I went to three record stores in Boulder, Colorado looking for Outkast’s latest double CD “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.” The second place had a giant display with cutouts of Andre 3000 and Big Boi in their pastel attire, but the cardboard shelves, which held the CDs, were bare. At the third store, they told me I had to leave my name and phone number because more copies were being pressed and would be shipped by the following afternoon. I finally drove to Longmont, where most of the population listens to country music, and found a copy for 14.99 at Borders. The cashier said he was dying to hear it, and after all this hype, so was I.
Outkast have gone their creative separate ways on each of their respective releases. Although packaged together, these CD’s are very dissimilar from one another. One thing they share is a bow to the old-school masters.
Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” abandons most of the rap in favor of semi-smarmy love songs. It’s certainly fascinating to see a rapper fly in the face of the bling-bling-bad-ass-rapper personae to embrace eroticism, jazz and pop; but no matter how ground-breaking that may seem, some of the tracks on “The Love Below” are disappointing.
“She Lives in my Lap” sounds vaguely Prince-like and not particularly original with lyrics like, “Girl, remind me just who we are/We’re oh so close but yet so far.” The silly sexism of “Roses” was almost completely annoying. Far more compelling was “Prototype” which mimics Earth, Wind and Fire to good effect. “Hey Ya!” is a peppy-poppy number that’s sure to piss off hip-hop purists all over the planet, but is one of the liveliest cuts on this release. My favorite is “Dracula’s Wedding” — a hilarious song about how the vampire gets cold feet on the day of the nuptials. One of the strengths of Outkast is that they never fail to see the humor in what they do, and probably why I didn’t completely enjoy this CD. I wanted Andre 3000 to bring more of the funny, but it was more about booty and less about yukking it up.
“Speakerboxxx” is a much more impactive disc in the tradition of “Stankonia.” Big Boi begins with “Ghettomusick” that contains amped up beats with a sampled slow, sexy R&B tune inserted at the break and some chipmunk voices to add P-Funkish insanity to the proceedings. Even better is “The Rooster” which is about Big Boi getting stuck with the responsibility of single parenthood. “Ok, I start out all alone/’Cause my baby mama left me/Now there’s nobody at home/Beginning to feel like Ms. Jackson done got cloned!” Big Boi laments to a contagious beat backed by a rave-up horn section.
Also worth noting is “Flip Flop Rock.” This ode to casual dressing flies in the face of the traditional rappers with the gold chains, the guns, and no sense of humor. And although Big Boi may be chillin’ in his Gucci flip-flops doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to battle: “Overstand this young player’s line/I forgo’d the crime and focused on rhyme/Focused on every word and line/Like a young Cassius Clay in his prime.”
This double CD set is definitely worth checking out. Although Andre and Big Boi have set off in two different musical directions, they have concocted a contrary combination of fascinating tunes that mostly hit the mark. It will be interesting to see what they come up with in the future.