Few groups have earned the combination of artistic license, musical legacy and contemporary mystique of OutKast. They have released classic after classic, always progressing, developing and recreating what came to be the seminal sound of the Dirty South. Andre 3000 and Big Boi wove gorgeous tapestries of story with inventive rhymes, consistently trying to top each other. Their story has grown sour recently as the two parted ways, but Aquemini, released in 1998, shows just how progressive and proficient the pair were still working full time with Organized Noize.
While Aquemini has a smattering of slow crooning songs such as “West Savannah,” “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” and “Hold On, Be Strong,” the energy and chemistry of ‘Kast is first evident on “Rosa Parks.” Three Stacks turned in one of his most prophetic verses, starting with the tale of his romantic dabbling with Erykah Badu. He ties in her wisdom (“Baby boy, you only funky as your last cut/you focus on the past your ass will be a has-what”) with some reminiscing on the first time he was let down by an album of one of his favorite groups. Doing so shows self-awareness, the knowledge that he may face the same pressure to craft a classic that he puts on others. How might that song affect him today after the rocky road that the group has traversed over the past seven or eight years?
The two parts of “Da Art of Storytelling” deserve the Slick Rick Award for “Best Ingenuity and Cohesion in Hip Hop.” Big Boi starts the saga by detailing his dubious relationship with Suzy Skrew and Andre 3K complements with a chapter on Sasha Thumper. While Big Boi makes it clear that he has no feelings for his side chick, he ends on an up-note with a twist for the ages:
“’Cool, I really wanted to cut you but this’ll do,’
I gotta pick up my daughter plus my baby mama beeped me too,
She said she understood then everything was kosher,
I gave her a Lil’ Will CD and a fucking poster.”
Andre, meanwhile, regales us with a tale of love for a girl who stresses the importance of living and ends up dead from a heroin overdose. The two have a peculiar bounce effect — Big Boi supplying a steady stream of comic relief while 3000 stresses life game, serious issues and spiritual steadiness. “Part 2” is frenetic; as Andre reiterates the importance of respect, Big Boi oversees the changes in his family, friends and hometown, and both men thematically discuss the apocalypse. Antwan emphasizes the poverty in Atlanta while Andre gives a macro-explanation of the troubles of the world.
There is no shortage of timeless music here: “Liberation” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” are epic grooves that bring into the fold Cee-Lo Green, Badu and of course Sleepy Brown. Funk and life legend George Clinton brings the weird to “Synthesizer.” Raekwon delivers one of the sharpest verses ever on “Skew It On The Bar-B” and “Chonkyfire” gave us one of the most beautiful instrumentals ever. This is a superlative album, with few if any noticeable low points and a bounty of – you know what? This is a classic album of classic albums. I’ve been blessed to have a roommate who has made it his mission to play this album at least twice a week and I have been reabsorbing every second of Aquemini, deciphering and translating the southern slang into my white Midwestern vernacular. Each beat still sounds fresh to this day, and perhaps because it’s been 15 years, many of the beats sound even better than they did when I first heard them. The only exception is “Chonkyfire,” which has been one of my favorite songs as long as I can remember.