When Atlanta rapper, Donn Johnson, was eight years old he lived in the SWAT (Southwest Atlanta) on Headland and Delowe Avenues. “When you are a kid and you hear your neighborhood, your city on a popular song it’s major,” he said.” ATLiens was the album that kicked off that Atlanta pride that we have to this day.”
Pride was a major driving force behind the recording of the now seminal album, it was recorded after Outkast was booed after winning Best New Artist at the 1995 Source Awards in New York prompting the now-classic statement by Andre 3000, “The south got something to say.” The south did have much to say. The awards were followed by the release of Goodie Mob’s Soul Food in November of 1995 and ATLiens the following year. These two releases would begin to cement Atlanta’s Hip-Hop dominance which remains intact to this day.
Outkast dropped their sophomore album on August 27, 1996. The album was recorded primarily in Atlanta with some final mixing and mastering taking place in New York. For the project, the group recorded 30-plus songs with 14 making the final cut. ATLiens debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart selling over 350,000 copies in its first week fueled by the popularity of the first single, “Elevators (Me & You).” The atmospheric and spacey single was an excellent contrast to the beef songs coming out of the east and west coasts.
Here are Five Facts about Outkast’s Classic Sophomore Album, ATLiens.
• ATLiens predicted Atlanta’s Gentrification. The album was released three weeks after the end of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Subject matter on Soul Food and ATLiens were heavily influenced by the changes happening in Atlanta around the preparation for the games. The Metro Atlanta Task Force was created to police homelessness resulting in the arrest of 9000 homeless people in 1995. Further, the city tore down numerous housing projects relocating people across the city (and suburbs) and setting the stage for gentrification. As of 2011, all of Atlanta’s housing projects have been demolished.
• A Person from Atlanta is an “Atlantan.” The title of the album, ATLiens, is a mix of the name of the city and nomenclature of a person from there and the idea of Outkast being “aliens,” or separate, distinct, and different from the rest of hip-hop.
• ATLiens featured 30 Guest Appearances, including 17 guest vocalists. The album was produced by the Dungeon Family as well as Dre and Big Boi, who were making their own tracks by this time. Dungeon Family artists Cool Breeze, Witchdoctor, Goodie Mob, Sleepy Brown, as well as singers Joi, Jazzyfatnastees and Trina Broussard also make appearances.
• “Elevators (Me & You) became Outkast’s biggest single until “Ms. Jackson,” four years later. “Elevators” is about evolution. The song is literally about Outkast rising from the basement, where Dungeon Family originated, to the penthouse. In fact, much of the album was recorded on a top floor of the Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta. The song featured a sample of “Blue Suede Shoes,” by Carl Perkins later made famous by Elvis Presley.
• Largely Fueled by the East Coast/West Coast Rivalry. The album (and the group) were bystanders in the east coast/west coast rivalry that would ultimately result in the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. Outkast was booed at the 1995 Source Awards because rap culture was not ready to give significance to the south, which prior to ‘Kast, had been gimmicky and definitely considered subpar. It was Outkast (and Goodie Mob) who gave voice to Atlanta’s music and culture…unapologetically.
Biba Adams (@BibatheDiva), known as “Detroit’s Daughter,” is a New York City-based writer that lived in Atlanta for a very, very long time.