April 1, 2013
OutKast - Runonsentence (EP) (February 30, 1995)
After the release and subsequent success of their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmusik, the rap duo OutKast, made up of Andre 3000 and Big Boi, found themselves in the midst of a gathering in the lofty residence of the head of their label, L.A. Reid. While chomping down on celery sticks and spaghetti tacos, Dre and Big Boi were ushered away from the rest of the party to take part in one of their host's secretive poker games, rumored to have taken no less than nine days to finally complete. Not much is known about how said game actually ended, but within the next few months, L.A. Reid posed nude for Good Housekeeping while OutKast quietly released an import-only EP entitled Runonsentence, available primarily in the Thailand and Laotian markets, although exactly three copies ended up inadvertently being shipped to a mom-and-pop record shoppe in Montana that also doubled as a soda fountain and sold some of the finest milkshakes in the country before it tragically burned down in the great ice storm of 2006.
Runonsentence was released in between OutKast's debut and their artistic breakthrough, 1996's ATLiens, and, as expected, it acts as a bridge between the two projects, with Andre's pimp rhymes suddenly swimming in depth while Big Boi's verses struggle to keep up with those of his partner while he was adapting to the new surroundings. Its five tracks are handled exclusively by production team Organized Noize, and they brought the same strategy to this project as they've brought to every damn thing they've ever worked on: entertain the audience so much that they don't realize that they're also maybe learning something, kind of like PBS in the 1980s.
The five tracks on Runonsentence are hardly what one would refer to as "essential listening", but anybody who considers themselves to be an OutKast completist needs to do whatever it takes to get their hands on a copy, including but not limited to: throw old ladies down flights of stairs; vote Democratic; walks seventeen miles to school backwards and uphill through the snow; eat at Taco Bell; sit through the collected masterworks of Joel Schumacher; defeat a slew of vampires armed with only twelve toothpicks and a bag of Skittles; locate said project in a store and offer the merchant goods and services in exchange for said project.
Then, and only then, can you ever consider yourself to be a true OutKast fan, or at least one who is insane enough to throw old ladies down flights of stairs in order to get your hands on a copy. Seriously, how fucked up are you?
Our hosts kick off the project by combining two of their most favoritest things: Cadillacs and informed political discourse. Andre 3000, who was still technically just known as Dre back then, starts things off by dissecting the concept of the antiquated electoral college system, filing formal complaints regarding the lack of politicians that the average blue-collar worker could relate to and showing concern about the direction our country was being led in at the time. (Oh man, if he only knew what was going to happen less than a decade later.) After a fairly useless hook that nevertheless sounds okay on its own, Big Boi picks up the ball and runs with it down the street, down a back alley, and through an adjacent cornfield to freedom, rhyming from the perspective of an actual Cadillac who inexplicably pimps out other Cadillacs. I'm not making this up. I'm all for experimentation in hip hop, but maybe these two should have consulted with each other before agreeing to release this track as is. Weird as this all sounds, though, it leaves the listener in a state of shock, one caused indirectly by their neck bobbing up and down in time with the Organized Noize beat. The music is the most important piece, folks.
2. PIT BULLS AND PERFUME
This glorified skit still manages to fit a single verse into the listener's consciousness, as Big Boi and Dre pass the microphone back and forth like the South's answer to the Run DMC question that nobody ever thought to ask. The instrumental is merely alright, but the energy thrown about by our hosts is infectious: even with the short run time, I felt so amped up that I wrote three additional posts, eighteen short stories, and half a screenplay during the two minutes and three seconds it took for this song to play out. Strangely, the words in the title are never actually mentioned in the lyrics themselves, but it's not like that's the first time that's ever happened or anything.
3. BIG BOI BOUILLABAISSE
Andre graciously cedes the microphone to his rhyme partner (but not after getting a few ad-libs out of the way during the intro), allowing Big Boi a solo showcase that easily foreshadowed his later solo career. Antwan does his best to command the attention of the listener, what with his pimped-out swagger, references to popular culture, and name-dropping of specific locales so that you can follow his quest on Google Earth, and the production carries him much of the way, with a thumping beat that mutates ever so slightly throughout the run time. Part of me was hoping that this would be as layered and far-reaching as the Beastie Boys song that obviously inspired it, but that may have been asking too much of our host way back in 1995, when he was still learning to walk.
On which Andre and Antwan helpfully explain where they got their group name from. Interestingly enough, the story isn't all that interesting, but once they get the formalities out of the way, "Outcasts" takes on a life of its own, as our hosts utilize the Organized Noize spacey backdrop as a vehicle to run though as many hip hop tropes as they possibly can in under five minutes (grew up poor, one or both parents abandoned them, they either sold drugs or know people who sold drugs and are too smart to brag about past criminal activities in a song that can be heard by the authorities, they are quite fond of Cheetos, they rap better that you ever will and both believe you suck at life, and the rest), and they do so quite effectively. It helps that the beat is a banger, with its ethereal traits complemented by some hard-as-fuck drums and a sample swiped from the Bob James classic "Nautilus", which also happens to be sampled on every other track on Runonsentence. Also, these guys seem to be from Georgia, which is definitely a factoid I've never caught on any listening of any of their other songs, so that happened.
5. TELL IT TO MY HEART (FEAT. CEE-LO)
Curiously, Dre and Big Boi choose to end Runonsentence with a straight-up cover of the Taylor Dayne standard "Tell It To My Heart". Both men go for the gusto with the vocals, with Andre unsurprisingly having a better handle on his singing voice than Antwan, which may help explain why Big Boi chose the later career direction that he did. Organized Noize put together a relatively faithful remake of the original musical backing, and the fact that there is no actual rapping on this song is an interesting artistic choice. However, Cee-Lo must have received his album credit for the sound his mouth made when his jaw hit the floor, because I don't remember hearing anything coming from that dude on here.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Runonsentence works well as a standalone project, as its five tracks sound entertaining enough without the aid of context. If you're even remotely familiar with the catalog of OutKast, though, it's a fascinating piece of work, as one rarely gets to hear the artistic process form itself while the work is still being recorded. Andre 3000 and Big Boi work their magic over five distinct and enjoyable Organized Noize instrumentals, and even though some of the songs are more successful than others, they all unquestionably exist. I mentioned above that this project is hardly "essential listening", but that was me just typing out loud before listening to the freaking thing: Runonsentence is essential listening, and every single one of you two will live a better life if this EP is a part of it.
BUY OR BURN? Given the rarity of this particular item, it may be difficult to justify a purchase, but if you happen upon it at a garage sale or enclosed within a glass case at the Smithsonian, you should buy and/or steal it as soon as possible. That way, you can definitively say that you own something that everyone else doesn't.
BEST TRACKS: "Big Boi Bouillabaisse"; "Cadillacpimping"; "Outcasts"
There's plenty more where this came from.