As dominant and innovative forces in Atlanta hip hop, Big Boi and Andre 3000 have personified themselves as the Southernplayalistic group Outkast. But in recent years they haven’t been seen anywhere near each other, with the exception of the dual album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on which they did their own thing on two solo efforts under the umbrella of one album. Their last true collaboration was 1998’s equally stunning Aquemini (Stankonia is questionable).
Since then, the two have pursued different careers as Big Boi, the patriarchal head of Purple Ribbon, and Andre Benjamin, the dextrous star of the big screen. With the release of their new film “Idlewild” comes an album of the same name, with the two boys together again as Outkast.
Idlewild the album flows as a cultural odyssey through ragtime, smoothly sung R&B and bass-heavy hip hop, supplemented by the R&B stylings of Purple Ribbon artists Sleepy Brown, Scar and Janelle Monae, particularly in the colorful, big-band single “Morris Brown.”
Throughout, both artists pose the question of whether the group is still together. In “Life Is Like A Musical,” talking about making plans before collaborating on another song, Dre says, “Say no matter what goes down we stand strong / ‘Cause ain’t nothin’ changed.” But in “The Train,” Big Boi goes on to claim that “The second hand won’t never stop and neither will the clock / That nigga Big still hit the stage by himself and still rock,” obviously acknowledging that though he’s done well with his partner, he can do fine by himself.
But words don’t always equal action. There are only two songs where they perform together. The group no longer has the chemistry that produced classic Southern hits like “Elevators (Me & You)” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” Their styles have now reached opposite poles. Not only is the teamwork lacking, but the album also drags, with an eight-minute ending that should’ve been cut to three.
Andre 3000’s bizarre style, coupled with a jazz/blues-based premise, is particularly hard to appreciate on songs like “When I Look In Your Eyes” and “Idlewild Blue.” His attempt at reinventing ragtime flops in 2006, when the beats and sounds of today’s modern hip hop rule the airwaves.
Though the ATLiens are firmly established in the hip-hop industry as a duo, the pair should think about sticking to their own projects in the future.
Idlewild, though not a soundtrack for the film, serves as an accompaniment to the big-screen project. It attempts to stand alone as an album, but without knowledge of the film it’s easily misunderstood.
Many of the film’s characters appear in the album’s interludes, and some songs, including “PJ & Rooster,” have Andre 3000 and Big Boi appearing in character. Other movie-cameos-turned-album cameos are Macy Gray, as Taffy in “Greatest Show On Earth,” and clips of dialogue featuring Terrence Howard and Malinda Williams. Although somewhat relevant, these vocal cuts tend to slow the pace of the album, and were better off left on the cutting-room floor.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars