The TwH Reaction Thread: ATLiens Return
With news breaking this week that OutKast will embark on a tour starting at Coachella in 2014 for the first time in a decade, the music community, hip-hop in particular, is already trembling with excitement. These bastions of southern rap have done enough separately to keep things interesting since the 2003 release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (or the 2006 release of Idlewild, depending on who you ask), but even if they hadn’t it would still be a monumental reunion by any standards. We at Tuesdays With Horry are just as excited as everyone else, so a few of us discussed what this means from a personal or macro standpoint.
Tyler Lauletta: Being raised on Classic Rock and Motown, too many times in my life I have fallen in love with artists whose touring careers were over. Sometimes it was justifiable; John Lennon was shot before I was born, Kurt Cobain died before I smelled teen spirit for the first time, Michael Jackson was white before I ever knew he was black. Knowing that I would never get to see these artists perform live was a difficult reality for young Tyler to face. It was like some sort of cosmic joke.
My worst such experience was with Led Zeppelin. For my 13th birthday my parents bought me the Led Zeppelin compilation Early Days and Latter Days. I listened to it every night as I fell asleep for a year, taking in consciously and unconsciously what great music could be. I discovered this band that had came and went before I was born and it was simultaneously a blessing and a curse. The blessing was that for a few months, I could devour music that was new (to me) from one of the greatest bands to ever exist. The curse was that once I had devoured their catalogue, it was over. All over. As soon as I made a connection with every Led Zeppelin song that I connected with, that would be it. They would not make new music. They would not be a part of new memories. I would never see them play. As I have grown older, I have discovered that Led Zep’s music now has some new meanings in my life, as I can now better relate to the fact that “the soul of a woman was created below.” But this further appreciation of their music only adds to the pain of never being able to see them play live.
OutKast, along with A Tribe Called Quest, taught me what Hip Hop was. I was late to the funk party, falling for Kanye in high school but never really diving any further into the dregs of MTV2 than that. When I began college, I had just been dumped by a girl that had turned all of my musical interests to hipsterdom: we kissed a bunch while listening to MGMT, Bon Iver, and Dr. Dog. She broke my heart, and as a rejection of those hipster values, I retreated to the one thing I knew I had loved before I loved that girl – Kanye West. I went deep into the Kanye catalogue, similarly to my time with Led Zep, but this time there was a history to explore. I could go back and listen to the people that shaped Kanye. And that is when I discovered ATLiens by OutKast, and my life path was at least to some extent altered.
Until I was introduced to ATLiens, I only knew OutKast as the group that did “Hey Ya” and “I Like the Way You Move”. I remember being in middle school, pretending to know the differences between Speakerboxxx and The Love Below while not really understanding why these two guys were making music together when their styles were so drastically different. I didn’t know about the history. I didn’t know about the ATL. I didn’t know that when you ripped one of their CDs into iTunes, the genre listed was “Southern Rap”. I was just a kid going through puberty trying to figure out why the music video for “I Like the Way You Move” was so appealing.
ATLiens is not usually regarded as the best album that Andre 3000 and Big Boi produced. That title usually, and rightfully, belongs to Stankonia. But ATLiens will always be my favorite; it is an album that I can start at any track and play all the way through. It has one greatest lyrics ever written: “First I hear it’s not where you from, but where you pay rent / Then I hear it’s not what you make, but how much you spent.” And it has a line that never fails to make me audibly laugh, regardless of the circumstances of my listening: “Because I’m cooler than a polar bears toenails / Oh hell.” And that is all just in the title track. I have listened to this album in good times and bad. I have listened to it on planes, trains, and automobiles. I have played it on vinyl for guys I am trying to impress and girls I am trying to kiss. This album is inextricably a part of who I am, and how I describe myself as a person.
For the past three years I have felt this way about OutKast and ATLiens. And for that whole time, I was sure that I would never get to see them together. I would enjoy Big Boi’s most recent release Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours, and I would take in my fill of Andre 3000 in Gillette commercials, but I would never fantasise about a reunion; I didn’t want to put myself through the pain.
Now, all is right with the world. This April, I am going to get to fly to California and see OutKast as God intended, together, hopefully with a real and/or hologram Cee Lo Green standing by their side.
James Vasiliou: The Southern Star shineeees:
I first heard OutKast back in 6th grade when Stankonia exploded across America like a technicolor volcano. The hook of “Ms. Jackson” was sung down the halls of my suburban middle school with frustrated teachers huffing about the complex subject matter that kids were espousing with great zeal. I watched in amazement as Andre 3000 drove his purple Cadillac through a psychedelic alternate Atlanta in the “B.O.B” video. I would listen to “So Fresh, So Clean” on the radio as I adjusted my UNC bucket hat before school field trips. They were my first lesson in self-confidence and rebellion.
As I headed into high school and Speakerboxx/The Love Below became the album that further shattered expectations of what hip-hop could do or sound like, I began flipping through the older albums in their catalog. The one that floored me immediately was ATLiens.
At the age of 18, I identified with the existential crisis happening on “13th Floor/Growing Old” because of the uncertainty of life after graduation staring me in the face. I shouted to the top of my lungs on the chorus of “Ova Da Wudz” to relieve stress from a hard day as Burger Assembler #2 at Backyard Burgers. “Two Dope Boyz” was the anthem that I would blare from my car whenever I left school. It was an album whose bleak messages were set to some of the most laid back beats that I had ever heard. It was like a Native Tongues record if the Native Tongues had appropriately reconciled their worldview with the subject matter that the “hard rocks” they were so diametrically opposed to reveled in.
It’s music that you can reflect on, it’s music that you can jump around your used ’92 Grand Marquis to and it’s music that you can dance to. OutKast is a lot of things to a lot of people and most of it is overwhelmingly positive. Even if they don’t record another album again, it’s great to know that the duo who has moved hip-hop into its most outlandish, experimental form will be onstage together again.
Alright. Alright alright
. This is happening, and there is no reason to believe that it won’t be awesome and everything everyone has hoped it would be for the last decade. The first time I remember hearing OutKast was on television, probably on TRL
in late 1999/early 2000, hearing “Ms. Jackson” and thinking it was just so smooth. “B.o.B.” kind of scared me because of its raucous pace, but in hindsight I realize its brilliance. Equal parts Funkadelic, Langston Hughes and Grandmaster Flash, “B.o.B.” put OutKast at the forefront of blinding pace in hip-hop and is a solid contender for the single greatest hip-hop recording ever. Its successor single, “Ms. Jackson,” combined R&B sentiments with thoughtful lyrics and one of the catchiest hooks ever recorded (Forever ever? Forever ever?).
Going back and listening to Stankonia
now is like hearing Exile on Main Street
for the first time. With that record, OutKast shocked the collective conscious, and it is still largely in question as to whether we, the listening public, have ever really recovered.
From then through about 2004, OutKast was everywhere, and it was really exciting. Their unique take on classic funk stylings and pulsating rhymes combated against gangsta rap and hip-hop softness following the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. André “3000” Benjamin is full of vibrant energy and an incredible drive to inspire joy through it, and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton is his perfect foil. They had a unique mix of fervent, train-careening-off-the-tracks speed and poignant lyrics which dismantled the hip-hop construct and pieced it back together as something more beautifully astounding than anyone had ever envisioned.
I received Speakerboxxx/The Love Below for Christmas sometime in the mid-2000s, and it is still magic. “Hey Ya,” of course, is almost annoyingly ubiquitous, save for the fact that it is a brilliant piece of hip-pop showmanship on André 3000’s part, and the video, which features André as every character in an Ed Sullivan Show takeoff, is equally spellbinding. The fact that the record is almost entirely split made it almost unfair: on one album, two geniuses are able to showcase what makes them great and still be able to receive help from the other one when appropriate. “Roses” is another classic which would not have been the same without André’s hook. “Good Day, Good Sir” is classic hip-hop skit filler, a hilarious modern take on Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” back-and-forth with a subtle enough hint of antiquity to undermine any notion of its earnestness. In moments of these, OutKast reveals its true character.
One has to wonder if OutKast could ever even really produce a follow-up great enough to belong in its esteemed canon, and whether that question has been part of what’s kept the two apart for such a long time. The smattering of singles from each party and the well-received Big Boi solo effort Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty certainly point to plenty left in the tank for the pair, and either way the world will warmly welcome OutKast’s return to the stage because of how much fun it always looks like they are having. Each of these guys is an artist in his own right, and together they create a kaleidoscope of attitude and astute sensibility which does not so much go against the established grain as it does create a grain all its own. We should all be thankful it was an amicable hiatus but much, much more so that the hiatus is finally, mercifully finished.