In Hip-Hop the word “Classic” has become a bit overused (kind of like the phrase “Keeping It Real” was in the 90’s). We all deep down know what an album has to contain to be a Hip-Hop Classic without any gimmicks or promotional machines telling us what’s what. When we think of Hip-Hop Classics there are a few albums that come to mind; Illmatic, Ready To Die, The Low End Theory, Paid In Full, The College Dropout, good kid m.A.A.d city, The Chronic just to name a few. Classic is a MOMENT! These are albums that not only were great albums song for song but they shaped our culture and painted the clearest picture of how life was during the period these time capsules were created.
These albums and artist inspired us. These albums turned Emcees that people just thought were nice on the mic into Iconic Figures. In these situations the Emcee made the album and then the album made the Emcee. But when I think of the perfect Hip-Hop album with range, lyrical ability, lyrical content, musicality, creativity, flow, concept, and originality Outkast’s third offering Aquemini stands in a world of its own. I’m not going to try to convince you that the album Aquemini has the folklore impact on the Hip-Hop culture that Illmatic, Paid In Full, or Ready To Die has but I will say that Aquemini is possibly the greatest all around Hip-Hop album I have ever heard in the CD era. It’s blasphemy I know but don’t tune me out yet, hear me out please. I separate the album Era of music into 3 Eras. You have the Album/Vinyl Era, The CD Era, & The Digital Era. Vinyl could only carry a certain amount of space so albums were held to 8 to 10 songs giving them less room for error ultimately giving the consumer more bang for their buck. When the compact disc (hence the word “compact”) became the way of the music industry artist had to fill up these CDs with songs that wouldn’t have made their album in the Album/Vinyl Era because now you have 75 minutes to work with. Now the consumer wants you to give them more tracks for their $10 to $15 purchase.
More tracks on one CD ultimately opened the doors for more filler songs that took away from the overall quality of projects. Saying that to say Illmatic for example was made with an Album Era mentality in the CD Era using 39 minutes 51 seconds of play time. Aquemini is a perfect album start to finish that used 74 minutes 47 seconds playing time to its fullest with no mistakes. Musically this Hip-Hop album brought a great balance of live instrumentation and hard hitting live and synthetic drums and wonderful instrumental solos as well as solos from the rhythm section. I’ve never heard a Hip-Hop album this flawless be this long in length, the skits were even entertaining yet carefully places at the end of tracks so you heard them if you listened to songs all the way through. If you wanted to skip around for some reason you wouldn’t have to skip through any talking. The major personnel includes; Andre 3000 (Vocals, Drums, Xylophones, Keyboards, Production), Big Boi (Vocals & Production), Mr. DJ (Production), Organized Noize (Production), Cut Master Swift (The Cuts), George Clinton (Vocals), Erykah Badu (Vocals), Sleepy Brown (Vocals), Debra Killings (Vocals), Cee-Lo (Vocals), T-Mo, Khujo, Gipp, Cool Breeze, EJ The Witchdoctor, Backbone, and Raekwon (Guest Rhyming Vocals) & Slick Rick Vocals (If You Have That Version Lol), Andre 3000 & Erykah Badu’s son Seven who was a baby at the time even did some whining and crying on the album at the end of “Slump”. With a personnel like this at hand the table is set for some real magic to happen and with Outkast being one of Hip-Hop’s most talented acts ever this moment became more than magic.
“Return of The G” – This song starts the album and sets the tone for the ride that Outkast is about to take you on. Andre 3000 & Big Boi answer many of their critics that questioned their musical vision being so far out and so much different from one another. The Outkast break up rumors were in full effect in 1998, the biggest change people saw in the duo was in Andre’s appearance. Even with those whispers Dre’s ability to rhyme was never in question as he speed over live lush strings “ Return of the gangsta thanks ta’ them niggas that think you soft and say y’all be gospel rappin’ but they be steady clappin’ when you talk about bitches & switches & hoes & clothes & weed let’s talk about time travelin’ rhyme javelin somethin’ mind unravelin’ get down. Return of the gangsta thanks ta’ them niggas who got them kids who got enough to buy an ounce but not enough to bounce them kids to the zoo or to the park so they grow up in the dark never seein’ light so they end up being like yo’ sorry ass robbin’ niggas in broad ass daylight get down. Return of the gangsta thanks ta’ them niggas that get the wrong impression of expression Then the question is Big Boi what’s up with Andre? Is he in a cult? Is he on drugs? Is he gay? When y’all gon’ break up? When y’all gon’ wake up? Nigga I’m feelin’ better than ever what’s wrong with you you get down!”
“Rosa Parks” – Incredible song that referenced the name of an Iconic figure in the Civil Rights Movement for its song title. Other than just telling people to get up out of their seat and head to the dance floor while telling other Emcees to move to the back because Outkast is back, Outkast took the time on this banger to talk about a few different things. Big Boi uses his time to speak on being back on the scene with a new album and new sounds that is going to blow your mind. Andre uses his time to talk about the pressures of following up albums that are well received and how the music industry is a “what have you done for me lately” business. “You only funky as your last cut you focus on the past your ass will be a has what” – Andre 3000. Andre is taking advice from a “Rosa Parks” type figure on the bus in this song that is telling him the past is great but focus on your future.
“Skew It On The Bar-B” – It’s a Dungeon Family Wu-Tang Collaboration with Organized Noize on the track. I don’t think I need to say anymore than that. If you haven’t heard this jam I don’t know what to say about you lol.
“Aquemini” – The title track showing both Emcees putting their zodiac signs together to come up with this melo groove that not many artist in Hip-Hop can perfect. The live bass in this is hypnotic, the lyrics in this piece are very rapid and intelligent. I could pull out every line of this song and it would be a quotable. The Gemini on this song chooses to show you two sides of him in two different verses as if he were two different Emcees. Sounds confusing I know but try to follow, on the last verse Dre seems to be speaking to himself “Sin all depends on what you believing in. Faith is what you make it that’s the hardest shit since MC Ren. Alien can blend right on in wit’ yo’ kin look again ’cause I swear I spot one every now & then. It’s happenin’ again wish I could tell you when Andre this is Andre y’all just gon’ have to make amends”
“Synthesizer” – This is the first time Outkast really gave us a taste of the futuristic side of Outkast that you were about to see in years to come. At the time the year 2000 was closely approaching and the world was changing fast. For some people they thought it might have been too fast for our own good “Are we digging into new ground or digging our own grave?”. This song deals with everything from technology, cloning human beings, marijuana being illegal, online dating, fertility drugs, plastic surgery, liposuction, etc. let’s just say for 1998 this song was WAY ahead of its time. Amazing featured appearance by The Great George Clinton by the way.
“Slump” – This record features Backbone & Cool Breeze and talks about something that we can all relate to and that’s feeding your family. In Hip-Hop great artist are able show you both sides of a situation and not glorify illegal activity like its all good, because it ain’t. The Dungeon family has always done a good job of not preaching to the youth but more like sayin “Look man, I know what you goin through. I’ve been there but there is another way and here it is” think “Git Up Git Out”. Big Boi keeps it all the way real as he raps “I used to work at Steak ‘N’ Ale, Old Gold off in the kitchen Had determination and graduated Now I got the whole rap world fascinated I wanted a piece of the pie for me and my family so I made it. Continue to sell dope, it’s payin the bills so you gon’ do it. But legislation got this new policy Three strikes and you’re ruined.. now where your crew at?”. Cool Breeze quickly follows with “Niggaz talkin cause they makin some flow But still ain’t did nuttin that ain’t been done befo’. You can’t be tryin to showcase, just put it down for your spot. And improvise and work with that little you got. So I think when I finish sellin my last sack. I’ma take some of this money, go and give some back. Cause people won’t forget about the time you gave, knowmsayin? And start thinkin bout a path to pave”.
“West Savannah” – Songs like this are rare because this was a record that was recorded for Outkast’s 1994 debut album and didn’t make the album for some odd reason. This song is a biography on Big Boi and where he is originally from and who he is. The sound of it is so vintage and so real. The then 18 year old Big Boi talks about the stereotypes of southern folk and the trouble he use to get into as a kid when his Mom wasn’t around to watch his every move. The magical thing about this song is how you can hear the chemistry that Big Boi and Sleepy Brown had even way back in 1993. Big Boi tells you a little about the southern scene at the time and you can see how they have always been trendsetters “niggaz in the South wear gold teeth and gold chains. Been doin it for years, so these niggaz ain’t gone change. They comin around the ghetto so you might call em soul. Been wearin furry Kangol’s, so that shit is old. 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”.
“Da Art of Storytellin Pt 1” – Wow where do I start? The track from Mr. DJ amazing, the hook with Big Boi and Sleepy Brown amazing, the way both stories that Big Boi and Andre told came together amazingly, the stories themselves are amazing, the melody amazing, Slick Rick’s appearance AMAZING! I’ll just leave it at that.
“Da Art of Storytellin Pt 2” – Might be and don’t quote me on this (because it always changes) my favorite song on this incredible album. The track Mr. DJ put together sounds like Armageddon. This son sounds like the end of the world. I read an article where Andre said that if it all went down and it were the last day on earth what would the final song made in the history of the world sound like? The sense of urgency, the topic, the flow, the track itself what would that sound like? He said that’s what he wanted this song to convey, he wanted it to sound like it was the last song made on the last day of the earth. I honestly can hear all of that in the way Outkast attacked this track. I can never say enough about this song with Andre ripping through lines like “Baby did you hear that yea baby I heard it too. Look out the window golly the sky is electric blue. Mamma Earth is dyin and cryin because of you. Rainin cats and jackles all shackles disintegrate, to residue. Silly mortals haven’t a clue as to what the fuck is goin on I’m on the telephone, dialin the Dungeon “Hello?” This Dre, bring the MP and the SP Meet me at the center of the earth and travel carefully. Baby grab the baby cause baby it ain’t much time Mamma Earth is tossin and turnin and that’s our sign”. Total end of the world type stuff.
“Mamacita” – Organized Noize came through with a hypnotic track on this. This track features guest verses from Masada and EJ The Witchdoctor. Off the rip this is one of my favorite Big Boi verses ever. All four verses are hard hitting verses but Big Boi came to play, “Friday night boi, breaking the old school out, boi we cruising. Bout fo’ niggas and fo’ hoes, it ain’t goin’ be nobody losing. But they choosing. Better get in where you fit in cause it’s crucial. I’m trying to cut bout two of them girls. Cause that just what I’m used to”. The flow is straight up PERFECT. Dre came with the flow and lyrics as well as he tells the story of a woman trying to help her female friend male bash her boyfriend so that she can slip in to take advantage of the woman in her vunerable state.
“SpottieOttieDopaliscious” – This song was a giant leap for Outkast as the time. Outkast was always making leaps with their music but one this track that made a well received banger simply spittin spokenword. Sleepy Brown setting off the song with his smooth verse was perfect. The horn arrangement in this song was perfect. The horn melody from this track has been repeated so many times in Hip-Hop. The moving bassline and drums on this track give you a Reggae feel. The drum solo at the end of this track is amazing and often overlooked. How many people knew that the hook comes from the episode of “Good Times” when Florida Evans finals comes to grips with James Evan’s death? Dre and Big Boi came with the poetry as Dre speaks on his first night life experiences. Meeting a young lady that interest you and while you’re getting to know one another the whole scene is interrupted by the riff raff of the night life scene. “While the DJ sweatin’ out all the problems and the troubles of the day.While this fine bow-legged girl fine as all outdoors lulls lukewarm lullabies in your left ear.Competing with “Set it Off, ” in the right. But it all blends perfectly let the liquor tell it, “Hey hey look baby they playin’ our song” and the crowd goes wild as if Holyfield has just won the fight. But in actuality it’s only about 3 A.M and three niggas just don’ got hauled off in the ambulance (sliced up). Two niggas don’ start bustin’ (wham wham) and one nigga don’ took his shirt off talkin’ ’bout “Now who else wanna fuck with Hollywood Courts?””. While Big Boi reminds you “Can’t gamble feeding baby on that dope money might not always be sufficient but the United Parcel Service & the people at the Post Office didn’t call you back because you had cloudy piss”.
“Y’All Scared” – According to many members of The Dungeon Family Big Boi felt so strongly about this song that he fought for it to be the album’s first song over “Return Of The G”. With the track featuring Goodie Mob (minus Cee-lo) many at Laface Records didn’t feel like a song that featured other Emcees would be the best way to start off the album. This track has the organs that became the calling card of The Dungeon Family’s soulfulness. These guys really take it there lyrically on this song. As years have gone by, this track is one of my favorites on the album. Andre spits “paragraph indent, I’m making 10 cents. Niggas on that Gil Scott dope (hint hint)At age fifteen they start smoking Billy Clint’ Now he’s twenty-one and wants to know where the time went. Hey hey hey what’s the haps? Well see your time elapsed, have you ever thought of the meaning of the word trapped Baboon on your back, but what’s sad is that crack was introduced to Hispanic communities and blacks” Whoa!
“Nathaniel” – This track is magically because of its authenticity. It’s nothing more than a freestyle about being locked up. But it’s actually coming from someone that is actually locked up and calling home to tell their family member to keep pushin. Hold it down till the day that I get out.
“Liberation” – Many believe that this song should have been the final song on the album. This is a soulful jam with beautiful instrumentation. The piano arrangements on this track would be recognized anywhere. Nearly 9 minutes of musical and lyrical liberation. Outkast, Cee-lo, Erykah Badu, Debra Killings, and Big Rube came together to bring us one of the most magical Hip-Hop songs ever made. The jam session on the ride out of this track separates this song from any Hip-Hop song you would ever heard in 98’. Cee-lo comes with lines like “We alive but we ain’t living, that’s why I’m giving until it’s gone cause I don’t want to be alone”. Erykah Badu comes with lines like “All ya want to do is give the world ya heart, record label trying to make you compromise ya art. You make a million dollars, make a million mo’ first class broads treat ya like a nigga po”. Big Rube comes with lines “You got more juice than Zeus slanging lightning trying to frighten. Plains dwellers, of the Serengeti but get beheaded when you falsely dreaded. Melanin silicon and collagen injected”.
“Chonkyfire” – I love this song as the final song of this masterpiece. Sonically “Chonkyfire” gives you instruments that you would hear more frequently from Outkast on “Stankonia”. It’s like an intro and introduction at the same time as Dre raps “But it’s back on, another stormy night in Atlanta, Georgia. Overcast, but on behalf of Outkast, I cordially invite you to an emotion filled theater. Bring your umbrella cause young fella it gets no weirder. We reign!!”. Then Big Boi comes right back with bars like “To make one bob they head be the track job, your job’s to spit that fire. Some of y’all MC’s take this rhyming for granted I won’t comply with that slacking, popping and cracking 4th ward say we snapping they won’t that hardness that oddness that gets a nigga to start this”. The piano break during Big Boi’s section is CRAZY. The drums on this song are powerful. Outkast ends this track/album with an electric guitar solo while playing the clip of Outkast getting boo’d at the 1995 Source Awards after winning best new artist. This was the moment that Andre took the mic and told the audience “It’s like we got a demo tape but don’t nobody wanna hear it, but it’s like this the South got something to say that’s all I got to say”. That’s how this perfect album ends. PERFECT!!!