October 14, 2008

Outkast - Aquemini (September 29, 1998)



September 29, 1998, has been heralded by many bloggers as the greatest release date in hip hop ever, and rightfully so. This wonderfully historic day was met with five high-profile rap albums seeing daylight for the first time: A Tribe Called Quest's The Love Movement, the crew's final album; Brand Nubian's Foundation, the crew's reunion disc; Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, the underground pairing of the year; Jay-Z's Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life; and Outkast's Aquemini, Big Boi and Andre 3000's third album.

I recall vividly driving over to Best Buy after class to pick up as many discs as I could afford, since back then I apparently had money to burn (thanks, American economy!). However, I only ended up getting four of the five aforementioned discs, for reasons that I still cannot quite understand to this day. The Tribe album was a no-brainer, as they are my second favorite rap group of all time (right behind the Wu-Tang Clan) and I had been assigned to write a review of The Love Movement for the college newspaper for that week's issue (and, even though I tend to be incredibly conceited most of the time, even I have to admit that the final review was pretty shitty: the writing has truly improved over time). Given this blogger's obvious affection for the Shawn Carter catalog, obviously I had to pick up the Jay-Z disc as well. I think I snatched up the Black Star album because I kind of liked "Definition", and would later be blown away by the brilliance that was "Respiration", and somehow the Brand Nubian disc found its way into my hands because DJ Premier produced the leadoff track. (Also, "Don't Let It Go To Your Head" was a favorite of mine around this time, although I couldn't tell you what that song sounds like today for the life of me.) Yes, my two readers, that's right: I somehow rationalized not buying Aquemini the day it dropped, and I'm still pissed at myself. You can rest assured that I corrected that problem the following week.

Aquemini, whose title is (as you may have guessed) a combination of the astrological signs Aquarius and Gemini, was the first album in a long while to receive the fabled five mic rating in The Source, which, back then, meant that the album was pretty fucking close to perfect. The liner notes abandoned the comic book concept introduced on ATLiens (thankfully), opting to keep things simple by (gasp!) printing the song lyrics instead. Other than the fact that Andre resembles a skinnier Kool Keith on the first page of the booklet, with a goofy wig and all, this move was very highly appreciated.

Aquemini went on to sell seventy bajillion copies, and it raked in critical acclaim by the boatload. Fans were quick to revel in the brilliance of the album, a clear antidote to the radio-friendly pap that was coming out of New York at the time, even though Outkast's first single "Rosa Parks" dominated urban radio in its own right. Aquemini was the rare hip hop album that combined rap music's swagger with spoken word, R&B, social commentary, and uniquely abstract musical styles in enlightened coherence.

Oh, and the album sounds pretty good, too.


1. HOLD ON, BE STRONG (FEAT 4.0)
This intro is really boring, and, as such, completely useless.

2. RETURN OF THE "G"
This song would have been better utilized as the intro to Aquemini, with its slow-grinding, Giorgio Moroder-sampling beat helping to ease your way back into the world of Andre and Big Boi.

3. ROSA PARKS
Wow, I haven't heard this song in years. Even with the bizarre inspiration for the song's title and hook, this track still bounces along nicely. The harmonica breakdown is something I completely forgot about, and it fits like a glove. It's hard to believe that this was truly the first single from Aquemini. Also, Big Boi and Andre usually complement each other on Outkast tracks, but on here, Dre inadvertently destroys Big Boi over a beat that he's clearly more accustomed to.

4. SKEW IT ON THE BAR-B (FEAT RAEKWON)
The theme to Police Woman sets the tune for a terrific-but-still-kind-of-weird collaboration between Outkast and Raekwon the Chef, with a final product that is to this day lovingly referred to in my household as "the kangaroo song". Still, fantastic track. The video is awfully plain, though.

5. AQUEMINI
Very reminiscent of something that would have appeared on the second half of ATLiens...or, at least, it was, until the beat slightly switches up midway through the song. Although the hook is a bit too wordy for its own good, the listening experience is pleasant enough.

6. SYNTHESIZER (FEAT GEORGE CLINTON)
This is actually the first time I have heard this track in its entirety since I first bought Aquemini, and I gotta say, I have to agree with my former self, as this song kind of blows.

7. SLUMP (FEAT BACKBONE & COOL BREEZE)
Andre 3000 doesn't even appear on this track, and if I had to choose between an Outkast song and a Big Boi solo track featuring two of his random weed carriers, Outkast would win the day every. Single. Time.

8. WEST SAVANNAH
According to the outro of "Slump", Big Boi wrote this song around the time Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was recorded, and if that's the case, it could have made an already good album even better. Dre doesn't bother to appear on this song, either.

9. DA ART OF STORYTELLIN' (PART 1)
A great song, even though the stories Big Boi and Dre (yes, he somehow found his way back from the restroom) tell are really fucking depressing. Mr. DJ's beat is undeniably entertaining, as well.

10. DA ART OF STORYTELLIN' (PART 2)
And as good as Part One is, Part 2 is even better, with a much darker tone to accompany the tales. This song fucking rocks, and the vocal distortion effects on Andre's voice actually work.

11. MAMACITA (FEAT MASADA & WITCHDOCTOR)
A pretty ridiculous misstep by Outkast. The beat is slow-driven and all of the rhymes are technically proficient, but the quote-unquote "hook" makes me want to strangle somebody out of general principle. Witchdoctor's statement "...in the oven I got your favorite, Stouffer's lasagna/That's how much I want ya" is pretty funny, though, since it's oddly specific and all.

12. SPOTTIEOTTIEDOPALISCIOUS (FEAT SLEEPY BROWN)
Certainly not what you would expect to hear on a hip hop record, but this is Outkast we're talking about here. Be forewarned: this is essentially spoken word poetry (performed by Big Boi, Andre, and Sleepy Brown, who is credited here as Pat Brown) over a nice groove of a beat. If that's not your cup of tea, you may want to grab another beverage while you hit the 'skip' button.

13. Y'ALL SCARED (FEAT T-MO, BIG GIPP, & KHUJO)
Outkast and their bestest buddies in Goodie Mob (minus Cee-Lo) creep along a threateningly paranoid instrumental, with good results. All five rappers hold their own, sounding more like a rap supergroup rather than a collaboration.

14. NATHANIEL
Interlude...

15. LIBERATION (FEAT CEE-LO, BIG RUBE, & ERYKAH BADU)
Oh, there's Cee-Lo. In a substantial change from the norm, this eight-minute-plus album cut barely features either member of Outkast. It's still good, though, and would serve as a better-than-decent outro on any enlightened rap album. However, once again, this is Outkast we're talking about, so...

16. CHONKYFIRE
...Andre and Big Boi pop up on this final track, which is dominated with a beautiful noise consisting of synthesizers and guitars, ending Aquemini on a high note. This song is fucking awesome. If only more rap albums had the balls to end like this.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Aquemini is the third good album in a surprisingly consistent career, which is especially rare in hip hop. Outkast seems to mature with each subsequent disc, and the music of Andre and Big Boi becomes more and more captivating with each listen. There are a few misfires, but every artist has a few paintings that they tend not to discuss much later in life, so it's okay. All in all, a blazing success.

BUY OR BURN? Most of my two readers probably already own this one, but if you don't, for some odd reason, you should definitely run out and pick it up now. Seriously.

BEST TRACKS: "Da Art Of Storytellin' (Part 2)"; "Skew It On The Bar-B"; "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)"; "West Savannah"; "Chonkyfire"; "Y'all Scared"; "Liberation"; "Rosa Parks"


B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part One) (Remix)" featuring Slick Rick. The video version of "Da Art Of Storytellin'", with its Big Boi and Dre Muppets, features the genre's master storyteller, and is well worth the time it takes to find it. The only version I own is the clean radio edit, though: does anybody happen to have the dirty version? Anyone? Bueller?

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read up on the other Outkast albums by clicking here.

19 comments:

  1. Aquemini (the song) just "pleasant enough"? Might just be the understatement of the century. Just happens to be one of the best songs in my books and definitely the best track on this great album

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  2. Good review as always, Max.

    i only disagree on one point - SpottieOttiedopaliscious is one of the most awesome OutKast tracks of alltime...hell, it's one of the best hiphop tracks ever.

    atmospheric, melodic, thematic, lyrical...it hits on all cylinders...i've never heard a "night at the club" experience described better or with such expressiveness.

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  3. The uncensored version of The Art of Storytellin' (Remix) is on the 12". Has the instrumental also which is of course a plus.

    Also, although I don't have it in front of me at the moment I am almost positive that on the vinyl the last song is Liberation because Chonkyfire is in a different part of the sequence.

    Good review. Honestly I checked out on the group after this one. They make decent music but I had other music to by and somehow someway they dropped a level or three on the list of priorities.

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  4. LOL at Max being a fucking dumb ass who can't find the dirty version of the remix. Of course he'd recommend a buy to some country southern fucks.

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  5. Have to agree with bemused about SpottieOttiedopaliscious, great track.

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  6. Jim Slim's comments don't even make sense when you recall that the majority of the comments reserved for rap acts from the South include the words "fuck", "them", and "all". Thanks for reading anyway, even if it seems that you only started fucking yesterday.

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  7. Max,

    I've never piped in after reading your blog regularly for months, but the way you skip over "Synthesizer" needs to be addressed. This is the same intro to conscious rap the Blackstar release heralded in. When else has a rap group looked into our social and cultural future in such a way?

    Give me my gat so I can smoke this nigga/
    Tell his mama not to cry 'cuz they can clone him quicker/
    Than it took his daddy to make him/
    Niggaz bitin verbatim/
    Thought provokin records, radio never played dem/
    Instant, quick grits, new, improved/
    Hurry hurry, rush rush, world on the move/
    Marijuana illegal, but ciggarettes cool/
    I might look kinda funny but I ain't no fool

    This is social commentary that made rap more than the 3 minute diversion it is today.

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  8. anonymous is right: the title track is definitely one of the best tracks on the joint, max is tripping,and Slump more than holds it's own:"hoootie hooooooooo"

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  9. Mr. AquariusOctober 16, 2008

    Heh, I thought you were spot on, though I do like Synthesizer. Still my most listened to OutKast CD, just a little more than ATLiens.

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  10. Bow down to Aquemini, really. This is hands down one of my favorite albums.

    I could listen to Spottieottiedopaliscious (hope I spelled that right) all day.

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  11. Wasnt the dirty version on Slick Rick's only other good album Da Art of Storytellin?

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  12. ATLiens wins for me in terms of overall mood, but cotdamn Return of the G is one of the best track in the world- those strings, and when they start get introspective "Is andre on dope?"- musical dope

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  13. u played yourself on this one max.

    COOL BREEZE - EAST POINTS GREATEST HITS

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  14. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessNovember 10, 2008

    Max, I have the dirty version of the Slick Rick collabo. However, I do not have an internet connection right now. You probably already got that from someone else but I'll send it to you when I get access in a week or two.

    Also, Andre's verse after the beat switch on Aquemini is bulletproof. "Sin all depends on what you believing in/ faith is what you make it that's the hardest shit since MC Ren."

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  15. AnonymousMay 12, 2009

    can you post the clean radio edit max?

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  16. Sorry bud, Synthesizer is home to one of Dre's best verses EVER.

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  17. REAL fucking southern rap even though it wouldn't be convincing to say after experiencing "ATLiens" but i must say it's my favorite album from OutKast. Not many people say this and are afraid to admit it but one of the first few artists i ever listened to and to knowingly compliment their work was Dre.........

    the other Dre from '2001' (note: i was Nine) LOL but only on the recognition of a few cuts from ATLiens and of listening to the album Aquemeni which for some reason had my stimuli (if you will) so much into '2001'... and i think it's because 2001 also sounded futuristic.. anyway.. i had family who would play both around the house :) but this ain't my review, im done.. but this is such a fuckin awsome album!!! from start-finish!

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  18. Outkast is the illest group to come out in years. I still remember the very first time I heard Outkast's "Players Ball"...where I was, what I was doing, and what was happening around me. It had that huge of an impact on me. While their music has changed over the years from what, IMO, was fairly gangster to more pop/radio friendly they are still highly relevant in hip hop as a whole.

    3000 is one of the most underrated MCs. Definitely top 3 on my list of greatest of all time.

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  19. oh....and...disappointed in you Max.

    SPOTTIEOTTIEDOPALISCIOUS is a ridiculous Outkast song...or Hip Hop song in general for that matter! That shit is pure poetry. Talk about painting a picture.



    "While this fine bow-legged girl fine, as all outdoors, lulls lukewarm lullabies in your left ear competing with "set it off" in the right
    but it all blends perfectly, let the liquor tell it... 'hey, hey look baby, they playin' our song' ... and the crowd goes wild as if Holyfield has just won the fight...but in actuality it's only about 3 am and three niggas just done got hauled off in the ambulance (sliced up) two niggas done start bustin' (wham, wham) and one nigga done took his shirt off talkin' bout 'now who else wanna fuck with hollywood court?'

    it's just my interpretation of the situation"




    You can vividly picture the scene.

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