Having sold over 25 million copies of their eight studio albums (hang on – 25 million), won 6 grammy awards among countless others and voted Pitchfork’s song of the decade for ‘B.O.B.’ OUTKAST ‘s position as golden boys of quirky, progressive, ‘hip-pop’ is undisputed.
But for those who didn’t grow up with MTV in the early noughties (and therefore missed the back to back rotation of ‘Ms. Jackson’, ‘Hey Ya’, ‘Roses’, and ‘The Way You Move’), Andre ‘3000’ Benjamin and Antwan ‘Big Boi’ Patton have consistently released music that sounds genuinely unlike their contemporaries. Whilst mainstream commercial success – a considerable feat for any rap outfit – arrived on the back of Stankonia (2000) and double album Speakerboxx / The Love Below (2003), the pair were still teenagers when they released their first LP, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994).
Having met at Atlanta’s Tri-cities High School in the early 1990s through a shared interest in ‘freestyling, clothes and music’, throughout the decade the duo developed a style synonymous with the leftfield and progressive. Drawing heavily on the afrocentric psychedelics of George Clinton and Sly Stone, their sound blended funk and Southern bump with jazz, electro, even spoken word poetry, to create a sound distinctive both in its eclecticism as well as lyrical dexterity.
Atliens (1996) and Aquemini (1998) showcased the duo’s progression into one of the most imaginative and musically ambitious groups of the decade, but it wasn’t until the release of Stankonia (2000) that their truly original musical vision was rewarded with crossover success. And yet it was a rather unconventional collection of singles that catapulted Outkast into the mainstream – the high tempo jungle-influenced ‘B.O.B.’ (‘Bombs Over Baghdad’), the beat-heavy, divorce-themed, pop hooky ‘Ms. Jackson’ and the laid back, fast-rapping ‘So Fresh So Clean’.
But then much of Outkast’s success appears closely linked to their eclecticism and exploration of the unusual and kooky. Indeed, Speakerboxx / The Love Below (2003) could be considered one of the most un-poppy and leftfield records to capture the popular imagination so strikingly. Where else but on an Outkast record would you expect to find ethereal dream-pop psychedelia (‘Prototype‘ ) paired nonchalantly alongside boisterous, big-beats and screaming horn sections (‘The Rooster’ or ‘Ghettomusik’)? Or a hooky acoustic pop song (‘Hey Ya!’) alongside two short monologues from a boy and a girl waking up in bed together after a night of drunken sex (‘The Morning After’)?
But then the house of Outkast is built one central unconventional pairing in ‘Big Boi’ and Andre ‘3000’ – the former the macho man big beat creator and Andre the agile word-wielding dandy; the purveyor of dirty south rhythms and the garish modern day p-funk eccentric. Theirs is a magnetic dynamic – tightly pulled together at times and seemingly repelling each other at others (as was the case with SpeakerBoxx / The Love Below: presented, essentially, as two solo albums). And their formula for success? Really there is little of the formulaic about Outkast, but theirs is a non-formula that works: Respect people’s capacity for appreciating imaginative, progressive, fearless music and make lots of it.
Have a listen to our Outkast playlist here and feel free to peruse some of our favourite videos of theirs..
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