May 23, 2009

Outkast - Stankonia (October 31, 2000)


That's not the album cover that I have, but it's the one that you're most likely to find in stores, so we'll run with it.

On Halloween in the year 2000, Big Boi and (the former Dre, rechristened officially as) Andre 3000 released their fourth album, Stankonia. With this disc, they were finally able to break through the glass ceilings of mainstream radio, with three ridiculously huge hit singles and sales of over half a million copies in the first week alone. (Stankonia would eventually move more than four million units.) It was met with overwhelming critical praise and is listed as one of the best albums (not rap albums, but albums) of all time by many publications. Which is not bad for what is the most bizarre album in the duo's catalog thus far. Yes, even more bizarre than ATLiens and Aquemini.

Stankonia is notable because of its many musical influences: Outkast have certainly come a long way from the straight-up Southern hip hop from their debut Longasstitle. Stankonia combines elements of funk, rock, gospel, jungle, samba, there's a kitchen sink somewhere, R&B, drum-and-bass, spaghetti western scores, polka, metal, new wave, and Broadway musicals. Oh, and rap. Can't forget about that.

Big Boi comes through with his typically pimped-out flow, albeit one much more well-informed than his peers in the game, while Andre is just fucking nuts, building upon his ideas from the past two discs. All of this occurs throughout the span of this one album, while the duo give back-and-forth testimony regarding the concept of "stank". The disc was mostly produced by the production team Earthtone III, made up of Big Boi, Andre, and Mr. DJ, with longtime friends Organized Noize handling the remainder. Due to the possible huge influence from Dre, the album is so far out there that it has been compared with some of Prince's better work, which is probably the best compliment that anybody could give these guys at this point in their career.

But how does Stankonia hold up nearly nine years later?

1. INTRO
This is the kind of rap album intro that critics hail as “organic” and “innovative”, thus validating the artistry attempted, but people who listen to music for entertainment purposes hate this pretentious shit. Max falls into the latter category.

2. GASOLINE DREAMS (FEAT KHUJO)
A high-energy, and, yet, incredibly weak, way to start off Stankonia. I always thought the song was decent and forgettable in the past, but I realize today that this is a master class in misdirection: it's all loud noises and shouting, diverting audiences from the fact that all three rappers sound off.

3. I'M COOL (INTERLUDE)


4. SO FRESH, SO CLEAN (FEAT SLEEPY BROWN & RICO WADE)
At least Stankonia seems to pick up steam early on. Single number three was an interesting choice, as there was nothing like it on the radio at that point in time. This track remains cooler than sipping a milkshake in a snowstorm. There's a remix for this song featuring Snoop Dogg (featured on the soundtrack to Calvin's horror flick Bones) readily available on the Interweb: that version is hardly worth the price of admission. (While writing this part of the review, I also discovered that there's a Fatboy Slim remix of this song that was commercially released. Has anybody ever heard that version? Let me know if it's worth my time.)

5. MS. JACKSON
This second single also sounded absolutely nothing like anything else on the radio at the time. Hell, it didn't even sound remotely related to Stankonia's first single. It's altogether pleasant, and the inclusion of the wedding march hidden behind Big Boi's final verse was a nice touch. However, while it is a good song, it's not essential Outkast. Yeah, I said it.

6. SNAPPIN' & TRAPPIN' (FEAT KILLER MIKE & J-SWEET)
The outro is entirely unnecessary, but this collaboration between Big Boi and Killer Mike (who would later win a Grammy alongside Outkast for “The Whole World”, a track which only appears on the duo's greatest hits compilation) is infectious otherwise. Andre 3000 is nowhere to be found, though: I assume he drew the short straw.

7. D.F. (INTERLUDE)


8. SPAGHETTI JUNCTION
The beat only barely evokes the feeling of starring in a Sergio Leone classic spaghetti western, but it's still pretty dope. The back and forth between Dre and Big Boi reminds me of how they sounded on their debut album, the one with the long title that I don't feel like spellchecking right now. Anyway, this song is pretty good.

9. KIM & COOKIE (INTERLUDE)
Already there are too many fucking interludes on Stankonia.

10. I'LL CALL BEFORE I COME (FEAT GANGSTA BOO & ECO)
This song is silly, but ultimately unnecessary. This track was recorded before Gangsta Boo (formerly of the Academy Award-winning group Three Six Mafia (I love the fact that the crew will always be known for that now)) found Christ and stopped rapping about fucking and fighting, at least until she realizes that she won't make any money rhyming about the Lord.

11. B.O.B. (FEAT THE MORRIS BROWN COLLEGE GOSPEL CHOIR)
The first single, which was originally given the unfortunate title “Bombs Over Baghdad” before it was amended (by the label? by the United States government?). I seem to remember reading about a twelve-minute version of this track: whatever happened to that song? This is still really good, and incredibly musically ambitious for a rap song, but you can easily get sick of it if you heard it every single day.

12. XPLOSION (FEAT B-REAL)
I loved this song upon Stankonia's original release, thanks to the unadulterated hip hop and the left-of-center guest spot it provided. Today, it's still really good, and B-Real (from Cypress Hill) actually sounds fantastic, but the song is overshadowed by the classics that Stankonia produced. The hook is pretty weak, though. A marked improvement over the last time Outkast and B-Real worked together, on Tash's “Smokefest 1999” from his Rap Life.

13. GOOD HAIR (INTERLUDE)
That's also the name of a documentary Chris Rock directed (that should be released to theaters later this year) that supposed to be pretty good. Also, Chris Rock used "B.O.B." in his directorial debut, Head Of State, in which his psychic powers predicted the first African-American president of the United States. I include that tidbit just so you don't think I went off on a tangent while completely ignoring this boring-ass skit.

14. WE LUV DEEZ HOEZ (FEAT BACKBONE & BIG GIPP)
This sounds as if it were recorded as a joke. If you look past the corny musical backdrop and the hook, Big Boi's rhymes, at least, are decent, Backbone sounds terrible, and Big Gipp (from Goodie Mob) stumbles through admirably.

15. HUMBLE MUMBLE (FEAT ERYKAH BADU)
This track, which I'm sure is beloved by Outkast stans the world over, is run into the ground by Erykah's singing, which makes this song sound as if it's reaching for too much. The message in the hook is a good one, though, and the beat switch when Andre starts rapping is an unexpected plus.

16. DRINKIN' AGAIN (INTERLUDE)


17. ?
This is really more of an interlude than a song, but it's appealing in the same way that A Tribe Called Quest's “What?”, an obvious influence, was. “What could make a n---a figure he ought to be a pimp 'cuz he don't like love?”, indeed. It's a valid question.

18. RED VELVET
Can't say that I remember anything about this one. Oh well.

19. CRUISIN' IN THE ATL (INTERLUDE)


20. GANGSTA SHIT (FEAT SLIMM CALHOUN, T-MO, & C-BONE)
This is actually my favorite song on Stankonia. The slow groove literally drives your car for you while you cruise around the ATL (or wherever you happen to live). A lot has been said about Andre's verse (which begins “'Outkast' with a 'k'/Yeah, them n----z are hard”), but everybody involved with this posse cut pulls it off. The chorus is repeated at least three times too many, though. I believe there may be a remix of this song on someone's compilation album, but I don't have any more information than that.

21. TOILET TISHA (FEAT ROSALYN HEARD & SLEEPY BROWN)
Meh.

22. SLUM BEAUTIFUL (FEAT CEE-LO)
A pretty sweet ode to the female half of the population. Cee-Lo's contribution is especially touching. It leaves you wishing that the musical backdrop were a bit more appealing, though.

23. PRE-NUMP (INTERLUDE)


24. STANKONIA (STANKLOVE)(FEAT BIG RUBE & SLEEPY BROWN)
Big Boi must be an awfully good sport to allow Stankonia to end with this bizarre and polarizing final track. I can't imagine that anybody has ever heard this song more than the once, and I'm including the artists themselves in that sentiment.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Stankonia starts off strong, yet falls apart midway through the (overlong) album. It expands on the basic concepts introduced on Aquemini (Andre 3000 and Big Boi are two completely different artists that choose to work together, but have very different musical tastes) and, as a result, a lot of Stankonia sounds like an experimental art installation piece (that would be Dre's influence). The outright rap songs on here sound good, but this album is definitely not for a mainstream audience. Which is funny, considering how many copies of Stankonia flew off store shelves. Definitely not the best work from the duo: that would be either ATLiens or Aquemini, depending on your preference.

BUY OR BURN? There are enough hood songs on here to warrant the separation of cash from your wallet, but consider yourself warned: this disc is more avant-garde than you would expect coming from a couple of guys based in Atlanta who began their rap career sounding like a couple of pimps. Don't take it too seriously, and you'll be just fine.

BEST TRACKS: “Gangsta Shit”; “Xplosion”; “B.O.B.”; “Snappin' & Trappin'”; “So Fresh, So Clean”

B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: "Speedballin'", which sounds like it was recorded at the same time (or at least during the same mindset) as "B.O.B." (and features Cee-Lo), was eventually released on the soundtrack to, of all things, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The song takes the drum-and bass influence and twists it onto its ear, and in doing so, manages to be much better than "B.O.B." The dirty version is tough to find, but if you have faith in the Interweb, good things will come.

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
More Outkast material can be found here.

13 comments:

  1. RingpeaceMay 23, 2009

    I chuckled a couple of times while reading this, nice work...I really have to give this a listen again, It's been awhile...you gotta love Dre when he's crazy!

    ReplyDelete
  2. AnonymousMay 23, 2009

    what happened to the reader reviews???

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice review, Max. I think this album is to Funkadelic what Digital Undeground's "Sex Packets" was. Not necessarily in that all of it sounds like Funkadelic music, but Dre & Big Boi really seem to be channelling the whole P-Funk mythology.
    Dre's verse on "Gangsta Shit" is indeed incredible. Also, I must confess that I love (luv?) "We Luv Deez Hoez" - I once spent the better half of a week with the hook stuck in my head.

    ReplyDelete
  4. AnonymousMay 23, 2009

    GANGSTA SHIT has the worst chorus out of ANY outkast song- it ruins that song completely. Red Velvet is... wunderful- but I agree with your final thoughts. Its GOOD though.

    ReplyDelete
  5. AnonymousMay 23, 2009

    I do not agree with your review of this album but I believe in "Live & let live" strongly! Is there any album(s) (besides anything Wu!) that you listen to regularly?
    Meaning that you don't wait 3, 7, 10 years since you first got the CD?
    This stays playing at home 'cuz it's different that what came out at the time as well as what's coming out today.

    Arcey

    ReplyDelete
  6. AnonymousMay 23, 2009

    Can U maybe review Speakerboxxx/The Love Below... Because although critics love I totally and utterly hated it (except for A Day in the Life of Benjamin Andre)

    I wasnt really impressed by this album either...

    ReplyDelete
  7. AnonymousMay 23, 2009

    Oh... and here's the Fatboy Slim Remix of So Fresh SO Clean
    http://www.filestube.com/c50bd7ca4074253203e9/go.html

    ReplyDelete
  8. protomanMay 24, 2009

    @aaron
    digital underground's later work channeled the p-funk mythos much better than sex packets

    speaking of sex packets, when are you gonna get around to that review max? digital underground is definitely one of my favorite groups

    ReplyDelete
  9. outkast never fail ...
    nice review

    ReplyDelete
  10. There is another HIP HOP BLACK HAIR DOCUEMNTARY out there. It examines how the Koreans have taken over the Black Beauty Supply Biz. Leaving African Americans with very little of the PIE

    The entire film is posted at YOUTUBE for free (6 parts) search for Black Hair documentary


    3 MINUTE Trainer and website to support efforts at http://www.blackhairdvd.com

    ReplyDelete
  11. im going to have to say, you should stick to mostly east coast reviews and stray away from anything from the south. I don't think you understand what Outkast is going for, maybe you have to grow up here, but your review is way off. Especially your review of We luv deez hoez....Also, do you appreciate an album truly? Because, I have never met a Hip Hop head that hate on skits and interludes so much.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I gotta tell ya...bad review. You've got a really condescending way of giving compliments, just dismissive overall.

    ReplyDelete
  13. AnonymousMay 12, 2014

    Can't say I agreed with much of what you had to say here but opinions are opinions

    ReplyDelete