Retrospective Roundtable: Outkast's ATLiens vs Aquemini

Today, at the DAR Roundtable, we discuss two of the greatest albums of all time... ATLiens and Aquemini, both by Outkast. The debate has always been which album is better. Myself, Apollo, Speed, and Kels sit down to discuss the differences in these albums, both albums' classic status, and try to finally determine which is better. Without further adieu...

Both albums are classic, first and foremost. And nothing shall be taken away from either album. With that said, Aquemini is the better album to me. What gives it the edge is the perfect blend of commercial and underground tracks. I feel that Andre and Big Boi started to hit their stride on this. It's almost like they discovered themselves on this. Tracks like "Return of the G" and "Y'all Scared" showcase their aggression and underground roots, like they are making their claim. "Da Art of Storytelling Part 1" is my favorite hip hop song of all time(that's saying a lot) and it evokes so much melodic pain. It showed their growth, musically. The whole album opened my eyes to what creativity can display when executed right. ATLiens is Outkast's purest hip hop album. Strictly dope rhymes and beats. "Mainstream" is beautiful and the first 3 songs are impeccable because of the cohesiveness. "Elevators" is another one of my favorite all time songs and it was the first time I heard Kast. I knew they were different from other artists and I have been a fan since. With each album, Kast took the next step and pushed the envelope in the game. Both are classics but I go with Aquemini.

As far music goes, Outkast holds an importance, not only in my personal picture of what rap is, but in the entire landscape of the genre. That being established, the comparison of their bodies of work often becomes the following discussion: usually the comparison of ATLiens and Aquemini. While neither were the group's debut project, prefaced by SouthernPlayalisticCadillacMuzik, they each played a paramount role in Outkast's legacy. Both albums are certified double platinum, which in consideration of the time and content of the albums, speaks volumes. Logistics lead me to say Aquemini is the preferable of the two, but somehow I always go back to ATLiens and forced to choose, the latter would win.

ATLiens came at a time when there was no lack of amazing music. Everybody was coming with their best and Outkast came with something different. The extraterrestrial theme of the project encompassed not only the cover art, but the entire sound. It felt like E.T. meets everything from gospel to reggae, and it worked. Perfectly. It also happened to be the duo's venture into the production world. Outkast and Organized Noize put together a foundation for ATLiens that can stand all on it's own. From a technical standpoint, the lyricism is impeccable and the mood the album sets is umatched, in my book. "Two Dope Boyz", "Jazzy Belle", "Elevators" and "Babylon" alone are four of the most amazing creations of art I know to exist.

After the success of ATLiens, Outkast was at a high point of creative expansion. They took to the studio and Aquemini was born. As far as commercial success, Aquemini and its predecessor are essentially equal, with Aquemini holding a bit of an upper hand because the lyrical content of the album was more widely appealing. On the production side, between the features and the general quality of the sound that encompass much more outside influence and live instrumentation, Aquemini wins. The actual production was mostly supplied by Outkast themselves and is the best production in their discography. A sentiment that is widely held, and understandably so, is that Aquemini is one of the best albums ever created.

When it comes to personal opinion, in my car and at my house, ATLiens has higher replay value than Aquemini does. Considering the fact that Aquemini is an immaculate project, that says a lot. ATLiens reminds me of how I felt when I first heard Outkast and their newfound, fuck the world attitude. Albeit unpolished and often brash, ATLiens feels amazing. There is a raw quality to what Andre 3000 and Big Boi came up with when they decided to step out of their box. I do love Aquemini and it is the perfect descendant to the perfect album, ATLiens.

I love this debate. I love both albums and each is a classic. It all comes down to personal preference. In this case, my all time favorite hip hop album is ATLiens, so I would have to say it is the better album. Here is why: ATLiens is the quintessential Outkast hip hop album, featuring them at their most abrasive, aggression, and honest. The album cohesively flows, with Andre shining through superior lyricism and finding his direction. Big Boi put his own flavor to the album as his knack for bringing that smooth pimp style to his verses paid off in a major way. Check Andre's verses on "Elevators", the title track, "Jazzy Belle", "Babylon", and "Wailin" to see him at his absolute best. Check Big Boi's verses on "Decatur Psalm", "Jazzy Belle", and "Ova Da Wudz" to hear him at his best up until that point. The fluidity of this album, the cohesiveness in production, along with the level of focus here is makes this album better by just a small margin. This album also possesses one of my all time favorite songs period, "13th Floor/Growing Old", which is one of the greatest album closing songs.

However, Aquemini is a classic and a bit more advanced than ATLiens from a creative standpoint. It features a bit of live instrumentation along with a different sound than just about anything else out at the time. Andre began to infuse more melody into his vocals, Big Boi was showing signs of getting even better lyrically, the growth shown on this album almost makes it better than ATLiens overall. The only thing that draws the difference between the two is the precision and cohesiveness of ATLiens that isn't quite there with Aquemini. Aquemini is daring, boundary pushing, introspective, and set the tone for Stankonia, as Big and Dre solidified their completely different personas with this album. You can't go wrong either way, but when it is all said and done, I'm rolling with ATLiens.

Wow. This is a toughie. At least with Illmatic versus It Was Written, I had a clear cut favorite in all regards. However, if I had to choose one or the other, I'd probably go with ATLiens. While Aquemini saw a maturation of sound and aesthetic, to the Stankonia-levels many fairweather OutKast fans know and love (sorry, but you know it's true that until "Ms. Jackson," a lot of heads weren't rocking with 'Kast as much), ATLiens represented that middle passage. That stage in life where you're trying to decide if you're going to just fuck around and do nothing with your life except just chill with your boys or if you're going to "get up, get out, and get something."

The production on ATLiens, while not as experimental in chops and so on, doesn't need to be experimental. It just needs to bump. It's a simpler album, in some ways. And because of that, it's more pure and allows Dre and Big Boi to just go in on a variety of issues that any early 20-something (and some late 20-somethings) can sit back and be like "I feel you, my nigga. I feel you." They're not as focused on being ATL-raised musical saviors. They're just two dope boyz in a Cadillac. Plus, "13th Floor" is one of my favorite 'Kast songs, of all-time. So, maybe, just maybe, I'm a bit biased.

So, as it seems, we couldn't reach a collective decision on which album is better, though ATLiens seemed to be slightly ahead. Which album do you think is better? Join the conversation.



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