Retrospective: Outkast- Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

There comes a time in music where a supergroup or a dynamic duo needs a little break from each other. We've seen it happen to all the legends and all the greats, and of course OutKast would be no exception. After the massive success of Stankonia, Big Boi and Andre 3000 were going in different musical directions. Because of this, they would end up doing two separate discs, essentially two solo albums that were packaged as one OutKast project. Today, True and Speed review this album, with True taking the Big Boi album, and Speed reviewing the Andre album. Let's get into it.

Speakerboxxx Tracklist
1. Intro
2. Ghetto Musick
3. Unhappy
4. Bowtie
5. The Way You Move
6. The Rooster
7. Bust
8. War
9. Church
10. Bamboo(Interlude)
11. Tomb of the Boom
12. E-Mac (Interlude)
13. Knowing
14. Flip Flop Rock
15. Interlude
16. Reset
17. D-Boi (Interlude)
18. Last Call
19. Bowtie (Postlude)

I've been an Outkast fan since the moment they stepped onto the scene. The Atlanta duo provided something special that hadn't been seen in hip hop, possessing a ton of southern flavor and unique lyricism. As their careers evolved, I watched them release classics and stake their claim as my personal favorite hip hop duo/group of all time hands down. After Stankonia and the greatest hits album, I was anxious to hear new OutKast music. I knew they had something coming as they would release a project every 2 years, and when 2003 arrived, I was really excited for what they would deliver. My disappointment initially when finding out what this album really represented was rooted in the fact that I wanted to hear the evolution of Big and Dre on tracks together.

However, when the projects released, I found myself loving this album, despite it not being the Outkast album that I wanted. My personal opinion on The Love Below was at first I was disappointed because I wanted to hear Andre rap more, but I couldn't deny the infectious nature and fun of the songs where he sang. However, I'll let Speed cover that. From the opening sound of the track "Ghetto Musick," I knew what Big  Boi was going to bring is what I consider the Stankonia Evolve. The creative high that he hit on that album, along with his lyrical growth is on full display, as the opening track seems him spitting a rapid fire flow with words compounding and syllables clashing. Big controls the microphone on this track and the Patti Labelle sample along with Andre on the hook makes for a pleasant opening listen. Big is off to a great start.

Now, with the honest yet melancholy "Unhappy", Big seems to speak directly to the harsh realities that some face in life, but the song serves a reminder to appreciate your blessings and live life to the fullest while you can. Big provides us with a slick and pimped out track next on "Bowtie," as Jazze Pha and Sleepy Brown assist him over a funky rhythm. The resounding horns are definitely a nice touch here as well, and they add to the feel of the song. Big provides his usual brand of solid lyricism and fun wordplay on this song, with a hook that reminds the world of why they call him the "Gangsta Mack in the Cadillac." Sir Lucious Leftfoot is back at it again.

The first single "The Way You Move" is now a classic track and is a huge crossover song for OutKast as a whole and Big Boi as an artist. The smooth sounds of Sleepy Brown carry a breezy horn fueled funk fest, and Big even takes time to address the perceived split of OutKast, by letting it be known that he and Dre are not clashing, but rather Dre just went to focus more on movie roles and acting (and decided to do an entire album without him, but that's besides the point). The song is truly a great listen and it leads into the "baby-mama drama" anthem, which could be looked at as the sequel to "Ms. Jackson" from Stankonia, "The Rooster." Big speaks candidly to the mother of his child and tries to work things out as best he can. The song is very real, but Big manages to throw the funk on it so that while he's dropping true gems, you can still tap your feet and dance to it if you like. Sound strategy.

Admittedly, the period where we arrive to the songs "Bust," "War," and "Church" is my least favorite part of the album. While I respect Big and his lyricism on each of these songs, they missed the mark for me personally, though "Church" is at times an enjoyable listen, the production on these three tracks bring them down a notch. He managed to recover quickly with the posse cut "Tomb of The Boom", which features Ludacris in his prime dropping a solid feature verse, while Big Gipp and Konkrete come with solid and aggressive verses as well. Big manages to do his thing and goes toe to toe lyrically with Luda here, as the two seemingly compete for the shine and best verse on the song. It's a great showcase of skill on this song.

Andre makes an appearance on the booming track "Knowing," and manages to take it up a notch with a cool hook, while Big drops gems and knowledge on conditions of the world, and more specifically, our neighborhoods and the people in them. A lot of people love the song "Flip Flop Rock", as Killer Mike and Jay-Z make appearances and while the song is quite enjoyable, it falls into the territory of being dope but forgettable, even with a Jigga verse. All three MCs do their thing here, but I admit the song doesn't really do much for me. Another gripe I have with this album, and it is minimal, is the amount of skits and interlude before each song. It almost felt like overkill, just to have a full tracklist, because in reality, there's about 13 actual songs, with 5 to 6 interludes. I would have much rather taken more songs than adding unnecessary interludes. However, it doesn't mess up the flow of the album itself.

My favorite song on this entire album is "Reset," and it remains my favorite solo track from Big Boi (besides "The Train"). The beat is somber, yet soulful in a way, while the hook is simple, yet powerful. With the sounds of "start over...again...everything happens for reasons, good doesn't come without pain..." in the hook, whenever I have issues going on, this is the first song I personally true to. It is one of the strongest songs in the OutKast discography to me because of what it represents and the level of lyricism from Big Boi and Cee-Lo, along with the aggression and reality based rap of Khujo Goodie. Big Boi provides one of his all time best verses, and Cee-Lo usually his always cool demeanor to coast over this track and provide a thought provoking short but sweet batch of lyrics. If you've gone through something or even had a loss, just play this song. It will help to get you through tough times.

The final actual song here is "Last Call" with Lil Jon and The Eastside Boyz, Mello, and Slimm Calhoun, which is actually a fun track, but suffers from the lackluster production, a glowing problem through this album in certain parts truthfully. If Lil Jon had provided the production or maybe even Organized Noize, perhaps this track would have knocked more. It needed that upbeat feel, that Crunk aspect of it, and while Lil Jon being a part of it helped, it missed the mark of what it was truly needed for. Not a bad end to the album, but it left a lot to be desired.

Overall, I enjoyed this album. Big shines here lyrically, providing some great verses and profound lyricism, but the only drawback is the inconsistency in production. I think Big Boi delivers a solid project with Speakerboxxx, but on his first try out solo, you can tell he was still getting it together.


The Love Below Tracklist
1. The Love Below (Intro)
2. Love Hater
3. God (Interlude)
4. Happy Valentine's Day
5. Spread
6. Where Are My Panties?
7. Prototype
8. She Lives In My Lap
9. Hey Ya!
10. Roses
11. Good Day
12. Behold A Lady
13. Pink & Blue
14. Love In War
15. She's Alive
16. Dracula's Wedding
17. My Favorite Things (Instrumental)
18. Take Off Your Cool
19. Vibrate
20. A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)

When True hit me up to review this one, he called me a Judas. Why? Well, as much as I love both parts of this project, I've got to personally say that The Love Below is superior. That, plus he wanted to review it and I called it first. Sorry, my brother.

But, I digress.

The Love Below, it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects that deserves all the praise and admiration it receives. Yes, that includes still talking about the deeper, darker, sadder meanings behind "Hey Ya" and the happier-sounding songs. And yes, we're going to talk a bit about Caroline and "Roses."

This section of the project starts off with a Sinatra, Sammy Davis-esque intro. It's big, it's grand, and it draws you into the project. I mean, not too many hip-hop-centric albums start off with lounge pianos. But, as soon as you're given that slower intro, we're put back into a big band vibe with "Love Hater." Any song that features someone singing "everybody need to quit acting hard and shit/before you get yo' ass whupped (I'll slap the fuck out ya)" right before they go back into talking about needing love? That's kind of classic. It's classic in the sense that you know that the restraints are off Andre in this project. No types of fucks are given as to who he offends or how he approaches it, as long as it's good.

The "God" interlude continues that no fucks given approach to love and love songs. We find Andre asking God for help to get the woman he needs. This takes us right into "Happy Valentine's Day." Andre, in the role of Cupid, details how, apparently, love is this fleeting thing. People don't believe in it as much anymore, it'd seem. However, Cupid, the resilient ex-player he is, he keeps at it and ultimately states that you can't run away from it in a dope fourth verse. Somewhere along the way, though, the love towards love? It's replaced by a "fuck that Valentine" chant as the outro chorus.

We're left to wonder "oh, crap. What happened?"

We're not really given an answer, but we're given "Spread." A funky song detailing Andre and his lady friend's sexual desire in a way that's sexy, consensual, and just straight blunt as hell, "Spread" is one of my favorite songs on the album. As we go from the rawness of "Spread," Andre and his lady friend, they contemplate what their sex means in the "Where Are My Panties" interlude. From here, we get "Prototype."

Now "Prototype?" My God, this song has honest babymaker written all over it. And the video? Man! It's so funky and...weird. It's the perfect Andre song, in some ways. It features him in his natural, almost-otherworldly habitat and allows him to bounce from rapper Three Stacks to crooner. I've always been a bit biased to this song, mainly because it's a philosophy I've lived through.

"She Lives in My Lap," for me? It's one of those songs everyone should listen to and follow its advice. Just be cool about it all. That's not the whole story to the song, obviously, as the track details Andre not being fully ready to commit. However, things shouldn't exactly be full-out stressed in life. The way the song deconstructs itself at the end sets up those aforementioned deeper meanings behind the happy-sounding "Hey Ya!" It's this sort of storytelling that's missing in a lot of hip-hop--and music, period--today.

Andre 3000, in just one song, became the equivalent of The Weeknd, Future, and Kendrick Lamar wrapped into one. It's a fun song that seems to be slightly harmless to sing in the club or what have you (a la "Can't Feel My Face," "Tell Your Friends," "The Percocet and Stripper Joint," or "Poetic Justice") that, when you really listen to the lyrics? You're given this depressing outlook on a situation. Andre, while being upbeat, is pouring his soul out about trying to figure this relationship out.

And then we're given the "fuck that bitch" anthem "Roses."

Three Stacks channels Prince and we're given a great Big Boi voice. Plus, we get the "Caroline, see she's the reason for the word 'bitch'" line. It's a classic track, and that's before you get into your feels and think about that one girl you used to fuck with who ended up being on some dumb shit. We've all been there and, like a later track on this album suggest, we need to take off our cool and reflect on some of the craziness and stupidity we've surrounded ourselves with romantically.

After Andre recollects himself, we get to "Behold a Lady." The track, for me, it's partly "She Get It From Her Mama" and part, well, part-The Love Below. Inquiring about the "candy-coated unicorn" that is the perfect, down for you sort of girl, we're given this bouncy track that acts as the complete opposite to "Hey Ya!" and "Roses." It denotes a bit of a shift in the album's vibe, once again.

This time, we get Andre talking to an older woman. 

"Pink and Blue," though? Oh, man. While I've had my share of older women, I never went straight-up cougar with it. I don't know. This song makes me giggle in its absurdity. But, sometimes, you've got to go older if you're on an otherworldly level. However, I'm not going "goo goo" for anyone. Sorry, 'Dre.

But, for the characters in this project, this older woman seems to reawaken the love within Ice Cold. It also reawakens a reflective side to the "baby," as we get "She's Alive" out of the "Love in War" that's just gone down. "She's Alive" reminds me a bit of a Donny Hathaway song in its presentation. It's equal parts "Baby Mama" and "Little Ghetto Boy" and completely goes left of many of the tracks on this album. 

I love that shift.

The strong woman in "She's Alive" may have allowed even the unfazed Dracula to gain some sort of fear. The man (Andre 3000) is fearful of long-term relationships and the like, but it seems that someone's gotten into his head and, even with his fears, allowed him to see the potential positives. However, this woman, this single mother, she's obviously rattled him to the point that he's still confused, potentially displayed through the frantic nature of the cover of "My Favorite Things."

I'd guess that one of Andre's favorite things is to see his lady friends in their natural state. So, what better way to try and get this than to ask her to take off her cool. This song is so abstract in that there are several ways to interpret it. That, plus, it's a simple song in comparison to the rest of the album.

From that simplicity, we're thrown head-first into the song "Vibrate." A song about self-pleasure and self-guidance, it's a loaded song. You could argue it's about simply procreation and not wasting your seed by jacking off. You could argue it's an environmentalist song, as it speaks on how we, as a society, have probably doomed Earth. Man! There are so many interpretations to this track. It's kind of the perfect way to bring about the end of the album. The main character/narrator of the story, he's potentially found love--or at least someone he can take his cool off with--and now he's contemplating more about emotions, sex, humanity, and so on.

...and then you get an insanely lyrical summary of Andre's life which stops far before the point of the album. If you want/need any sort of "oh, is Andre 3000 really that good?" answer to a question, play this track. His voice blends and stands out among the instrumental, his schemes are pretty amazing, and, well, it's Andre 3000 rapping. Do you really need more?!

All in all, though? The Love Below is that album that deserves the classic praise. Speakerboxxx as well, but there was something about The Love Below that spoke to me a bit more and seemed a bit more tight. However, both albums are classic.

So, there you have it, DAR readers. Which songs are your favorite from the project? Which album is, for you, the better project? Sound off in the comments below or through Twitter at @TeamDAR, @TrueGodImmortal, and @SpeedontheBeat



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