Retrospective: Ranking Outkast's Albums

By @TrueGodImmortal

Outkast is the greatest duo in the history of hip hop to me personally. I've watched them for years and years put out great music, and though they've been mostly separate aside from a reunion tour in 2014, their legacy is solidified. Their discography is one of the greatest in hip hop, but how do their albums stack up? Which is the worst? Which is the best? It's often debated, so I decided to give my opinion on the matter and rank the Outkast albums from the worst to the best. Let's get into it (Note: Not included in the ranking is their 2001 greatest hits collection that featured 3 new songs).

6. Idlewild

-Let me just state, for the record, that I don't hate this album at all. When this film first released I was truly excited and I still enjoy it to this day. When this soundtrack released, I was also excited, as the thought of new Outkast music always is welcomed. However, what disappointed me about this album is the lack of actual Outkast songs. I'll never understand the purpose of Outkast drifting off to become two solo artists, as Big and Andre together made some of the best music on this project. There is a part of me that wishes for a Big verse on "Chronomentrophobia" and wishes for one of those introspective Andre verses on "The Train", one of the best songs on the album. That becomes the issue: while the song aren't bad by any stretch, the album lacks cohesion and the separation vibe between the two is honestly a damper on the music in some way.

As far as the highlights go, you can't go wrong with "Mighty O", the aforementioned "The Train", "Morris Brown", and a few others, but this project leaves a lot to be desired. Andre seemingly was tired of making music and it showed in some ways here, while Big Boi seemed to be hitting his stride and finding his lyrical prime. I think the most disappointing part of this album comes from watching the run of Andre 3000 guest verses from 2006 through 2007 and wondering what could have been if he simply utilized that energy into Outkast songs. Still, this is a good project, just one of unfulfilled potential and some lackluster songs.

5. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

-I think this album has grown on me, but in reverse, so to speak. When this first dropped, I loved both discs equally, and due to being such a big fan, I refused to choose between the two MCs and their solo projects. I didn't like the idea of Outkast being split into two for the sake of a double album, especially since it was their first release in 3 years, but I was still at the store (Sam Goody to be exact) to buy this album the day it dropped. We've reviewed this album on the site before so I won't get too into the details, but I'll start with Big Boi's disc and say that when I reflect on it now, it's a bit underwhelming. From a lyrical standpoint, Big is coasting and at his best, but it's the production that lacks considerably. Without the cohesive unit of the Dungeon Family influence and perhaps just poor selection in beats, this album struggles in that area. There are still gems on Speakerboxxx, such as "Knowing", "Ghetto Musick", and my personal favorite "Reset", but it could have been much better with some more solid production.

As for The Love Below, I love it and hate it. I love the album as a fan, but hate it because it represents the last true project Andre 3000 put his all into. It bothered me that Andre wasn't into rapping anymore, and though that's just me being a selfish fan, I couldn't get use to Andre just singing for a while. Eventually, this album grew on me, and with gems like "She Lives In My Lap", "Prototype", and the epic "A Life In The Day of Benjamin Andre", it truly was quality music. While not a classic, this was still viable and remains their highest selling album and their most successful oddly enough.

4. Southernplaylisticadillacmuzik

-The beginning of the reign. The first classic in a string of 4 straight. Yes, 4 straight classics, I said it. Now, when I first heard this album, I was taken aback by the sound of it. I hadn't heard hip hop have such a soulful yet funky southern sound, and the southern drawl of both Big and Dre backed by dense and one of a kind lyricism truly captivated me as a fan. From the knock of "Ain't No Thang" to the pimped out rhythms of "Player's Ball" to the rugged flow of "Hootie Hoo", this album had everything you could have wanted in a debut and more. I think this is the most even I have ever seen Big and Dre, as both provided what the other didn't and they were neck and neck lyrically at the time, in my opinion. While both still young and growing, this album saw them making their way into adult life, a theme that would be captured in the albums that followed.

One of my favorite songs on this particular album is one that don't even feature the two MCs on it, "Funky Ride". It's Society of Soul mostly handling the duties on this track, and of course, the legendary Sleepy Brown never disappoints. The music is flawless, and the hook is infectious, as Sleepy glides over the production to create something epic. Another personal favorite of mine remains "Crumblin' Erb", which is backed yet again by a classic Sleepy Brown hook. The track features some playful yet aggressive wordplay from the duo, becoming a highlight and one of the standout songs, and an anthem for all the smokers who need to get rid of that stress. All in all, not only was this a classic album, this is one of the best debuts in hip hop history.

3. Stankonia 

-Some people didn't like this album. That's fine. I loved it. It's a classic. Period. Stankonia is an album that hit me upon first impact and still resonates with me. It was the experimental album so to speak from the duo that stretched beyond the limits of what we heard on Aquemini. It was the evolution of the experimental side of Outkast. There were different sounds, as the production ranged from spacey to boom bap influenced to funky soul, and the lyricism was a bit more daring than before. Where Andre seemed less and less focused on just pure rapping, Big Boi showed up and truthfully steals the show on some of this album. It was the precursor to his lyrical dominance on the following two albums, and he outshines Andre on a good amount of the songs IMO.

Andre doesn't completely get outshined, as he steals the show on "Gangsta Shit", "Red Velvet", and "B.O.B", showcasing the impeccable skill that we've all known him for, while employing a rapid fire flow on "B.O.B.", something we don't see often. The eccentricity of Andre is truly the greatest thing that he brings to this project, as his adlibs add a different flare to certain songs and his off kilter harmony in his sung hooks on songs like "Slum Beautiful" keep the vibe upbeat and joyous in some way. While Andre and his vocals are one story of the album, as I mentioned earlier, it's the strengthened lyricism and prowess of Big Boi that really sets the tone.

Big would show up with nothing but quotable verses this go round from "We Love Deez Hoes", which is comical yet truthful, to the deep and introspective verse on "Humble Mumble", Big showcases why he and Andre are truly on the same level, just in different lanes. While Andre keeps the vibe moving for "Slum Beautiful" and on the mega hit "Ms. Jackson", it's the verses from Big that really elevate it. That final short verse from Big on "Ms. Jackson" is full of stress, annoyance, and anger, and it's Big at his best IMO. The chemistry of the two MCs however is exhibited the best this go round on the single "So Fresh, So Clean". The song is the epitome of Outkast. Organized Noize smooth production, with one of the best Sleepy Brown sung hooks, along with the style and charisma from both Big and Dre. All in all, Stankonia is a beautiful album that represented the beginning of a new era in the land of Outkast in many ways.

2. Aquemini 

-A lot of people would place this album as the no. 1 choice. I can't blame you if you did. The thing about ranking Outkast albums is that it gets hard at times to truly decipher what's better than the other when you get down to their two greatest classics. A lot of times, or rather most of the time in music, it all comes down to simple opinions and musical preference. The third release from the duo stands as their most popular album from their core fans I suspect (aka the fans listening before Stankonia), and it's regarded as their essential classic by critics. I'm not mad at that distinction in any way, because the album truly could be their best, however, I have it ranked at no. 2. Why isn't it the no. 1 choice? I'll get to that in a minute.

What captivated me about Aquemini was the focus and the precision within each song. It's as if Big and Dre sat down and mapped it out perfectly, with each song feeling stronger than the last on the tracklist. The intro gives way to the flawless "Return of the G", which features one of my favorite Andre verses AND one of my favorite Big Boi verses, making this a true gem and classic. The single "Rosa Parks" is forever iconic and once again, one of my favorite Andre verses resides here. I think the story of this album is the creativity shining through along with the improved lyricism and added depth of Big Boi and the wisdom that flowed from Andre's words. The title track is something brilliant, and while both artists bring classic verses, it's Andre that decides to take things to a much higher level, as he completely owns the song, first with his introspective and thought provoking verse during the second verse of the song, and then with his stacked verse on the end of the third verse of the song. It was a display of true talent and out of this world artistry.

So, why isn't this no. 1?? Well, I can describe that more clear in my discussion on the album that is my top pick, but Aquemini just doesn't flesh out as an album as well as my no. 1 choice. What I mean by that is this: while there are no true songs that I skip on Aquemini, there are moments I could probably do without, such as the Nathaniel interlude, the T-Mo verse on "Y'all Scared", and some of the verses on "Mamacita" (the features) leave a lot to be desired. Simply put, while this is a classic album from the duo, the supporting cast can't keep up, and on this album, the gap is much wider than before between Kast and their featured guests. That is what tips the scales in favor of the album I chose as the no. 1 pick, but make no mistake about it, there isn't another album in music that has something as special as "Liberation" and "SpottieOttieDopaLiscious" or intricate yet saddening stories like "Da Art of Storytelling (Pt 1)". Aquemini is still one of the greatest albums of the 90's, it just isn't the best Outkast album. You know what is.

1. ATLiens

-When we speak of what makes an album classic in hip hop, this has everything you would need. From cohesion in production and sequencing to quotable lyrics to perfect guest spots (and minimal guest spots), this album is everything you could possibly want from Outkast and then some. When I first heard this album in 1996, I was young and couldn't grasp the full measure of the artistry I was listening to. I just knew I loved the song that went "me and you... your momma and your cousins too", and I kept rhyming along to "throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don't care.... and if you like fish and grits and all that pimp shit..." like I wrote it myself. This was my first memory of ATLiens and it's still my best memory of Outkast as a duo.

ATLiens is tied for my all time favorite album of time in hip hop with It Was Written by Nas. So, this comes as no shock this is my no. 1 choice on this list. We've talked Outkast before on the site quite a few times and I've always been highly praising of this album for good reason. From the iconic sound of "Two Dope Boyz In A Cadillac" to the amazing lyricism and cool reserve displayed by Andre and Big respectively on the title track,  this album is a lesson in how to make a true hip hop classic. It's evolution from the southern soul funk of their debut and more boom bap orientated, which fit for the Atlanta duo in many ways. The duo began handling their own production on this album and would split duties with Organized Noize, and every single song is perfect. I wouldn't change a single song on this album. Tracks like "Mainstream" and "Decatur Psalm" seemed to shine with not only Kast on the verses, but memorable features as well. The sound of "Wailin" also hits you hard, as both Big and Dre coast over the hitting production.

However, there can be no greater moment on this album than the one-two punch of "E.T. (Extraterrestrial)" and "13th Floor/Growing Old", two of the best songs on this album and also the most somber in some way. The lyrics on both of these are truly brilliant and Andre completely leaves earth on "13th Floor" with some of his most honest and captivating lyricism ever. I also need to touch on two of the most endearing songs on this album, the female centered "Jazzy Belle" and the look at something deeper in "Babylon", which both feature some interesting lyrics involving women, the pursuit of them, and everything in between. What also makes this album so special, in addition to the obvious, is the story arc and the song titles that fit into the ATLiens theme. From the 13th Floor to Extraterrestrial to Babylon to Ova Da Wudz, the concept of the Atlanta duo being not from this planet is always kept in motion. If anyone can appreciate that, it's definitely me. Once again, ATLiens is how you make a perfect album, and it stands, TO ME, as the best Outkast album period and one of the best hip hop albums of all time.

Do you agree or disagree with the rankings? Feel free to post your comments below.



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