Over the past 20 years, hip-hop has evolved from the candid voice of a curbside culture to a bona fide form of global expression. Originally, it was solely defined by a MC, DJ, break dancing, and graffiti. But because of a wide range of acceptance, both nationally and internationally, its definition and course have broadened. Unlike other genres, hip-hop has benefited from its inclusion of diverse tongues and experiences. Specifically in the US, hip-hop artists, from all four corners of the map, are embraced for boldly ‘representin’ their segment of society. Since their debut in 1994, Outkast have been praised for their distinctive representation of the ‘dirty south’. But with homegrown skills, style, and quality production, Atlanta’s native sons have broken regional boundaries. Their last three CD’s generated millions of fans and dollars from around the globe. And in the tradition of projects past, they continue to bring in the noise and funk of an enduring genre with Stankonia.
As on previous releases, Outkast demonstrates a commitment to creativity. “BOB” (Bombs Over Baghdad) is a musical collage of hip-hop, dance, and rock music. Its fast tempo, complimented by the chant “Bombs over Baghdad”, makes this song edgy, animated, and entertaining. While some may find their artistic approach to be unorthodox, Outkast remain constant. Their southern pride accentuates their vocal style. And their music compliments their uninhibited demeanor. On “Humble Mumble”, Outkast members, Dre and Big Boi, give new meaning to the term ‘thinking outside of the box’. With assistance from the vocally charming, Erykah Badu, they combine singing and rap to create a melodious yet unpredictable experience. In addition, their performances are enhanced by the hypnotic drum patterns that drive the track.
Over the years, Outkast seem to challenge the standards that were set by their hip-hop predecessors. If it’s been done before, you won’t see it practiced by this duo. But the props for executing such innovation should not be given to Outkast alone. Since the release of their first CD, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, producers such as Organized Noize, transformed many of their ideas into hits. On Stankonia, they skillfully included a funky bass-line and slick background vocals to permeate “Spaghetti Junction” and “So Fresh, So Clean”. However, Earthtone III, who produced most of this project, revealed Outkast’s artistic courage. The use of an electric guitar emphasizes the distressful mood of “Gasoline Dreams”. It not only provides this song with a hard rock sound, but also a platform for their intense vocal performances.
What continues to set Outkast apart is their ability to connect with their audience. Their themes, although familiar, are realistic and relatable. On “Ms. Jackson”, Outkast tackle problems that often occur between parents and grandparents of children born out of wedlock. Similarly, “Toilet Tisha” is a poignant song about a teenager who takes her own life to avoid the shame of pregnancy. Unlike television, ‘reality music’ has been in existence for centuries. And for artists like Outkast, their realistic contributions continue to solidify their position in the music industry. Within Stankonia, Outkast successfully presented a southern perspective of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But on the surface, phat beats and pure funk should suffice.