Tuesday, October 9, 2007

[052] Stankonia

Album: Stankonia
Artist: Outkast
Release Date: October 2000
Label: LaFace/Arista
Producers: Earthtone III (Outkast & David Sheats) & Organized Noize

"I met a critic, I made her shit her drawers,
She said she thought Hip-Hop was only guns and alcohol;
I said, "Oh hell naw", but yet it's that too,
You can't discrimi-hate because you done read a book or two."
- Andre 3000, from "Humble Mumble"

It begins, "Live, from the center of the Earth. Seven light years below sea level we go. Welcome to Stankonia, the place from which all funky things come." You find another Hip-Hop album from the modern American South that is looking that far into Science Fiction, you let me know. With 1998's classic Aquemini, Outkast provided the Dirty South a defining masterpiece, one that at this rate, judging by the unfortunate downward spiral of creativity, will never be topped. For their next trick, Outkast got P-Funk's spaceship out of repossession, slapped some rims on it, and took it underground to Stankonia. Really, it was mostly Atlanta through Andre 3000's star-shaped glasses, but there had never been anything like this ever in Rap music. Mining the valuable minerals of George Clinton's funky force was nothing new in Hip-Hop; when Andre 3000 shows up on The Chris Rock Show wearing a long white-haired wig, tighty-whiteys, and a cape made from a rainbow of feather boas, you can't help but think of P-Funk landing on your town in the 70's...Ask your parents. Hopefully, they remember. If not, try asking about Prince, or go watch Dr. Dre's "Let Me Ride" video. A song like "I'll Call Before I Come" is straight Clinton, complete with the sexual double entendres and a synth line seemingly left behind by Bernie Worrell, while the title track recalls the humid dirges of Funkadelic's early Westbound years filtered through Afrika Bambaataa. It's not just P-Funk though, it's all Funk that sparks Outkast's creativity. The anti-flossing "Red Velvet" and the teen pregnancy cautionary tale "Toilet Tisha" both take direction from early 80's Prince, while the brilliant "Slum Beautiful" sounds like the druggy vamps of Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On chopped up and remixed by Prefuse 73.

Stankonia is the most forward-looking mainstream Hip-Hop album ever. None of the Native Tongues or Wu-Tang Clan did anything this wild in the early 90's, and the only precedent from Outkast was their surprise pop hit "Rosa Parks". The fact that the duo and their record company thought this album could work is incredibly brave. Brave enough to release the most wild song as the first single. In relation to what you know about Pop music, Hip-Hop, the music business, and life in general, Outkast's "B.O.B." is the second most shocking song in the history of recorded music, bested only by the moment that the world collectively got to the end of The Beatles' Revolver and got hit in the face by the psychedelic missile that was "Tomorrow Never Knows". I remember the first time I heard "B.O.B." better than I remember some of the most important times in my life. My brain holds it in like the smoking WTC, the hanging chads, the white Bronco chase, the sax solo on Arsenio, the Buckner error. I remember sitting with my co-worker Mike in the artroom of Tower Records, our jaws on the floor for five full minutes. We just kept passing the case for the promotional CD single back and forth between us, as wave after wave of new, 160 beats-per-minute sound washed over us. We played it at excruciating volume, and when it was over, we played the instrumental version, which was almost as good. After we were able to speak again, we wondered how they managed to get DJ Shadow, Jimi Hendrix, a gospel choir, Herbie Hancock, Roni Size, and Parliament-Funkadelic all in one recording studio, and still have room for Outkast to find the mic. Of course, something this adventurous had to be a disaster of a single, but that's OK, cuz they made up for it on the next round.

If you really think about it, "Ms. Jackson" is one of the most bizarre Number One singles of all time, but we consider it one of those perfect Pop tunes. The groove is basic enough, a nice little synth-pop ditty with a funky machine beat doubling back on itself, and of course it has that classy piano and classic chorus, which any one of us could sing whenever prompted. But it's the verses that perplex; the message comes through clear, but Big Boi's flow is bonkers, Andre brings the "foreverever", and talking about having your dick in her daughter's mouth is kinda rude. Pop music usually excels on a lowbrow level, and "Ms. Jackson" is pretty heady stuff. "So Fresh, So Clean" is the exact opposite - devilishly simple, a classic Funk party anthem with the crispest beat you've ever heard. The great "Spaghetti Junction" is similar, a thick Funk jam that would've been at home on Aquemini. Even when Outkast are just turning out run-of-the-mill Dirty South crunk shit, like on "Gangsta Shit" and "Snappin' & Trappin'", it's still better than most of the biggest hits of the last year. And while "Xplosion" and Big Boi's "We Love Deez Hoez" would fit in with Dr. Dre's 2001 sound, Outkast swing back the other way with the Rage Against The Machine tribute "Gasoline Dreams", the jazzy Erykah Badu-fueled anthem "Humble Mumble", and Andre's 90-second "?", which features a track that sounds left off of Radiohead's Kid A, which was released only a few weeks earlier. After this, the cracks started to show, and Andre 3000 and Big Boi would stay together pretty much in name only. They saw that they needed to "re-route their dreams", but we can be thankful that the route travelled went through Stankonia, the most wonderful Hip-Hop community at the center of the Earth that we've ever gotten to visit.

01. "Intro" [interlude]
02. "Gasoline Dreams" [feat. Khujo]
03. "I'm Cool" [interlude]
04. "So Fresh, So Clean"
05. "Ms. Jackson"
06. "Snappin' & Trappin'" [feat. Killer Mike & J-Sweet]
07. "D.F." [interlude]
08. "Spaghetti Junction"
09. "Kim & Cookie" [interlude]
10. "I'll Call Before I Come" [feat. Gangsta Boo & Eco]
11. "B.O.B."
12. "Xplosion" [feat. B-Real]
13. "Good Hair" [interlude]
14. "We Luv Deez Hoez" [feat. BackBone & Big Gipp]
15. "Humble Mumble" [feat. Erykah Badu]
16. "Drinkin' Again" [interlude]
17. "?"
18. "Red Velvet"
19. "Cruisin' In The ATL" [interlude]
20. "Gangsta Shit" [feat. Slimm Calhoun, C-Bone & T-Mo]
21. "Toilet Tisha"
22. "Slum Beautiful" [feat. Cee-Lo]
23. "Pre-Nump" [interlude]
24. "Stankonia (Stanklove)" [feat. Big Rube & Sleepy Brown]

"B.O.B." [single edit - video]

"Ms. Jackson" [video]

- BONUS: "So Fresh, So Clean" [video]
- BONUS: "Red Velvet" [audio]

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