Tuesday, November 20, 2007

[024] Aquemini

Album: Aquemini
Artist: Outkast
Release Date: September 1998
Label: LaFace/Arista
Producers: Outkast, Organized Noize, & David "Mr. DJ" Sheats

"Thanks to them niggas that thank you soft
And say y'all be Gospel rappin'
But they be steady clappin'
When you talk about bitches and switches
And hoes and clothes
And weed - Let's talk about
Time travelin'
Rhyme javelin
Somethin' mind unraveling
Get down!"
- Andre Benjamin, from "Return Of The 'G'"

"Niggas in The South wear gold teeth and gold chains
Been doing it for years, so these niggas ain't gon' change...
You might slang a rock or two just to pay the rent
Five dollars for a table dance, so now your money's spent
You listen to that booty shake music in your trunk
As long as there's that tic tic followed by that bump...
You might call us country but we's only Southern
And I don't give a fuck, P-Funk spark up another'n"
- Big Boi, from "West Savannah"

If you ask a Hip-Hop fan what the most important period in the music’s history is, most might say some time in 1987 or ’88, or possibly sometime in late 1993 or 1994. But the correct answer is September 1998. That month is the official commercial arrival of Hip-Hop, its transcendence from a (very mainstream) niche genre to being a major player in the musical business. The first reason why was the release of Lauryn Hill’s first solo album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, which blurred the lines between Hip-Hop, R&B, and Pop music, and was the first Hip-Hop album to win the Grammy award for “Album of the Year”. The second reason is the sales week beginning Tuesday, September 29. There were three major Hip-Hop albums released on that day, and when the sales figures were in six days later, those three albums debuted in the top three spots on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. That was something that had not happened before. Outkast’s third album, Aquemini, debuted at #2, nestled between Jay-Z’s massive breakthrough, Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life at #1, and the farewell from A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement at #3. Of the three, Aquemini is by far the best album, and as time went on, it became the most significant. Admittedly, this wasn’t the Atlanta duo’s chart emergence, as their previous album, 1996’s ATLiens, had also debuted in the 2-spot, but that was mostly on the strength of their South-Eastern following. This time out, the whole country was listening. Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre Benjamin were smart enough to predict this though, slipping in a perfect sample at the end of the album’s closing track,
“Chonkyfire”. Taken from the 1995 Source Awards, that infamous award show where the Death Row/Bad Boy feud popped off, the sample was of the perplexed presenters giving the award for Best New Rap Group to “Outkast??”, Andre assuring the crowd that The South had something to say. On Aquemini, they said it all better than they had or would.

Aquemini is both the tipping point for Outkast as a creative entity, and for Southern Hip-Hop as a whole. Up until this point, the center of Southern Hip-Hop had been Houston, Texas, home to Scarface & The Geto Boys, UGK, and others. Luke and 2 Live Crew had also been kicking around Florida for a minute. But since late 1993, The Dungeon Family - Outkast, Goodie Mob, and others – had been making in-roads to Hip-Hop’s national consciousness, recalibrating Atlanta, GA as the headquarters of Dirty South Hip-Hop. Aquemini blew the doors off the hinges, putting Southern Hip-Hop firmly on the map as an art as opposed to just as dancefloor filler. Most any Southern rapper in the last decade will tell you that Aquemini was that moment when they knew it was all possible for them, their whole region; it's the record that they all have in their collections. Outkast is very much related to Southern Hip-Hop the way early Allman Brothers is connected to the Southern Rock they inspired, pioneers so far beyond the rest of the field. As they celebrate The South, they also pick apart all of its flaws, and therein lies the great theme of Aquemini. It’s a dark, brooding record for the most part, with a hard and worrisome core, “sweating out all the problems and troubles of the day”, as Andre puts it on the album’s best track, the 7-minute
“SpottieOttieDopaliscious”. That song itself sounds like The South, humid funk dubbed out to rattle your trunk, the city-boy cousin to the Allmans’ rural classic “Dreams”, fitted with marching band horns, the boys telling tales more so than rapping (he says later, “Niggas on that Gil-Scott dope, hint hint”), and Sleepy Brown putting down one hell of a Curtis Mayfield impression. Big Boi’s effortless verse glides from dreaming of his baby’s mama to the complex responsibilities of being a parent:

One moment you frequent the booty clubs
And the next four years you and somebody’s daughter
Raising y’all own young’n – now that’s a beautiful thang
That’s if you’re on top of your game
And man enough to handle real life situations that is
Can’t gamble feeding baby on that dope money
Might not always be sufficient
But the United Parcel Service and the people at the Post Office
Didn’t call you back because you had cloudy piss
So now you back in the trap, just that – trapped
Go on and marinate on that for a minute.

They address these types of issues in a local way, knowing that even though they might be speaking on it so their Georgia folk can relate, the problems are age-old in the ghettos and lower-middle class areas of Anytown, USA. In attempting to approach those everyday problems from ‘round the way, Outkast revisit the socially conscious Soul of the 1970’s; the heyday of Curtis Mayfield’s debut and Superfly, the jazzy, orchestral soul of Marvin Gaye's What’s Going On, the synthesizer excursions of peak-era Stevie Wonder, and even the earthy rebellion of Bob Marley & The Wailers. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” remains one of the duo’s essential statements, sonically and lyrically, always overlooked in favor of the hits – you know ‘em – but none of them other hits namecheck Big Daddy Kane’s “Set It Off” or describe their girl’s fragrance as “smelling sweeter than a plate of yams with extra syrup”. Say word!!

It’s the first of a few tracks that are evidence that Outkast was definitely checking out the Trip-Hop sounds coming from the UK. The most obvious examples are the 9-minute “Liberation” and the title track, the latter all echoing rimshots and shimmering jazz-funk guitar; the song also succeeds as the perfect bridge from the cold space explorations of ATLiens to the new, more damp Outkast sound. The resilience and individuality mission statement of
“Liberation” sounds like a sequel to Massive Attack’s “Protection”, but substitutes Tracey Thorn with the spiritual fire of Cee-Lo and Erykah Badu; there are so many vocal lines dancing around each other, it’s good to have the jazz piano in there to anchor the track. “Return Of The ‘G’” is soaked in depressed hum, adorned in harp, while the two part “Da Art Of Storytellin’” proves just how far the duo’s class has come; on the first part, Andre tells the tragic overdose story of “Sasha Thumper” over a irrepressible bounce, while the gothic second part features Andre comparing Mother Earth to a rape victim and Big Boi growing paranoid, fearing for his family’s safety now that he has money. On the kinetic “Skew It On The Bar-B” and “Synthesizer”, Outkast reach back to early 80’s Electro, with George Clinton revisiting his Computer Games period.

Even on what could be the lesser tracks, Outkast pull something special out of their many guests. “Slump” could be just another faceless party rap, but they lay down a melodic funk groove reminiscent of The Isley Brothers, and point the way towards their Idlewild future, with Big Boi pushing Backbone and especially Cool Breeze to excellent verses, Breeze promoting putting his earnings back into the neighborhood. “West Savannah” moves backward, revisiting their debut, but it remains a highlight just from the way Big Boi lovingly gives a crash course on being a young black man in The South. “Mamacita” collides Massive Attack’s
“Bristol Sound” with hints of Houston’s “Screwed” scene, painting the dozens of grill-flashing fools around today with, at least, hopelessly short vision. The rappers that love the album are mercilessly revealed as the caricatures they are, even as Outkast has continued to host a lot of them on their albums over the years. The hilarious record store skit illustrates the ignorance of even the duo's fanbase, their preconceptions smashed by the groundbreaking hoedown-in-space of "Rosa Parks", the other best song on the album. Besides probably being the first time you ever heard the word 'crunk' on MTV or the radio, the song blasts the stagnant originality in Hip-Hop with its backwoods bounce, harmonica breakdown, and hydra-headed guitar arrangement. And on the closer,
“Chonkyfire”, the Hendrix-fried riffs are welded to the beat, pointing directly toward Stankonia and its opener “Gasoline Dreams”. Andre says that it “gets no weirder”, and ha, how little did he know how weird it was about to get. But Aquemini is where Outkast woke up, a beast unleashed from an underappreciated region; Big Boi even says on the Dungeon Family posse cut “Y’all Scared”, that “even though we got two albums, this one feels like the beginning”. Outkast galvanized The South’s hopes for equality in one 70-minute statement, and oh boy, did they get their wish in spades?

01. “Hold On, Be Strong” [interlude]
02. “Return Of The ‘G’”
- Record Store skit/interlude
03. “Rosa Parks”
- "Skew It On The Bar-B" intro
04. “Skew It On The Bar-B” [feat. Raekwon]
05. “Aquemini”
- "Synthesizer" intro
06. “Synthesizer” [feat. George Clinton]
- Expensive Weed skit/interlude
07. “Slump” [feat. Backbone & Cool Breeze]
- "West Savannah" intro
08. “West Savannah”
- Weak Game skit/interlude
09. “Da Art Of Storytellin’ (Part 1)”
- Grandmama interlude
10. “Da Art Of Storytellin’ (Part 2)”
11. “Mamacita” [feat. Masada & Witchdoctor]
- “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” intro
12. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” [feat. Sleepy Brown]
13. “Y’all Scared” [feat. T-Mo, Big Gipp & Khujo]
14. “Nathaniel” [interlude]
15. “Liberation” [feat. Cee-Lo, Erykah Badu & Big Rube]
16. “Chonkyfire”
- Back to the Record Store skit/interlude

"Rosa Parks" [video]

"Skew It On The Bar-B" [video]

"Da Art Of Storytellin' (Part 1)" [single version - video]
same as the album version, but adds a guest verse by Slick Rick

“SpottieOttieDopaliscious” [audio]

- BONUS: "Return Of The 'G'" [audio]
- BONUS: "Aquemini" [audio]
- BONUS: "Synthesizer" [audio]
- BONUS: "Slump" [audio]
- BONUS: "West Savannah" [audio/fan video]
- BONUS: “Da Art Of Storytellin’ (Part 2)” [audio]
- BONUS: "Mamacita" [audio]
- BONUS: "Y'all Scared" [audio]
- BONUS: "Liberation" [audio]
- BONUS: "Chonkyfire" [audio]

1 comment:

jaw of life said...

I stumbled on your article. This was dope. Very well written. Reminded me of why I love this album. Thanks for writing