As contemporary artists like Future, Lil Baby and Young Thug continue to dominate the mainstream rap world, it is refreshing to look back to their predecessors from Atlanta, namely the group that changed everything in the 1990s: OutKast. The superduo of André 3000 (André Benjamin) and Big Boi (Antwan Patton) burst onto the scene in 1994 with their debut release “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” and never looked back. OutKast went on to rule the late 1990s and early 2000s, all the while becoming one of the more commercially successful and influential rap groups ever. While they have many excellent records to choose from, their 1998 release “Aquemini” stands out to me. It not only demonstrates the duo’s knack for storytelling and exceptional rapping ability, but it also shows their impeccable musical versatility and creativity.
Many people who are at least somewhat familiar with OutKast will immediately recognize the album’s third track, “Rosa Parks.” The famous civil rights activist actually sued the duo for using her name in the title without her permission, though the case was later settled. Beyond that piece of controversy, however, is a truly extraordinary song. Both Big Boi and André 3000 deliver verses filled with clever rhymes and remarkable delivery over a variety of instruments, including both acoustic and electric guitars. Moreover, there is even a harmonica solo, which is unique for any piece of mainstream music, never mind a rap song.
Another gem on “Aquemini” is “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1).” The track’s highlight has to be André 3000’s heartbreaking yet powerful verse. He tells the story of a conversation he had with a girl named Sasha Thumper, noting that when he asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered, “Alive.” André then proceeds to discuss how the encounter resonated with him both in the moment and as his career progressed: “It made me think for a minute, then looked in her eyes/I coulda died, time went on, I got grown/Rhyme got strong, mind got blown/I came back home, to find lil’ Sasha was gone.” While André’s account of Sasha Thumper is certainly tragic, it is also inspiring in that it subtly advocates for appreciating every day we have here on Earth.
I would also encourage readers to listen closely to the album’s title tracks (“Aquemini”), “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” and “Liberation (with Cee-Lo),” which further exhibit the duo’s brilliance with the help of artists like Sleepy Brown and CeeLo Green.
OutKast changed hip-hop and rap music forever, especially in Atlanta. They oftentimes do not seem to get enough credit nowadays for their all-around musical genius. Along with their other albums “ATLiens” and “Stankonia,” “Aquemini” set a new standard for the music world, as it pushed the envelope on what the “genre” of rap meant and could be.