January 26, 2010

Outkast - Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (September 23, 2003)

In the three years between the chart success of Stankonia and the release date of their newest project, the members of Outkast underwent an identity crisis of sorts. Antwan "Big Boi" Patton was content with elevating his Southern pimp flow to the next level, while his partner, the increasingly erratic Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin, decided that he didn't really want to rap anymore, choosing instead to record music in virtually every other genre (except for country and Scandinavian death metal) in an effort to become an "artist".

This division on the front lines of hip first reared its ugly head on Aquemini, Outkast's third album and the first to directly reference the differences between the two men. Their contrasting points of view meshed beautifully, though, resulting in what I find to be the duo's finest hour. (Shit, I may want to go listen to Aquemini after this write-up just so I can remember how good they once were.) Stankonia, Outkast's fourth effort and their most successful to this point, only drew the lines between Big Boi and Andre 3000 with a thicker Sharpie, although Andre was more willing to play ball, spitting verses as if Antwan put a gun to his boy's head, but still managing to craft memorable bits (such as "Gangsta Shit").

By the time album number five, the double-disc Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was announced, Andre 3000 had, apparently, moved on musically. LaFace Records marketed this project, rightfully so, as two solo albums packaged together: Speakerboxxx by Big Boi, and The Love Below by Andre 3000. What I expected was two albums that didn't sound even remotely related, which is what I received. However, one strange fact stood out for me while I was reading through the liner notes: Andre helped Big Boi write and produce Speakerboxxx, but Antwan's assistance was largely ignored for The Love Below. This led me to believe two things: (1) Andre's egomania had finally reached new heights, and (2) critics would be all over themselves sucking at the cock of Andre 3000.

And yeah, I was right.

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was both hailed and criticized by the general public: hailed because the music was good (at least, when it actually worked), but criticized because it isn't really an Outkast album. When you subtract one or the other from the mix, you get a rapper (or in Dre's case, a "musician") who is unencumbered by the trappings of the other's conventions, causing them to spiral out of control within their own ideas. Big Boi's Speakerboxxx showcased a philosophical pimp who paid much more attention to the political events of the world around him than one would believe, and he surrounded himself with guests who shared his views (Killer Mike, various members of the Goodie MoB, Sleepy Brown) and folks who would guarantee sales (Jay-Z, Ludacris, Lil' Jon), while Andre's The Love Below only features three cameo appearances, one of which barely registers. Dre's half of the project explores musical territory only hinted at on previous Outkast releases: funk, R&B, rock, jazz, drum and bass, polka, new wave, synth pop, and, yes, even rap are represented on here (the latter coming across as an afterthought, as if he snapped and realized that he didn't want to alienate his audience entirely), while Antwan stuck with what he knew.

The double A-sided single "Hey Ya!"/"The Way You Move" whetted appetite of popular music fans everywhere, with both garnering tons of spins on radio airwaves, although "Hey Ya!" was far more accessible (more on this later). Speakerboxxx/The Love Below would eventually go on to sell over fifteen million motherfucking units, winning a Grammy award for Album Of The Year and sealing the fate of Outkast as we knew it.

DISC ONE: Big Boi - Speakerboxxx

This rap album intro makes it sound as if Speakerboxxx will sound almost exactly like the previous two Outkast albums. There's certainly nothing on here that informs the listener that this disc will be nothing like The Love Below. Both of which were probably the point, I'm sure.

The music on here is all types of awesome, and the sudden turn it takes during the goofy chorus is fucking hilarious. Big Boi only manages to spit one verse out, but the song still works regardless. “Ghetto Musick” comes off as a third cousin, twice removed, on your mother's side, of “B.O.B.”, and it may actually get you as amped up as that classic track.

I like this song; its sound is that of a smooth, aimless drive on a Sunday afternoon, and there are constant references to hot sauce throughout. This probably isn't the first rap song to discuss how alcohol is a depressant and how ridiculous it is to abuse it when you're unhappy, but it's still a valid point to make anyway. (It's kind of like what Homer Simpson once said: “To alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.”) However much I like this song, though, I find myself missing the presence of Andre 3000. (This also would have occurred on the last track, had Andre not made a brief appearance on the hook of “Ghetto Musick”.)

I never cared for this track. I always believed that Big Boi (and his invited guests, by proxy) was trying too hard to retain the Stankonia audience, all without realizing that there are many songs from that album that absolutely nobody liked.

The first single from Big Boi's half of the double album. While Andre's “Hey Ya!” moved up the charts much more quickly, after about a month this track overtook its partner in temporary popularity (because that is all that Billboard truly measures). And while “Hey Ya!” is still the more memorable single, “The Way You Move” makes for a fine alternative. This is due more to the silky smooth Sleepy Brown vocals and the Carl Mo/Big Boi beat than to Big Boi's generic-for-Big-Boi lyrics, however.

Unlike the other tracks on Speakerboxxx thus far, I actually cannot fathom a verse from Andre possibly appearing on here: I suppose this would make “The Rooster” the first true Big Boi solo song. And when you look at it from behind those glasses, the man does a good job for himself over an instrumental that tries to be all things (okay, maybe just two things: a rap song and a marching band theme) to all people, but ultimately ends up sounding like it's too busy to just answer the phone like a normal goddamn person.

Big Boi, who sounds like a completely different rapper, and Killer Mike straight up destroy shit over a pulsating self-produced instrumental. I found this enjoyable as hell.

8. WAR
Antwan spits over two different beats on here, the second of which is much more radio friendly, but, strangely, sounds like a better fit for Outkast. His anti-fake-emcee tone morphs into an anti-Bush rally, which is probably something you didn't expect on a Big Boi song, but hey, a little diversity in your rhymes is typically a good thing.

This sounds more like an incomplete thought than an actual song, regardless of its three-minutes-and-twenty-six-second length. If any song were begging for a cameo appearance on this project, “Church” would be it. Moving on...

Far too precious to ever listen to all the way through, save for the once.

Features a far more fully realized version of the beat from the preceding interlude, which isn't saying a whole lot. Big Boi invites fellow Atlanta resident Ludacris to spit a verse, and Chris, predictably, blows everybody else out of the water. However, the song itself lacks a melody (not an entirely bad thing) and an overall purpose (which kills it completely): spitting shit is just fine, but nobody on the track appears to be familiar with the other participants. (I realize that isn't actually true, but that's how this track comes across.)


Andre 3000's (uncredited) contribution to the hook is the icing on the cake for this outright car chase of a song, which is not about car chases, by the way. Had the label seen fit to continue supporting the double album beyond “Roses”, I feel this would have made an excellent, if off-kilter, single, and Dre could have even appeared in its video. Oh well; this is still an fun song.

Shawn Carter returns the favor Big Boi paid him by appearing on the Kanye West-produced “Poppin' Tags” (from The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse), but once again, Jay fails to convince Andre 3000 to appear on the track. The beat, from Mr. DJ and Big Boi himself, had elements of beauty (mainly the piano), but most of it sounded like a fucking mess, so the rhymes of our host and his guests are drowned out by the noise. Hova's contribution is completely worthless anyway, save for the blatant use of the image of hijacking a plane as a failed metaphor of sorts, which simply sounds socially irresponsible. This was disappointing.

Much longer than it truly needs to be.

Sounds like a leftover from the ATLiens sessions, which is meant as a compliment. “Reset” provides a respite from the high energy of “Flip Flop Rock” and the next actual song, and the idea of starting everything over is always an appealing one in life, especially in the creative field. Cee-Lo manages to impress listeners (as per usual), but in reality, the stars of this track are Big Boi and Khujo.


It isn't unheard of for Outkast to aim directly for the club audience, but I can only believe that Lil' Jon (and his increasingly useless Eastside Boyz) was included because he was a hot commodity at the time and not because the man has any talent for selling anything besides himself. So, as you can imagine, I found this track to be a hot mess, if for nothing else than because it isn't crunk enough, and why even bother if you're not going to go all the way?

And with this, Big Boi mentally checks out of the studio, only to return for the marketing meetings, with one important exception (which I'll get to in a bit.)

DISC TWO: Andre 3000 - The Love Below

Unlike Big Boi, Andre wastes no time in informing everybody (especially the critics who love this album) that his half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below will not be your typical Outkast album, a typical rap album, or even a rap album in general. You have all been warned.

The intro segues into this jazzy composition, which features Andre singing some goofy lyrics with full conviction (“Everybody needs to quit acting hard and shit / Before you get your ass whupped (I'll slap the fuck out'cha)”? It reads poorly on paper, but he makes it work). I can already imagine fans of Outkast's earlier work turning this shit off and moving on to something else, but I'm going to ask that the two of you stick with me for a bit.

Big Boi and Andre 3000 sure do love their interludes, don't they? This one is kind of interesting, but there is no need to blast it on 'repeat' or anything.

This bizarre love song gives me a Prince-lite vibe. It's funky and catchy enough, but there is hardly any substance here. It is kind of funny how Andre toys with the conventions of modern songwriting by blatantly interrupting the chorus toward the halfway point, right before he begins to rap. That's right folks: the rumors of the rapper Andre 3000's demise have been greatly exaggerated. He just doesn't do it all that often.

Andre plays the dual roles of rapper and vocalist on here as well. This track, which is all about convincing a potential one night stand to spread her legs, is so audacious and obnoxious that it comes off as kind of entertaining. I wonder if this track was the inspiration for the Ashton Kutcher movie of the same name.

This interlude directly follows the events of the previous track. It would have been more effective had there not been a disembodied voice shouting “Ice Cold!” during Andre's monologue, as that takes you out of the story completely.

Oh fuck, Andre fell for his one night stand. That goes against everything a rapper is supposed to stand for! (At least, that's what I have learned from hip hop. How about you?) This is a sweet enough song, though, and Dre does a pretty good job taking us through his character's thought processes. So, um, raise your hands if you miss Big Boi's pimp rhymes yet.

I actually really like this song, and not just because Rosario Dawson is singing on it, although, admittedly, that does play a large role in my decision making. (I've always wondered why a video was never shot for this track.) And, of course, the thought of Rosario Dawson singing about another woman who “lives in [her] lap” is bound to throw all kinds of possibilities into your mind. Andre clearly knew what he was doing by having her play his role for this track. Also, the music on here sounds good, too.

9. HEY YA!
The other “first” single. Everybody and their grandmother has already heard this song: it's so omnipresent that I'm pretty certain it's been used to advertise baby food, the Slapchop, steel belted radial milkshakes, several Kids Bop CDs, and nacho cheese-flavored dishwashing detergent. Yeah, this Beatles-esque track (yeah, I went there) is fairly ubiquitous. I can't say much about this bit of pop music perfection, except that, and I'm dead serious when I write this, I've heard this about one hundred thousand times, and I'm still not sick of this shit. Yeah, I don't know why, either. (The cover versions, on the other hand...) Side note: I seem to remember Chris Rock recording a song called “Crackers” set to the “Hey Ya!” beat. It was intended for inclusion on his Prince Paul-produced Never Scared album, and a video was even shot for it (I recall seeing still images on MTV's website). However, the song was never released, allegedly due to sample clearance issues. Two things: (1) If he was recording a parody, then sample clearances shouldn't have been an issue, since parodies are protected by copyright law, and (2) Where the hell is the song, Chris?

LaFace chose this as the “second' single from this double album project because it is the only song on either disc that features both Andre 3000 and Big Boi in substantial roles. The video was quirky: I thought I was the only person who always thought of a West Side Story-esque gang fight taking place on a theater stage whenever this spun in my CD player. The fact that both gangs shout “Speakerboxxx!” and “The Love Below!” at each other inadvertently seemed to say that there shouldn't be any Outkast fans who actually liked both albums, as it was virtually impossible due to their differences: you had to choose one or the other. (I don't remember the rest of the video, so for all I know, the two factions combined to form a giant Supergang and went off to fight crime or some shit.) I never cared for this claptrap, and a clever video doesn't make the song sound any better in my ears, either.

This interlude is really stupid. How did Fonzworth Bentley manage to find work again?

I'm sure this song just played out all of its nearly five-minute existence, but I can't remember one fucking thing about it.

The scratching of the Aaliyah sample at the beginning is very jarring. However, the track quickly segues into a minimalist beat that barely registers, but is hypnotic in a way that forces your mind to fill in the blanks with sounds that don't exist in this world. Andre's singing is pretty decent (Prince's influence makes another appearance), as well. This wasn't bad at all, even if it does conjure up ridiculous images of grown men and women acting like infants.


Songs such as this make me hope that I never see the phrases “Outkast” and “concept album” appear in the same sentence ever again. I don't have anything against Andre's instrumental work, but this song is truly boring as shit. This will never become anybody's favorite Outkast song, even if the rest of their catalog was deleted, especially because Dre exorcises his daddy issues on wax.

The title itself is pretty fucking badass: I'm fairly sure that there's a direct-to-video low-budget shitty horror flick whose working title will be replaced with this one prior to its international release, as it will play better to a European market. (Although vampires are now all the rage in the States, so I'm thinking that I should write a shitty low-budget vampire movie, just so I can make some quick cash.) The vocals of Kelis are predictably goofy (she brags about making good peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at one point), but there isn't anything here worth hearing more than once.

Even though it was never supposed to be this way, “My Favorite Things” (from The Sound Of Music, previously titled The Nun Vs. The Nazis: A Love Story) has been appropriated for the holiday season: as such, it always reminds me of Christmas. Andre's all-instrumental rendition (with its obvious John Coltrane influence), with some hyperaggressive jungle drums laid underneath, manages to do the same: I halfway expected to glance out of my window and see snow falling on cedars. This is a strange song to include on any sort of album, but it worked for me, and chances are good that it will for you, too, unless you're a jazz purist and/or hate Christmas. (Side note: this song is not mentioned in the liner notes of the first pressing of The Love Below.)

The love affair between Norah Jones and Hip Hop (as documented through her collaborations with Q-Tip and The Lonely Island) grew from the roots planted here, an acoustic guitar-driven track on which she barely appears. In fact, this is more of an interlude than an actual song. It isn't bad, though.

This wouldn't have been so awful if it wasn't for the instrumental and its meddling kids. The music on here grates on the ears as if they were made out of extra sharp cheddar cheese and your boys are over to watch the game and somebody requests that you make nachos the old fashioned way instead of using Velveeta or a store brand knock-off. I cannot condone this song's presence on The Love Below.

This is the only track on The Love Below on which Andre 3000 takes off his cool and just straight up raps his ass off, and it's a doozy: Dre uses this song to tell an autobiographical tale about his career up until a certain point (hence the “incomplete” qualifier in the title). The man doesn't even gloss over his relationship with his famous ex, Erykah Badu, which shows that he respects his audience enough to not pretend that she didn't exist. This was an excellent way to end an album that, otherwise, barely qualifies as hip hop.

Shortly after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won a Grammy for Album Of The Year, LaFace Records re-released the project to capitalize on the good press. My understanding (which isn't firsthand knowledge, as I bought this album the day it dropped – I fucking hate it when record labels reissue shit: they're about as bad as movie studios and their multiple DVD releases. I don't need eight hundred versions of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead! Oops, I went off topic again) is that the re-release is interesting: Big Boi's album is untouched, but Andre's The Love Below inserts an interlude entitled “The Letter” in between “Dracula's Wedding” and “My Favorite Things” (which now appears in the liner notes), and a longer version of “A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)”, which may or not be complete at this point, is also included. If anybody has heard the alternate version of The Love Below, please leave your comments below.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below serves to illustrate the artistic differences between Big Boi and Andre: they are, apparently, so diverse that it's a wonder they ever paired up in the first place. The duo's intent with this project was to subconsciously force their listeners to accept both halves of the whole, to embrace the duality in Outkast and, as a result, in humankind in general. Which might have worked, had there been any sort of cohesion between the two discs. Andre appears to be fully committed to the idea of ending the partnership entirely, as all of his songs focus on subjects other than the average rapper posturing, and his musical influences vary wildly from Outkast's previous efforts. Big Boi, in contrast, seems to be living in denial, wanting to keep the group together for the sake of the kids, as evidenced by the fact that Speakerboxxx tries (and succeeds, in sporadic intervals) to sound like Stankonia II: Electric Boogaloo. As much as I want to believe Big Boi, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below only serves as proof that (at this point in their careers, anyway), the Outkast that I know and love is officially dead in the water.

BUY OR BURN? This exercise in excess only really requires a burn. There are some very good songs on both albums, and had this been compiled onto a single disc, it would have effectively epitomized the concept of opposites attracting (and could have helped protect the environment, as there would have been half as many plastic compact discs produced). However, Outkast (and their record label) seemed to feel that the audience would only be able to recognize the differences between Big Boi and Andre 3000 through the physical act of actually switching discs. Which is both ridiculous and more than a little bit condescending.

BEST TRACKS: “Hey Ya!”; “Unhappy”; “Bowtie”; “Bust”; “Knowing”; “She Lives In My Lap”; “My Favorite Things”; “The Way You Move”; “Ghetto Musick”; “Reset”; “A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)”; “Pink and Blue”


Catch up on the rest of Outkast's catalog by clicking here.


  1. You forgot to mention that "THE WAY YOU MOVE" bumps. That is all.

    Also, this album sucks.

    That is all.

  2. It's the double album! I pretty much agree with your assessment of the album.This album just lacked so much substance, at least compared to their earlier work. For Big Boi's album, I thought most of the beats were also pretty damn weak, including knowing. I hated that song!. Even though they're so different, they have great chemistry, so why the fuck only hook up on a few songs. Andre has come right on Royal Flush, a song on an album with much Lil' John participation, so hopes aren't high, but who knows. Thanks for the review.


  3. u call it a burn but u mention 12 best tracks?

    makes no sense some albums have less than 10 songs

  4. long frekkin review

  5. Norah Jones is also on Talib Kweli's "Eardrum" album. It's a fantastic song. The Madlib-produced song alone made me go out and buy the album. Then again, I'm a huge fan of Madlib, Talib Kweli, AND Norah Jones. Once again, great track. Kweli kind of gets in the way though... I wouldn't mind hearing a Norah Jones album produced by Madlib. Strange, I know, but why not?

    Never heard this album, by the way. After reading the review, I'm still not looking forward to listening to it. Good review, though. Keep it up.

  6. Awwwwww c'mon you can't hate Roses. I mean, the hook is completely inane, but the video is endearingly goofy and the song is meant to be fun...I liked Roses a lot more than The Way You Move (which got played out after the first thousand times I heard it on the radio)

  7. This album presents a strange duality for me, when I was convinced that artistically Big Boi was (at least at the time) more viable than 3K. Of course his recent music hasn't done much to sustain that prospect.

    And Aquemini is my favorite OutKast project as well.

  8. Great review. I do agree about Andre's ego reaching new heights but cannot deny his talent.

  9. "you mention 12 best tracks"? "long frekkin review"?

    You idiots. Are you retarded? Were you dropped on your head as children? It's a double album.

    And quite a good one.

    Fuckin' reatrds.

  10. Hi Liam!

    "It's a double album. And quite a good one." "reatrd".

    Were you dropped on your head as a child?

    This album is the worst.

  11. Exactly. There's 29 tracks to choose from, I'm pretty sure you can find at least 12 favorite tracks. It's not that hard.

    And yeah, fuck the dude who said long review. What'd you expect?

  12. I bought this the day it came out, listened to it in the car straight away. Listened to Andre's disc first ... man was I disapointed, by the time I came home i was pissed off to the max and was close to tossing it out of the window. A good song here and there but as a whole it fails in everything except annoying me big time.

    Big boi's disc I liked a bit more but it always felt to me like he was just trying to do Outkast instead of being Outkast, it doesn't feel like songs came out fluently imo.

    All in all I can only say 2 words: "Atliens, Aquemini"

  13. I can't believe I just listened to this shitty album. Because of Max's positive review (in general) I decided to give this album a chance and now I will be happy to delete it from my computer. The whole album sucks (except for ''Hey ya'') and listening to it was a pretty painful thing. Probably I'm a minority, but fuck it, this album is the most umusical thing, the real 50 cent concurrence about shittiest artist, the culmination of stupidity. Now I'm going to play Gza and heal my ears from Outkast's musical attempt.

  14. Alex - positive review? I believe I was pretty pissed off toward the end. There are some pretty good songs, but this shit is a waste of time, which is why I recommended a burn only. I hope you didn't pay for it.

    Thanks for reading!

  15. I just had the good intention to warn hip hop heads about this album (in case you still haven't listened to it which by the way is a very wise decision). Something like - don't drop your soap on the ground if you're in prison.. It's not like I don't appreciate innovation, it's just the simple fact that this album is a total mess and in my modest opinion does not deserve a burn.
    Keep up the good work Max!

  16. I think genuinely that this album more or less is for forward thinking black folks- the ones who already listened to Outkast before in conjunction with the fact that they are also fans of soul artists such as Jill Scott. That's just me, because it seems that those kind of folks around me enjoy the album. Literally no one else does.

  17. Yea when i first heard this album i fell for all that critical praise, but this is just too much, but not enough...in a sense

  18. Im not looking forward to your Idlewild review based on this review

  19. I'm not looking forward to Idlewild either. So let's see how long it takes for me to get to it.

    Thanks for reading!

  20. Fun Fact: "Knowing" from Speakerboxxx is da art of storytellin part 3. Fo'real. Big Boi tweeted this sometime last year

  21. Aquemini. Case closed

  22. good music falters and is forced underground because of reviews such as this one....

  23. This album is fuckin hard - I am a hardcore hip hop fan but artistically this album rocks - Dracula's Wedding? I would spit furiously over that beat...

  24. Since you mentioned it, here's the video to Chris Rock's "Crackers".

  25. I swore I put it in the original comment, but whatever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s39yYPzktoE

  26. If you dont like this album, you are behind the times. Kid Cudi, B.O.B, Drake - all want to be like Andre on this album. Mos Def, Q Tip all were thinking like Andre. It's not about Hip-Hop for Outkast, it's about the music. But you aren't a real fan so you wouldn't know that.

    Now, I know you aren't a real fan because you seriosly think Andre & Big Boi are/were breaking up. C'mon bro...really? The two have been real life friends since before the music. Folks don't stick around each other that long in the music business and call it quits at that point. Its a lifetime thing. As long as one of them is spitting, there is going to be a feature track somewhere on the album. Outkast is everlasting. Gets ya mind right.

    They whole catalog holds gems. 12 tracks? Try 20-25. But you don't get they message. This wasn't about Hip-Hop alone, it was about Music.


  27. Kyle - thanks for the link. Now after hearing it, I completely understand why it was cut from Never Scared - it isn't very good. But I appreciate the closure all the same.

    And to everyone who strongly disagrees with my opinion - Thanks for reading!

  28. AnonymousJune 21, 2010

    This iz a great album especially Dre`s if yal could do better be my guest.

    1. Anyone can do better... this is pure trash, one of the worst albums ever and I loved Outkast but Dre turned gay. I knew it as soon as I saw the cover... DAMN! Ultra - disappointment even though I didn’t really like Stankonia and Aquimeni was not as good as ATLiens but nothing prepared me for this. You have to be gay in order to like the love below ( is that just another way of saying "my dick"? ) And Max you have become arrogant and it's really affecting your writing and likability and yes that guy was right, u did give a positive review of Dre's disc