ATLiens, Outkast

ATLiens, Outkast

LaFace / Arista, 1996

Today we tend to forget that OutKast is a duo created by accident. As West Coast rap became established on the rap map, it was Altanta’s turn to gain respect in New York. Sure, there were already rappers in Atlanta, Arrested Development or Another Bad Creation to name a few, but the city’s reputation on the mainstream scene was yet to be established. LaFace went looking for a duo of effective rappers, they found Big Boi and André 3000 and merged them into a group to form OutKast. After the success of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik in 1992 and their single Player’s Ballin, an album that was both creative and rooted in the roots of Southern music, the record company offered the duo more musical freedom and budget.

The two rappers recast their images, abandoning the Southern ghetto life style they became known for. They each adopted a more eccentric style, especially in their clothing, particularly Andre 3000. With more money, the duo acquires better equipment and starts to produce themselves with techniques learned from their colleagues of the Dungeon Family, Oganized Noize. They abandon samples in favor of live instruments, with a will to create a music reflecting their identity and their personality. 

Big Boi

I feel like you cheat the listener when you sample. If it’s an old school jam, leave it to the old. We wanna have our own school of music

Free of all artistic constraints, the duo leaves room for their eccentricity. Without denying their southern roots, they drop the festive South Rap to embody more futuristic characters, landing from space: the ATLiens. And the cover is the first eccentricity of the album. The two rappers appear in a hostile futuristic world, ready to fight to escape. A metaphor showing the group’s desire to escape the fierce neighborhoods of Atlanta and fly to an artistic and spiritual freedom. The introduction You May Die can be interpreted as the death of their old characters for a new identity.

The production is full of powerful echoes and reverberations and sounds mystical. A void seems to be created around us to plunge us into the depths of space, into a sidereal void. Organized Noize is still in charge of most of the production and brings the funky side of southern rap that we find on Two Dope Boyz. The chaotic loops with throbbing bass grooves and neck-slapping drums are definitely Organized Noize’s doing. While the slower, spacey production tracks are Outkast with Mr. DJ’s creation.

The album is still inspired by George Clinton’s Hard Funk rhythms, but Outkast uses a softer and more mystical style with multiple influences ranging from Reggae, Dub to Gospel. Elevators’ atmospheric production really gives us the feeling of soaring, the same way the band soars above the streets of Atlanta for fame. Even more eccentric, the absence of drums on E.T. Extraterrestrial leaves us in an unreal space-time, as if time has stopped. Mainstream plunges us into melancholy while ATLiens takes us to an alien party with a robotic voice.

While there are plenty of references to Southern culture, especially on Two Dope Boyz, Big Boi and Andre 3000 tackle less conventional topics for Hip Hop ranging from tales of urban life to extraterrestrial life and intergalactic travel. On Jazze Belle, the duo proclaims that they are looking for smart, interesting women, not brainless kids. On Babylon, André 3000 meditates on the prohibitions of religion on sex, and in particular his forbidden attractions linked to his education during his childhood. The final track is a reflection on the passage of time and aging, which finally brings us back to earth to conclude this journey outside of time.

Big Boi

you weapon and it’s depressin, they’re diggin up in your thighs
leavin deposits keep your closets open not your boots and drawers

Outkast signs an album marking a turning point in their career, drawing little by little their musical identity and their creative geniuses, which they will exploit all the more thereafter, sometimes at the boundaries of rap. Their refusal to be conventional is all to their credit. The depth of ATLiens propels us in space, in a journey outside of time. A trip that should not be missed.

By Grégoire Zasa

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