Double albums in hip-hop. You make one when you want to die (Life After Death, All Eyez on Me) or when you want to die musically (Wu-Tang Forever, Blueprint 2, and Bones Thugs, yes they did one.) So now one of hip-hop’s most adventurous and critically, as well as commercially, received groups ventures forth with their very own double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
The fusion of the group becomes more evident now that they are separated. These two completely disparate discs show how they balance each other out. The OutKast sound is pushed outwards by Dre’s penchant for experimentation and kept more in root by the Big Boi’s dirty south sound.
The album happens as pretty much dictated by history, personalities and album titles. Big Boi presents Speakerboxxx, which is the rap album you can play on the radio, evidenced by bangers such as “Flip Flop Rock.” In true OutKast form, Big Boi focuses on brass instrumentation, electro beats while throwing some reflective, conscious and street lyrics in the mix as well. His album is definitely more mainstream and easily palatable.
However, that doesn’t necessarily make it better. As anyone who knows OutKast expected, Andre’s album, The Love Below, takes the biggest risk and pays off the most in the end. It probably can’t even be called rap, as he turns his MC card to be an acid funk-soul singer.
Starting off the album with half serious/half farcical Frank Sinatra crooning, you can tell Dre is in a space lounge about to take you farther than anywhere Atliens took you. With themes throughout the album dealing with confusion about all forms of love, including intergenerational issues (“Pink and Blue”), fidelity and eternal love, you can sense his confusion and earnest disillusionment towards relationships and women, some of it stemming from a recent relationship with Erykah Badu.
The Love Below is as eclectic as they come. The ecleticism displayed here is more in vein with early Wyclef, when it was actual heterogeneity and not contrived attempts. Anyone who uses Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins” in the modern version of “Who’s on First, What’s on Second,” as well as an incredible techno cover of Coltrane’s “Favorite Things” is a friend of mine.
With this album, the creativity, thought and energy that were put in are felt throughout. More than ever, OutKast give a view into the personal, and it works. So far, this is easily the best major label hip-hop album of the year. Not only have they redefined their sound, they have redefined the double album. It is an extreme pleasure when the hip-hop mainstream can move the genre forward.
Would it be better if artists attempted to be more progressive and experimental? Or would they sound like mere OutKast epigones? Is that such a bad thing? More than ever the questions to ask is what can these two do from here, and will they come back together and do it?
Rating: 4.5 stars