It is said that Southern trees bear strange fruit.
Ten years ago, the seeds sown by Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton reaped one of the strangest, yet most fulfilling fruits that Hip-Hop has ever produced.
Aquemini, a combination of the zodiac signs Aquarius and Gemini, was an absolutely appropriate title, as the truth in their music flowed effortlessly over the Southern-themed beats.
The duality represented by their two divergent personalities, the experimental genre-bending force pushed against the mainstream presence of the group, and laid the foundation of one of the few truly classic albums of modern music.
In 1995, they received a Source Award in New York City, amidst a smattering of boos from the supposed gate keepers of Hip-Hop; those foolish enough to think that something as amorphous and as free as Hip-Hop music could actually be constrained and defined.
Bereft of that conspicuously missing half mic for Southernplayalisticcadillacmusic and minus the cultural cosign from the town that created H.E.R., the Outkasts returned home to the dungeon.
The South got something to say- Andre 3000
They emerged with ATLiens, which upped the ante lyrically and stylistically, but musically drifted closer to the boom-bap. While futuristic in its conception, and light years ahead of its contemporaries, ATLiens moved away from the soulful, car-friendly funk of its predecessor and made the statement that the South was capable of producing that traditional Hip-Hop, albeit with a regional flavor
Something had to be done to let both the East and the West Coasts know that Hip-Hop was more than bi-coastal; that the South had something to SAY.
It was not enough to be dope for Southern Hip-Hop. It fell to Kast, years before Khaled was taking over, before TI was King, and before Ross was a Boss, to take a stand and raise that middle finger and destroy the path of resistance; to be the irresistible force to combat the immovable minds of the gatekeepers. In this spirit, Aquemini was born.
Andre Benjamin would assert himself as one of the premiere lyricists in Hip-Hop.
Combining his Georgia powered drawl with a smooth yet power-packed, crisp delivery, Dre was the star of this album with rhythmic assaults on tracks like The Art of Storytelling.
Profound yet simplistic, Dre gained complete control of space, pace, and gravity, altering his speed, cadence and flow to accentuate his narrative powers, while still taking to task a music that had suddenly become safe and stale after its ascension to the top of the Billboard charts. Consider Aquemini the meat amidst the saccharine of pop-rap
Instead of bitches and switches and hoes and clothes and weed, let's talk about time traveling, mind javelin something mind unraveling-Andre 3000
Rather than retreat from their Southern heritage, they embraced it. Their accents are deeper on Aquemini than on either of their previous works. You hear harmonicas on Rosa Parks, and a more bluesy feel to a few of the beats. Kast became more expressive in their art.
Conversely, they didnt totally turn their back on their Hip-Hop lineage. Crime rhyme capo Raekwon the Chef appears on the aggressive Skew it on the Bar-B. Further up the chain of ancestry, Funk Legend George Clinton goes back to the future on Synthesizer.
Conceptually, Outkast managed to no only represent the block with lines like n****s from the South wear gold teeth and gold chains, been doing it for years so these n****s aint gon change, but also managed to broach subjects of cloning, government intrusion, the future, bisexuality, drug use and a myriad of other topics not often touched by traditional Hip-Hop albums.
Not content to play second fiddle, Big Boi stepped up his intensity as well ad simply delivered in his role as the more grounded member of the group. His delivery was more confident and aggressive on Aquemini.
Finally, we had the cherry on top, the 9 minute magnum opus Liberation. The soulful Cee-Lo Green, Joi,and Erykah Badu deliver a rich lyrical song with Big Rube, their spoken wordsmith delivering the knockout blow. In fact Badus verse is arguably the realest one on the entire album touching on how money and fame sounds like liberation, but it really just entraps you in a web. Ill let her tell it:
Folk in your face, youre a superstar/N****s running round cause of who you are/You get a lot of love cause of what you got/they say theyre happy for you but they really not/sell a lot of records and you roll a Benz/Fall up in the spot now you losing friends/All you want to do is give the world your art/Record label try to make you compromise your art/ Make a million dollars make a million mo/First class broad treat you like a n**** po/You want to say wait but you scared to act/Your world starts spinning and its moving fast/ try to stay sane-thats the price of fame/spending your life trying to numb the pain/Shake that load off and sing your song/Liberate the minds and then you go on home
The last part sounds ominously like what happened to Heath Ledger. It totally exists outside of convention and takes you to an emotional place that is rarely achieved in music.
My only gripe is that liberation is not the closing salvo on this masterpiece.
A song with that much emotional power should always be the last word.
However that honor goes to the guitar driven Chonkyfire.
It is here that Big Boi takes lazy rappers to task and flat out refuses to mail it in on the mic.
His impassioned declaration should be the Mcs Creed:
To make you bob ya head be the track job, your job to spit the fire some of yall mcs take this rhyming for granted, I wont comply- Big Boi
Aquemini is a Hip-Hop classic that pushes the limits of what we normally consider Hip-Hop, yet is decidedly true to its roots. To deny its place in history is to claim your badge as a hater.
There is an East Coast bias generally in all media, but particularly in Hip-Hop, because its origins are acknowledged as New York. Aquemini however, is the irresistible force. The point at which fronting is futile. Its Outkasts version of Kobes 81: love them or hate them you just have to respect it.
Ten years ago, Outkast took a stand for Hip-Hop overall as the album generated grudgingly gushing accolades fromall quarters including Roling Stone and drew comparisons to all-time albums. But within the House That Run Built, it was the first true assertion of authority from the South artistically. Goddamnit the SOUTH GOT SOMETHING TO SAY!
That point was driven home credibly with creativity, authority, dexterity, and with fluidity and musical integrity. Putting pressure on It Takes Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and precious few others in the conversation of greatest (not greatest South) albums ever.