Outkast, Stankonia

Outkast, Stankonia (2000)

When a journalist wrote in Musician magazine over a decade ago that critics would continue to laud Metallica “while continuing to ignore the rest of the genre,” he could have easily been talking about Outkast and the peculiar mix of so-called “gangsta rap,” hip-hop, and Southern funk from which they ascended. Over the past few years, the duo – Big Boi and Dre – have proven themselves to be one of the best groups in popular music, regardless of genre. However, their fourth album, Stankonia, relays the two’s fantasies and obsessions with such explicitness that one wonders how it would be received if Juvenile, for example, were elucidating them. Like Aquemini, Outkast’s last masterpiece, Stankonia is driven by a lust for life and all its passions. “Ain’t nobody dope as me, I’m just so fresh, so clean,” Sleepy Brown sings on “So Fresh, So Clean” as his Organized Noize team lays down a rippling, gangsta-leaning bass line. Like Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, Outkast deals with the nonsensical netherworld of Black culture, where contrary impulses blend and clash like darkness and light, yin and yang. “What can make a nigga wanna take another nigga’s life?/What can make a nigga wanna do another nigga’s wife/Like a butter knife?” Dre asks on the appropriately titled “?” Stankonia is about the dank, wet smell of thickness and bated breaths, as heavy as a tangled nub of marijuana, as sweaty as two naked bodies holding each other. Stankonia’s humble mumble encompasses proprietary claims (“We Luv Deez Hoez”), flossing (“So Fresh, So Clean”), and male-female disconnections (“Ms. Jackson”). On its most thrilling moment, “B.O.B.,” Dre – now renamed Andre 3000 – and Big Boi compare their musical flurries to a bombing of Baghdad, Iraq, scorching MCs like a U.S. missile. “Yeah, inslumnational underground/Thunder pounds when I stomp the ground,” Dre says. Yet, underneath the junglist rumblings, Big Boi notes, “Gotta son on the way by the name of Bamboo/Got a little baby girl, four years, Jordan.” Then, he adds “Before you re-up, get a laptop/Make a business for yourself, boy, set some goals.” Earthtone III (Dre and Big Boi), with occasional help from Organized Noize, construct a careening blur of styles, from bounce to drum ‘n’ bass, from straight-up funk to liquid soul. “Humble Mumble” skitters around on snare drums ‘til the funky drums kick in and electrify it; “Spaghetti Junction” opens with a hip-hop beat before cooling out over an acoustic guitar hook. The breadth of Stankonia is varied, yet strangely effortless; you can feel the weight of its implications – Outkast take more chances than most rappers – but the music itself feels ephemeral, a lark in the funk park. In hierarchical terms, Stankonia’s melodies aren’t as sharp or compelling as Aquemini. Then, it’s darker, too, a cry from Outkast’s subconscious compared to Aquemini’s bright conscious. Much of it is mellow blues, a futuristic updating of Bobby Womack’s classic, realist take on the tragedy of human relations. If it illustrates an oft-ridiculed sector of Black music better than anyone else, it also argues that Outkast’s worldview is hardly an isolated opinion. Do you really wanna know about some gangsta shit? As Dre remembers telling an accusatory female critic on “Humble Mumble,” “She said, ‘I thought hip-hop was only guns and alcohol’/I told her ‘Hell naw/Although it’s that too’/You can’t discriminate because you read a book or two.” Arista.

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