DAR Classic Hip Hop: Outkast's Aquemini

By @TrueGodImmortal

1. Hold On, Be Strong
2. Return Of The G
3. Rosa Parks 
4. Skew It On The Bar-B
5. Aquemini
6. Synthesizer
7. Slump 
8. West Savannah 
9. Da Art Of Storytelling (Pt. 1)
10. Da Art Of Storytelling (Pt. 2)
11. Mamacita 
12. SpottieOttieDopaLiscious
13. Ya'll Scared
14. Nathaniel (Interlude)
15. Liberation 
16. Chonkyfire

The Aquarius and Gemini connection has been touted throughout astrology for years. Sure, there lies connection with any astrological sign, but the apparent aligning of the stars so to speak with these two signs seem to create something magical. I personally can attest to this, as my experiences with an Aquarius gave me a long term relationship and most of all, the greatest gift in the world, my daughter. While that's just my personal story, we've witnessed the greatness that an Aquarius and Gemini can make together via music, or even in inspiration. Take the influence that Prince, quite possible the greatest Gemini artist, passed on to many of the Aquarius artists, such as D'Angelo for example, probably one of his biggest descendants in terms of music and creativity and known to be inspired by the Purple One. However, the biggest form of this connection can be found in the career of Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton, otherwise known as Andre 3000 and Big Boi. These two are distinct individuals, different in theory and personality, but brought together by their love of music and creation. Because of these distinct differences that we began to see via their sophomore classic album ATLiens, the two began work on a third album meant to highlight their individual styles, and they titled it after their two astrological signs. Affectionately titled Aquemini, the album would allow Outkast to enter a new stratosphere as artists and mainstream names. Along with the interesting name of the album, the duo would come with one of the more iconic covers in hip hop history, a painting that's truly rooted in imaging from blaxploitation films. This cover is my personal favorite out of their whole discography and in many ways, it fits the album perfectly.

After the success of ATLiens, the duo would be afforded more creative freedom, and this would be the result. Deciding to forego utilizing Organized Noize for a majority of the music on this project, Andre and Big Boi would employ a large group of musicians to help create music with a large live instrumentation sound and feel while still using drum programming and keyboards. Along with this inspiration, Andre 3000 would be reinvigorated musically in a brand new way, as he welcomed his first child with Neo Soul songstress Erykah Badu. The birth of his child, along with the relationship itself, led Andre to become more eccentric, more fearless, and more daring as an artist and MC. Big Boi and Andre set up shop shortly after the success of ATLiens and would have many musicians coming in and out the studio, working tirelessly to create great tracks. As Big Boi mentioned following the album's release, the two seemingly lived in the studio, letting the creativity marinate over a two year period, but the album was not without a small bit of internal conflict, as expected with artists of this caliber. The biggest issue would seemingly be Andre and his need to experiment, and Big Boi's concerns that it could alienate their audience, which at this point was mostly urban. Andre wanted to experiment some with his voice and pitch altering, and while some of that was allowed on the album, it was limited and in spurts.

The other issue, one that will seem much more significant once you look at the order and sequencing of the album, is deciding which song would kick off the album. Oddly enough, Big Boi would want to kick the album off with "Ya'll Scared", a song that is one of my personal least favorites on this particular album, but still a really dope track. I think what makes this choice so strange is that the song has featured guests and in a way seems to be similar in sound and feel to some of the ATLiens era songs. I think Big saw it as a matter of introducing the album with something close to what they know us for before giving them the new sound, but I think that wasn't right for this album. The album need a song, a statement, something strong that signaled a return, and also let you know from jump that this would be a hell of a listening experience. Well, in a move that would prove vital, Andre and the rest of the musicians within the album's creation leaned towards a track titled "Return Of The G", which ended up being the choice they went with for the first song on the album. There's some minor controversy about this selection, only because Big Boi is rumored to not have any say in the final tracklist selection, as he missed a flight and the final mastering session and meeting to determine it. He would arrive and cause a stir in the aftermath, but eventually agree to the placement of the song and subsequently the tracklist. With the album sequenced and finalized, Outkast prepared to release their biggest project thus far as artists. Aquemini is a lesson in gaining your creative freedom and how to experiment in music and win big time.

The sweet sounds of southern earthiness and experimentation kicks off with the aforementioned "Return Of The G", which starts off with one of the most quotable and raw verses from Andre 3000. Taking his time to point out the surrounding and lingering criticism the group and he, himself, have taken, Andre kicks the album off with an amazing opening verse. His lyrics are direct and shows a bit of aggression too. Check it out:

"It's the return of the gangsta thanks ta'/
Them niggas that's on that blow
that run up in yo' crib which contains/
Your lady and an 8 month old
child to raise plus/
You true blue 'bout this music but they do not want to hear it because they'd rather be bouncin' and shootin' and killin' and bouncin'
and shit get down/"

"Return of the gangsta thanks ta'
them niggas that think you soft
and say y'all be gospel rappin'/
But they be steady clappin'/
When you talk about
bitches & switches & hoes & clothes & weed, let's talk about time travelin/
Rhyme javelin/
Somethin' mind unravelin'/
Get down..."

Return of the gangsta thanks ta'
Them niggas who got them kids
who got enough to buy an ounce/
But not enough to bounce/
Them kids to the zoo or to the park/ 
So they grow up in the dark/
Never seein' light/ 
So they end up being like/
Yo' sorry ass, robbin' niggas in broad ass, daylight get down/"

Though the verse doesn't rhyme at times, it's abstract and aggressive enough to stand as one of the most memorable Andre verses. Big Boi has such a smoother approach, and his opening lines are two of my favorite lines from him ever. Mainly because they are relatable lines and shows the simplistic approach of Big compared to the "who wants what" approach of Andre, which is yet again another attempt to show the contrast. The next track, "Rosa Parks", was a single and very successful for the group. It would turn out to be controversial and lead to a lawsuit, which is another story for another article perhaps, but the song itself was monumental for the group as it embodied funk, blues, and jazz elements to make it sound like nothing else in the music world at the time. Big Boi kicks off the song with a smooth verse as expected, and the hook is beyond infectious with "ah ha, what's that fuss/ everybody move to the back of the bus/", obviously inspired by the titular influence. Andre steals the show on this one with his verse, and his lyrics on this particular verse also remains some of his most quotable. Check it out:

"I met a gypsy and she hipped me to some life game/
To stimulate then activate the left and right brain/
Said baby boy you only funky as your last cut/
You focus on the past your ass'll be a has what/
That's one to live by or either that one to die to/
I try to just throw it at you/ Determine your own adventure
Andre, got to her station/ 
Here's my destination/
She got off the bus, the conversation/
Lingered in my head for hours/
Took a shower, kinda sour/ 
Cause my favorite group ain't coming with it
But I'm with you, cause you probably going through it anyway
But anyhow/ 
When in doubt/
Went on out/
And bought it/
Cause I thought it/
Would be jamming/
But examine/
All the flawsky-wawsky/
It's sad and it's costly/ 
But that's all she wrote/
And I hope I never have to float in that boat/
Up shit creek, it's weak, is the last quote/
That I want to hear when I'm goin down/
When all's said and done, and we got a new joe in town/
When the record player get to skippin and slowing down/
All y'all can say is them niggas earned that crown/ 
But until then..."

Probably a top 10 verse from Andre all time, and the album has barely begun! The next track, the Raekwon featured "Skew It On The Bar-B", isn't my personal favorite, but it features some dope rhymes from Andre and a decent showing from Raekwon, but if I'm being honest, Raekwon sounds slightly out of place on this track. The real star of this track is Big Boi, who steals the show on this one with his verse. For example:

"Boy, I bust raps like D-boys bust gats, shit/
We the type of people that don't bury the axe, or the hatchet/
Everytime we see your link we snatch it/
Riding round our hood talkin that dumb shit, your cabbage/
Is cracked, like plumber's ass/ And summer's grass/
I been in the game for a minute, seen some suckas like y'all passing/
Thinking you're light skinned/ Aight then, lil' boy why you frightened?/
The Dungeon Family gon' be here nigga, so keep writing/
I gotta hit The Source, I need my other half a mic/
Because that Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik was a classic, right!/"

After two incorrect reviews from The Source depriving the group of the elusive 5 Mics twice, Big addresses it and sure enough, this album would get that distinction. The title track follows this and when I tell you this is probably the most amazing song on the album, I'm not exaggerating. With atmospheric sounds layered in the back and the consistent flow of instruments carrying the production, we are treated to a special moment in time for hip hop. Andre and Big Boi are equally doing what they do best, but for the particular sound and production, Andre once again steals the show with his verses. Don't get me wrong, Big Boi has his share of quotable lines throughout, but the brilliance from Andre is just hard to match. As if he didn't already have classic verses just 5 songs in, he drops what many consider two of his greatest verses ever. His first verse, which is the 2nd on the song is as abstract as they come, while his 2nd verse, which is the latter half of the 3rd and final verse is rapid fire wordplay and rhyming with a message within. Check both of his verses below:

"Twice upon a time there was a boy who died(twice), lived happily ever after/ 
But that's another chapter/
Live from home of the brave with dirty dollars/
Beauty parlors/
Baby bottles, bowling ball Impalas/
Street scholars/ 
That's majoring in culinary arts/
You know how to work bread, cheese, dough from scratch, but see the catch is you can get caught/
Know what ya sellin', what ya bought/ 
So cut that big talk/
Let's walk to the bridge now meet me halfway/
Now you may see some children dead off in the pathway/
It's them poor babies walkin' slowly to the candy lady/
It's lookin' bad need some hope
like the words maybe/
If, or probably/
More than a hobby/
When my turntables get wobbly/
They don't fall, I'm sorry y'all I often drift/ 
I'm talking gift/
So when it comes you never look the horse inside its grill/
Of course you know I feel/
Like the bearer of bad news/
Don't want to be it, but it's needed, so what have you/
Now question is every nigga with dreads for the cause?/
Is every nigga with golds for the fall? Naw/
So don't get caught in appearance/
it's Outkast Aquemini another Black experience/"

"My mind warps and bends/ Floats the wind, count to ten/
Meet the twin, Andre Ben/ Welcome to the lion's den/
Original skin/ 
Many men comprehend/
I extend myself so you go out & tell a friend/
Sin all depends on what you believing in/
Faith is what you make it, that's the hardest shit since MC Ren/
Alien can blend right on in wit' yo' kin/
Look again 'cause I swear I spot one every now & then
It's happenin' again/ 
Wish I could tell you when/
Andre this is Andre, y'all just gon' have to make amends/"

Masterful. Now, if this isn't enough to show why many have Andre 3000 in their top 10 all time, then maybe this rap thing just isn't for you. Moving on, we get the George Clinton featured "Synthesizer", which is truly rooted in the sounds of classic funk and some form of electric soul as well. This is the first tune we see Andre altering his vocals and the result is a fun listen, but neither artist stands out as being better than the other on this particular track. The sounds combined make for a great listen in general, and this is almost a glimpse of where Outkast would go on their next album, Stankonia. This track is followed by a more traditional Outkast song (if there was ever such a thing) in "Slump", which in many ways sounds like a leftover from the ATLiens sessions as we see Backbone and Cool Breeze come with some solid verses about the Atlanta street life and issues with the police. However, the real star of this track? None other than Big Boi, who kills the track with his witty and reality based verse. The hook for this track is one of my favorites on this entire album, as it is simple yet effective. Check it out:

"I'm strictly dressin dirty dirty, gone represent it to the T-Top/
Born and bred up on the street top/
Get to the money and the sweet spot/
And forever hollering, "Hootie Hoo!" when we see cops/"

Simple yet effective. After we get blessed with the southern knock of "Slump", we get what sounds like a flashback from Big Boi with "West Savannah". Produced by Organized Noize, this track is confirmed to be a leftover from the SPCM sessions back in 1993/1994, and you can tell by the youthful voice Big Boi displays, and even Sleepy Brown sounds younger here on the track via the hook. This is something smooth, a good departure from the experimentation, if only briefly. I say briefly, because right after "West Savannah", we jump right back into the experimentation with the 2 part epic "Da Art of Storytelling", which features two extremely different parts. The first part is of course the favorite, as the lyrics and production are smoother and relatable. We learn about the story of Suzy Screw and Sasha Thumper, who on first glance, sound like hilarious names, but their stories aren't as funny. Well, at least not Sasha Thumper. Big Boi employs a more comedic and playa approach in his verse, as he spends time with Suzy before giving her a "Lil Wil CD and a fucking poster". Andre instead goes a bit more fatalistic in his approach, showing a story of a woman who had potential, but also looked at the world from a negative view. From dreaming outside amongst the stars to getting into an abusive relationship and eventually overdosing on drugs while pregnant, Andre hits you with a quick yet really saddening story on Sasha Thumper.

This would lead us right into the 2nd part of the song, which is listed on the tracklist separately, and rightfully so. With a more apocalyptic vibe to the production, and a precursor outro on Part 1 that seemingly hints at some form of mass disaster, Andre kicks off part 2 with a really slick verse, full of multilayered meanings and lines. You'll have to pay attention to the lyrics and wordplay to full grasp it, but it's one of the more savvy Andre verses on the album, though not necessarily his best, here's what I mean:

"Baby did you hear that, yea baby I heard it too/
Look out the window golly, the sky is electric blue/
Momma Earth is dyin and cryin because of you/
Raining cats and jackles all shackles disintegrate, to residue/
Silly mortals haven't a clue/
As to what the fuck is going on/
I'm on the telephone/
Dialing the Dungeon, "Hello?" This Dre, bring the MP and the SP/
Meet me at the center of the earth and travel carefully/
Baby grab the baby, cause baby it ain't much time/
Momma Earth is tossing and turning and that's our sign/
Omega Nigga IFO's are landin in Decatur/
Hope I'm not over your head, but if so, you will catch on later/"

See? While lyrically this isn't his best, it's just the thought process that goes into this that makes it one of his more multilayered and a bit conceptual verses. Big Boi doesn't disappoint either, as at first listen, he steals the show basically, providing a more straightforward approach, but it works effectively here:

"The sky is falling, nobody balling, they done gave back they guns/
For some tickets to the playoffs but the Hornets they won/
Nigga we SLUM/ 
Kept all the guns, I gotta protect my family/
I drove the biggest thing at the house, cause I knew they'd try to ram me/
But I'm stabbing, making a path on expressways, the best way I know how/
Up in the sky, East-West, no clouds/
Him comin now/
Fuck that money now/
I ask my honey how she feeling/
And is Jordan okay, yeah yeah she's chillin/
We should be in the Dungeon shortly/
Ain't nobody on they porch see/
Approachin the final exit, I'm thinkin I see four horsies/
But I don't though/
Nigga you WON'T know/
Until it's on ya/
I put that on my dope boys from A-Town to California/
All the weed smell like ammonia/
but at the Dungeon I know they smoking/
Writing the raps and doing the beats to make this last recording/
Fuck abortion/
I got in the booth to run the final portion/
The beat was very dirty and the vocals had distor-TION/"

A great way to end the song, this might be one of the best Big Boi verses on the entire album. After we get the two storytelling tracks, we go right into the other Organized Noize production on the album, the smooth yet abrasive "Mamacita", which is not necessarily one of my favorite songs here on the album, but it's still a dope track. That's the thing about this album that I love so much is that even the weaker tracks are still dope. That's a trend for the most part with Outkast albums in general, to be fair. Both Andre and Big Boi come with solid verses here however, but the female MC, Masada, tends to weigh down the feel of the track oddly enough and Witchdoctor doesn't add much either. Still, because of Big and Andre, the track manages to bump.

It is after this track however, that everything reaches the apex in production form and concept with the epic "SpottieOttieDopaLiscious". The track is full of horns and instrumentation that almost resembles a marching band, but the infectious sound of "damn, damn, damn, James", which has no correlation to anything, except a moment of reflection on the show "Good Times", is what many remember the most. While that was memorable for sure, my biggest memory of this song comes in the lovely transitions between the beat and the three voices featured on the song. Neither Andre or Big actually rap, but they perform spoken word verses with little rhythm and the only vocals actually on the song come from Sleepy Brown, as he layers his brand of soul atop the beautiful instruments. The resounding horns elevate this song, and the spoken word verses from both MCs paint a picture of awareness, accountability, and reality. I specifically appreciate the reality displayed in Big Boi's spoken word portion, especially with how he leaves it at the end. If I was ranking tracks on the album, this one would be at the top of the list, probably in the top 3. That's how dope the music and the execution of this song is.

Well, the song that Big wanted to open the album arrives at track 13 and while I understand why Big wanted to open the album with it, it fits perfect here near the end of the album. Along with the Goodie Mob on this track, minus Cee-Lo, all the MCs bring fire on "Ya'll Scared", but Andre and Big both manage to take the cake on the strongest verses. Andre decides to take an interesting approach with his verse, tackling the issue of drug usage throughout the community and world over, among a few other things. Peep the verse:

"Yo, paragraph indent/
I make intense sense/
Niggas on that Gil Scott dope, hint hint/
At age fifteen they start smokin Billy Clint'/
Now he's twenty-one and wants to know where the time went/
Hey hey hey what's the haps?/ Well see, your time elapsed/
Have you ever thought of the meaning of the word trapped/
Baboon on your back/ 
But what's sad is that crack/
Was introduced to hispanic communities and blacks/
But then it spread to white and got everyone's undivided/ Attention, cause your daughter is on it and you can't hide it/
Maybe your son tried it, rehab too crowded/
You scared, she scared, they scared, I said, they scared, they scared to talk about it/"

As profound as that is, the difference between the two artists can be found here, as Big takes a more drastic approach to his verse, or rather more traditional approach, challenging the world and anyone in it, so to speak. The verse is simply his usual playa style combined with a tad more aggression than usual near the end of the verse. Check it out:

"February 1st, 1975's my birthdate/
The player the B-O-I, was brought onto this earth on Thursday/
I think see, my cap I twist it back from all the dank/
But if you see me on the Ave, you better believe I tote that shank/
So what y'all though bruh?/
I gotta protect my name and what we fought for/
Southernplayalistic ATLiens in your sock drawer/
No lockjaw, we got that raw shit and all the trimmings/
Even though we got two albums, this one feel like the beginning/
The intro, the Goodie we kinfolk, nigga it's finna jump off/
But now it's time I lay low 
cause I believe the track gon' cut off/
Sike!, the track is bumpin like pussies on some dykes/
So if you scared say you scared cause everybody can die tonight/
Cause my heart don't pump no Slushee/
You touch my niggas you touch me/
I blow up the microphone like Marilyn Manson, you can't hush me/"

After we finish this track, we get an interlude with one of the imprisoned Dungeon Family members (the Dungeon Family is much much more than Outkast and Goodie Mob) who was serving time and spits a freestyle over the phone. This is seemingly unnecessary as an interlude until we get to another epic track that's a bit unconventional in "Liberation". With "Liberation", there's almost a feel of a negro spiritual combined with a Neo Soul funky blues sound behind it. Andre and Big combine with Andre's queen at the time Erykah Badu, Big Rube (with his usual spoken word at the end), and Cee-Lo to make a song about freedom and the search for liberation. In many ways, this song could be perceived as a middle finger to the record labels and fans alike who want to keep the artists in a box, or it could be perceived as a response to people in general who want to box them in and keep them confined to one thought process or way of life. I find the most profound verse on this song to be from Badu, as she keeps it simple yet multilayered in the same respect. Check out what I mean:

"Folk in your face, you're a superstar/
Niggas hang around cause of who you are/
You get a lot of love cause of what you got/
Say they happy for you but they really not/
Sell a lot of records and you roll a Benz/
Swoll up in the spot, now you losing friends/
All you wanna do is give the world your heart/
But the label tried to make you compromise your art/
You make a million dollars, make a million mo'/
First class broad treat you like a nigga po'/
You wanna say "Wait!" but you're scared to ask/
As your world starts spinning and it's moving fast/
Try to stay sane, it's the price of fame/
Spending your life trying to numb the pain/
You shake that load off and sing a song/
Liberate the minds, then you go on home../"

The haunting vocal of "shake that load off" repeating along with a soulful bevy of adlibs helps to elevate the song even higher, making it another favorite of mine. In a way, I wish this would have closed the album, but I understand why the duo decided to include one final song, one of which features clips from the infamous 1995 Source Awards speech that Andre stole the show with. That final song is titled "Chonkyfire", and it is a beautiful sound based around lavish guitars and some intense synths. The drums have an almost funky rock feel and that sums up this song in general for me: Funky Rock. Both MCs come with short verses and in a way, the song serves as more of an outro than an actual track within the cohesion of the album. It's a nice way to close out such a heavy album, ripe with multiple genres infused and a lot of topics that tested the limit of hip hop back in 1998.

It's crazy that it has been just a little over 18 years since we've witnessed such greatness from the greatest hip hop duo ever. While this album isn't their best to me personally (it is just a small notch below ATLiens), it is their most creative and daring album, and a true classic in music. It would catapult Outkast into a different space as artists and commercially would be successful, another lesson in "do what your art tells you" within this music business. 18 years later, Aquemini still sounds as good now as it did then. The true mark of timeless music.



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