on its head. Dre deals in
relationships, sex and emotions, while Big Boi gets political and
personal. The poet pens lines like: "I don't want to move too fast / but
can't resist your sexy ass / Just spread, spread for me," while the playa
blasts: "I refuse to sit in the backseat and get handled / Like I do
nothing all day but sit around and watch the Cartoon Channel."
You can put these discs on random select and, while you'll often be able
to tell whose disc a track comes from, they're still inseparable when it
comes to quality. Some highlights: 'The Way You Move', from 'Speakerboxxx',
is hilarious, a rap salsa with lascivious verses and syrupy choruses. 'Hey
Ya', from 'The Love Below', is an almost Beatlesesque strumalong, framing
a lyric of unapologetic lust. 'Ghettomusick', one of four tracks where the
pair worked together, is a riot of steel-hard disco and mental sampled
soul drop-outs. 'Love Hater' (Dre) is a cocktail lounge jazz excursion,
'Church' (Big) a gospel-laden affirmation of faith in a higher power.
Splitting their creativity apart has, in fact, revealed Dre and Big to
have their own internal, self-contained checks and balances. They are both
men capable, it would appear, of doing anything in the world of music they
could possibly think of trying. Their records sound very different, but
they're both astounding. And they're both still out there, on that journey
to the limits of what you, me, or they think could happen next. Praise be.