2014 marks the 20th birthday of Outkast’s debut album SouthernPlayalistiCadillacMuzik and a much-hyped set of reunion shows. This is a great thing. Outkast is without a doubt the most dynamic rap duo of all time, and they achieved staggering commercial and critical success while being truly weird.
It boggles the mind people with such a dense vernacular of slang could also permeate the mainstream enough to inspire Time to create a 38-term Outkast dictionary. The inventive language, stylistic variance and influential nature of the Outkast canon also inspired a full graphical breakdown.
The people responsible for Hey Ya!, one of the biggest hits of the ’00s, are also responsible for SpottieOttieDopaliscious, a 7-minute spaced out jam with elements of funk, jazz and spoken word.
I’m also far from being the first person to try to assign a hierarchical ranking to Outkast’s body of work, but for what it’s worth this is my definitive ranking of Outkast albums from worst to best along with my personal favorite cut from each album.
Idlewild was released in 2006, and it serves as a soundtrack to a musical movie of the same name. It’s a scuff on an almost flawless body of work. It isn’t awful by any means, but it is lackluster. Left foot and three stacks are rarely heard on the same track, which is a commonality shared by lesser Outkast albums. Still, Mighty “O” is definitely worth a listen.
So much filler, so little killer: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was released as a double album under the Outkast name, but it is actually two solo albums. Big Boi’s contribution, Speakerboxxx, is easily the superior of the two albums. It is a more traditional rap album highlighted by the one-two punch of one the best instrumental intros in hip-hop proceeded by the frantic energy of Ghetto Musick, a clear successor to B.O.B. The album’s 19-song length could probably be cut in half without significant loss though.
André’s contribution, The Love Below, features almost no rapping and aspires to be a Prince record. It works in some places, but the hit to miss ratio is pretty poor. Of course when the hits are Roses, Hey Ya and Happy Valentine’s Day it’s almost worth it.
The confident, solid but not spectacular sophomore effort: ATLiens
ATLiens is an excellent album. Its more mature, slightly spacier sequel to Outkast’s lauded debut. The hooks on ATLiens and Elevators(Me and You) are absurdly catchy, and Wheelz of Steel is a clinic on rapping furiously as a tandem. ATLiens is a great, necessary stepping stone between excellent early Outkast and excellent experimental Outkast, but it is something of an under appreciated middle child in the duo’s output. It’s absolutely worth adding to any record collection. ATLiens is a great album– it just isn’t one of the greatest Outkast albums.
Instant classic debut: SouthernPlayalistiCadillacMuzik:
SouthernPlayalistiCadillacMuzik, released while both members of Outkast were still teenagers, this is by far the least experimental Outkast album, but it is an extremely strong traditional hip-hop record. Git Up Git Out, Player’s Ball, Crumblin ‘erb, Ain’t No Thang, Hootie Hoo and title track SouthernPlayalistiCadillacMuzik are all classics.
The energy and chemistry present between the two members of Outkast is palpable. This album also predates Dré’s name change to André 3000, adoption of a strict vegetarian diet or rejection of drugs and alcohol. Although Git Up Git Out hints at these future developments Outkast’s debut has a fairly different mindset from subsequent releases. This is two best friends from Atlanta rapping about their common experience.
Amazing, genre-bending masterpiece: Aquemini
Aquemini is an amazing listening experience from it’s twinkling first song to the screaming guitars on album-closer Chonkyfire. Rosa Parks includes a harmonica hoedown, Slump taught a generation of adolescents what to forever holler when they see cops and SpottieOttieDopaliscious is absolutely perfect and utterly unique. This album is 16 years old, and it still sounds ahead of the times. It is so critically respected it even cracked Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time, coming in at no.500.
One of the greatest albums ever released, which somehow built on and surpassed its predecessor: Stankonia
Stankonia is the name of the fictional planet from which all of Outkast’s funk purportedly originates. It is also the title of Outkast’s fourth and best studio album. Stankonia is considered the 359th greatest album of all time by the usually rock-ist Rolling Stone, and it is basically perfect. So Fresh, So Clean and Ms. Jackson were massive hits upon release, and would be hit singles if they were released in 2015. The highlight of this amazing collection of songs is the genre puree, B.O.B. Bombs Over Baghdad combines rap, rock, electronic, gospel and almost every other 20th century musical style into one of the most ferocious jams of all time. Stank you smelly much Outkast!