Idlewild is an album that I was not looking forward to reviewing. My reasons why tend to depend on what day of the week it is. It's the sixth and final OutKast album to date: I didn't realize this until I looked up the release date for the post's title, but it's been nearly six fucking years since Big Boi and Andre 3000 officially functioned as a group. It also doubles as the official soundtrack for the film Idlewild, which served as OutKast's official entry into Hollywood, although only five of the songs on this overstuffed effort play any role in the actual movie. I remember being disappointed when I first picked up Idlewild because the majority of the songs on here are solo tracks performed by either Big Boi or Andre: it always seemed like a poorly-executed mash-up of both halves from their last effort, Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, so that's probably the main reason why I avoided this one as long as possible.
And, of course, because I remember it sucking.
Idlewild was the first OutKast album I remember not liking very much, so it quickly earned a spot in the bottom of one of my bins collecting dust while I struggles to sort out the pieces. 3 Stacks and Daddy Fat Sax had to have worked together on the film of the same name (an R-rated musical that combined hip hop elements with jazz during the Depression, and based on that description alone, you can guess how much money it made), so it was a reasonable expectation to believe that they would work on the soundtrack together. Especially since, as noted above, Idlewild isn't really a soundtrack: it follows the general storyline of the flick (at least, as far as I know: I've never actually seen the movie, as it was in and out of theaters seemingly within days and there are far too many other choices on DVD and Blu-Ray that pique my curiosity), but it should be looked at as an actual OutKast album, which makes my original gut reaction that much more depressing.
But, as you can probably figure out, they didn't work on the "soundtrack" together: Idlewild the movie had been in the works for several years, so the former duo (although there has been no official breakup, there may as well have been) were as committed to the project as their contracts would demand them to be. Idlewild the album, by contrast, sounds like it was recorded in the span of three days in two separate studios, which may not be that far off, since most of the guest stars came from within the Dungeon Family (if they even still exist under that moniker at this point) or, in the case of "alternative songstress" Janelle Monae (because she can't just be referred to as a "singer" in the media, right?), from Big Boi's own stable of artists. The musical direction lacked clarity: the beats came from the likes of Andre 3000, Big Boi, and Organized Noize, among a few others, but I didn't remember any of them sounding cohesive. Although a few critics, who were predisposed to enjoy Idlewild because of the artists involved, gave favorable reviews, the album was the first from OutKast to generate negative buzz, and its platinum sales but lack of response from those who actually bought the goddamn thing prove that even OutKast's own fans thought little of the actual album.
Or the movie. I suppose.
This soundtrack album intro (that phrase doesn't sound natural) features characters who talk about their plans to see Idlewild one the big screen when it opens “this Friday”. This would be considered “meta” if it didn't sound so forced. Much more interesting is the first guy who criticizes rappers who turn to acting, taking roles away from actual working actors: I wish Andre and Big Boi had expanded on that idea a bit, instead of dismissing it entirely by way of the other two characters in the skit, but then we wouldn't have any time for the actual music, I suppose.
2. MIGHTY “O”
This was the first song to leak from Idlewild, which makes sense: its attempt at viewing a hip hop song through a jazzy prism (as illustrated by Andre 3000's “chorus”) attempts to prepare the listener for what to expect during the movie, if not the entire soundtrack-slash-album. 3 Stacks is all over this Organized Noize production, contributing a crazy-long verse that doesn't quite fit the instrumental but still sounds welcome in this day and age, while his partner Big Boi, who seemingly steps in to perform his verse from out of the ether before disappearing just as mysteriously, sounds less than engaged with the whole process. Because “Mighty 'O'” isn't that great of a song, you see. Nor is it even any good. But it is interesting to hear both of these guys rhyming together again.
3. PEACHES (FEAT. SLEEPY BROWN & SCAR)
Daddy Fat Sax scores the first solo song of the evening with “Peaches”, a boring trifle that can't decide what it wants to be when it grows up, which may cause most critics to refer to it as “complex” when, in reality, it should be classified as “Big Boi can't stick to a theme”. The Organized Noize instrumental isn't captivating in the least fucking bit, Sleepy Brown's vocals are entirely wasted, and, worst of all, the vocal samples laid in after the first verse sound amateurish and oddly schizophrenic, which just goes back to the whole “Big Boi is indecisive” theory. This shit could not end quickly enough.
4. IDLEWILD BLUE (DON'T CHU WORRY 'BOUT ME)
Because it's only fair, that's why, Andre 3000's first solo salvo appears immediately after his partner's, but since Andre's head clearly wasn't in rap while Idlewild was recorded-slash-filmed (my understanding is that “Mighty 'O'” was actually an older, previously-unreleased track that was tarted up as a whore and trotted out to promote the movie), this allegedly bluesy track fits more The Love Below's aesthetic than, say, Stankonia. 3 Stacks does a good enough job with the vocals (his singing voice has never been one of my concerns), but this track contrasts so sharply with “Peaches” that, not only does it disrupt the flow of Idlewild, it also makes it difficult to prove that Big Boi and Andre 3000 were ever friends to begin with.
5. INFATUATION (INTERLUDE)
6. N2U (FEAT. KHUJO GOODIE)
This song was ass. That's all I got.
7. MORRIS BROWN (FEAT. SCAR & SLEEPY BROWN)
Wait, Big Boi scored two solo tracks in a row? What the fuck? At least the marching band sound of Andre's production makes “Morris Brown” light-years ahead of the bullshit sex rap that was “N2U”...right up until the chorus, which drills the “marching band” concept down your throat because you're not quite smart enough to get it on your own. Big Boi's lack of confidence in both the audience and his own song overshadows everything else. Are we absolutely sure that Idlewild isn't just made up of a bunch of shitty OutKast ideas that were originally locked away in the vaults for a reason?
Andre races back to the studio, after having been duped into running in the wrong direction by Big Boi dressed up as the Road Runner, with what is easily the coolest song title on Idlewild (one that, entirely coincidentally, echoes OutKast's earlier “Phobia” from the Higher Learning soundtrack). Dre's instrumental is fairly minimal, as the titular fear of time is represented mainly by a strikingly simplistic drumbeat, and 3 Stacks takes it upon himself to both sing and deliver a rhyme, one that's actually quite good. It's too bad that the sung portion of the track was weak at best. Cool titles can only carry you so far, you know.
9. THE TRAIN (FEAT. SLEEPY BROWN & SCAR)
We finally hit an actual good song on Idlewild, thanks to Big Boi's “The Train”, a melodic piece of pop that is more engaging and moving than every fucking thing that came before it. Big Boi's instrumental is engrossing, the guest vocals are soothing and hopeful, and the actual rhymes (provided by Antwan and Scar) sound like they were provided by artists who gave a damn about quality. If this paragraph makes me sound angry that “The Train” actually sounds good, well, that's exactly how I'm feeling right now: you shouldn't have to sit through eight tracks on a motherfucking OutKast album in order to strike gold. This is fucking OutKast we're talking about. They're better than that.
10. LIFE IS LIKE A MUSICAL
Andre's instrumental sounds like something Pharrell Williams would choose if he were still pursuing his solo singing career. Andre's love song is delivered in a vocal style that annoyed the shit out of me, but looking past that for a moment, it's incredibly easy to imagine that the chanting at the end (where Andre repeats the phrase, “Don't let them change us”), aimed at a love interest, could also be read into as a request to Big Boi to not allow the glamour and glitz of Hollywood to change their relationship. Well, it was already on shaky ground during Speakerboxxx / The Love Below anyway, so there's no pinning the blame on Tinseltown, dude.
11. NO BOOTLEG DVDS (INTERLUDE)
This was just another skit that ultimately led nowhere, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the line about the guy having a bootleg “G-rated” cut of Idlewild “just in case you don't want to see 3 (Stacks) take his shirt off” made me laugh out loud.
12. HOLLYWOOD DIVORCE (FEAT. LIL' WAYNE & SNOOP DOGG)
I remember the Interweb going insane when “Hollywood Divorce” leaked, since (a) Andre 3000 is actually rapping, and (b) Lil' Wayne's opening guest verse was supposed to be really good, and I mean “now the critics are actually paying attention to him”-good. Well, here's the truth of the matter: this song is boring as shit. Yes, Andre is actually rapping, and his verse sounds alright, but everyone else is mediocre at best. Weezy wanders off onto so many tangents that you'll want to file a missing persons report on him, and Snoop jumps in at the end as the very definition of the phrase “odd cameo”, but the real loser of this bunch is Big Boi, whose verse sounds so blatantly tacked onto Andre's that it's incredibly obvious that (1) those two didn't work together on the track, and (2) Big Boi wasn't originally supposed to even be a part of it. And the 3 Stacks beat sucked, too. Yeah, I said it.
13. ZORA (INTERLUDE)
14. CALL THE LAW (FEAT. JANELLE MONAE)
This is really a Janelle Monae song featuring Big Boi, one that probably would have been labeled as such had Antwan not referred to both himself and his guest as Idlewild characters (even though, to my knowledge, she isn't in the movie). Monae's vocals are good enough to almost salvage the entire track (especially the way she sings about grabbing her gun), but her beat never really changes, and Big Boi sounds like a fucking tool, although, admittedly, that was kind of the point. Still, I wish this song was much better than it was.
15. BAMBOO & CROSS (INTERLUDE)
Can something be both adorable and useless? Yes.
The backing music from the previous interlude forms the Mr. DJ-produced instrumental for “Buggface”, so I probably should take back what I said about the skit being useless, but I won't, because I'm a dick. Anyway, the hook in here is really fucking awful, but Big Boi's effortless two verses over the catchy, funky beat almost, almost salvage the track. I suppose the brief interlude at the very end, tying back into “Bamboo & Cross”, was supposed to indicate that “Buggface” may have just been the equivalent of a fantasy sequence, but that just makes me like it less.
17. MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL
That song title makes this critique almost too easy.
18. IN YOUR DREAMS (FEAT. KILLER MIKE & JANELLE MONAE)
Organized Noize's instrumental sounds like it should have been much darker, creepier, unnerving, and far more confrontational, but I've long since given up on any of Idlewild making any sense. For what it is, “In Your Dreams” is actually okay, as Big Boi and Killer Mike contribute enthralling-enough verses framed by a chorus whose uplifting sound contrasts nicely with the violent undercurrent, but I couldn't help but feel that this song, I don't know, incomplete?
19. PJ & ROOSTER
“Nobody wanted to dance / When I had a lot of time on my hands / Now I have a lot of hands on my time.” That line, uttered by Andre 3000 in one of his typical moments of clarity, stands out among the rest of the mishmash that is “PJ & Rooster”. This is a 3 Stacks solo song that just so happens to also feature Antwan, and hearing Big Boi wander over to Andre's side of the fence is at once exciting and really fucking awful, if only because, as the rest of this project has proven, Big Boi isn't exactly the kind of rapper who can sound good over just any beat. 3 Stacks sounded just fine, though that's not really a reason for me to recommend this to anyone.
20. MUTRON ANGEL (FEAT. WHILD PEACH)
An interesting enough, if out of place, diversion, one where guest star (and producer) Whild Peach takes over the proceedings, leaving background singer Andre 3000 enough time to stick his household with necessities, since hip hop recluses hardly ever leave their homes. Most of you two won't feel this one at all, since neither of our hosts really plays much of a part, but for what it was, it could have been worse: at least her vocals weren't bad. Still, they really could have just given Janelle Monae another solo showcase. Sigh.
21. GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (FEAT. MACY GRAY)
3 Stacks sure is dominating the back half of Idlewild, isn't he? For this track, he resurrects the bloated corpse of Macy Gray, which I'm pretty sure nobody actually requested, for some pure bullshit that fails to entertain: in fact, it's possible that Andre 3000 was actively trying to piss everybody off at this point. Macy Gray lost me the moment she purposely mispronounced the word “circus”, which sounded so fucking retarded that it wouldn't have mattered if the track featured an uncredited cameo from all of my favorite artists, I still would have hated this shit. Hated.
22. YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL (INTERLUDE)
Contains actual dialogue from Idlewild, which makes me feel bad for Andre 3000 and Paula Patton, who were contractually obligated to recite it.
23. WHEN I LOOK IN YOUR EYES
A simple, charming Andre 3000 solo shot that won't offend anybody's senses. Sorry, but that's all I have the energy for.
24. DYIN' TO LIVE
Depressing as fuck, but serves the film's story well enough, I guess. At least it's short?
25. A BAD NOTE
Unlike this song, a mostly instrumental effort that also serves as a rap album outro, meandering just long enough to remind me of the non-Black Thought suites of The Roots's “Water”. The music itself (from
Andre 3000 Johnny Vulture's mind to your ears) is compelling, dark, and fascinating, but the vocals at the end fucks everything up royally.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Idlewild makes me sad. OutKast's legacy in our chosen genre can only be as good as their last project, and Idlewild is no way to treat any of the fans that have followed you since day one. Big Boi and Andre 3000 have obviously moved beyond what they originally set out to do, which is fine; Speakerboxxx / The Love Below proved that both men could succeed in hip hop on their own (the results varied, sure, but the best songs on both halves of that double album were as good as the classics in OutKast's back catalog, if not better). But Idlewild is a aural representation of a rap duo who had previously imploded, with 3 Stacks breaking out of his restraints while Big Boi no longer struggling to keep the ship afloat because he just doesn't give a fuck anymore. The fact that the majority of Idlewild is performed by either Antwan or Andre but not both speaks volumes: neither man feels the need to act as a team player because they're no longer functioning as a team. And the music suffers for it: there isn't a single track on here that would earn a spot on anybody's OutKast iTunes playlist, since neither man sounds fully engaged in what he's doing here in the first place, and the beats all succumb to that passive nature as well. Idlewild is OutKast's contractual obligation, not a cohesive album, and that shit just makes me sad. Everyone involved deserves much better than this, and I'm especially including the listener in that grouping.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one, preferably as a sacrifice to the supreme being of your choice while praying for an OutKast reunion that can wash away the memories of Idlewild, both the film and this soundtrack.
BEST TRACKS: “The Train”, maybe “In Your Dreams” if I'm feeling generous