thursday album revisit

outkastatliens

i had intended giving dj shadow‘s 2006 effort the outsider a re-evaluation, but i flicked through it and couldn’t bear to listen to it all, it just doesn’t work. so instead i’ve found myself playing outkast‘s second album, 1996’s atliens. i discovered this album in 2003 – the earlier outkast albums were on sale in hmv ahead of the release of speakerboxxx/the love below, and i was flush from my first stint as an office lackey. this really impressed me from the first listen, little things like “but in the middle we stay calm we just drop [explosion]” and that weird intro with bizarre french mumblings.

i had actually heard the title track on a tape given to me by a teen from decatur of all places, who stayed in my house when we acted as a host family for a visiting high school band back in 1997. i didn’t really remember anything bar the chorus, but at the time i mistook the line “if you like fish and grits” for “if your life is a bitch”… at last i was enlightened. the album is a bizarre combination of space-age beats and traditional rhymes, as the duo flip between the materialistic trappings of new-found stardom and confusion and disillusionment with a world that seems alien to them, as they are of course the atliens of the album’s title. these two guys are just different from everyone else, rappers and laypeople alike. i think big boi’s verse on mainstream sums it up really:

Everybody’s a player, rubbing them Kangols on their head
Thinking its all about your clothes, n*gger it’s all about yourself,
The way you feel about your life, the times that you done shared with your friends and family

i should say something about elevators (me & you), which has always been the standout track for me. andré’s verse is pretty significant – it exclaims that while these guys are very much different, their life is much like everyone else’s:

Got stopped at the mall the other day,
heard a call from the other way
That I just came from, some n*gga was sayin somethin
Talkin’ bout “Hey man, you remember me from school?”
Naw not really but he kept smilin’ like a clown,
facial expression lookin’ silly
And he kept askin’ me, what kind of car you drive, I know you paid
I know y’all got beaucoup of hoes
from all them songs that y’all done made And I replied
that I had been goin’ through tha same thing that he had
True I got more fans than the average man
but not enough loot to last me
to the end of the week,
I live by the beat like you live check to check [sic]
If you don’t move yo’ foot then I don’t eat,
so we like neck to neck
Yes we done come a long way like them Slim ass cigarettes
from Virginia, this ain’t gon stop so we just gonna continue

while elevators is the standout, i must also mention millennium, which really moves me just because of the mournful little guitar lick and andré’s “uh-uh” bassline. and of course, his own words on the passage of time add to the elegiac nature of the song:

Me and everything around me, is unstable like Chernobyl
Ready to go at any moment, jumpin’ like a pogo stick
Life never lived up to my expectations, so I accept the patience
Expect the worse but now I’m pacin’, back and forth
Inside I’m melting like water on wicked witches
A monster truck done came and ran over my picket fences
I had the best of life in my clinches
but monkey wrenches was thrown
Like chairs kings sit on, my prayers seem too long
I fall asleep before the endin’, don’t even get to say Amen
I hope He understand I be on bended knees
At times, I think I’m crazy, then I say forget it
Or maybe it’s the devil infiltrating and like Riddick Bowe
I’ve been fighting this since them foetus days
I count from one to twenty, when I’m through, repeat the phrase
It’s just a phase, it’s gon’ all pass, but that gets old too
I’m weakening like a deacon doin’ dirt, What am I supposed to do?

and of course – the artwork! a bizarre cartoon featuring an l.a. reid android, outkast with superpowers and characters dressed like tusken raiders. it really has to be seen to be believed. in centuries to come, when people look at late 20th/early 21st century rap and hip-hop, and then they see outkast, even in the mid-90s, photographed sitting in wicker baskets holding their “chillun,” and listed as having powers like “see through bull shit” and “able to summon holographic black lion,” they’ll see that this duo really was from another planet.

OutKast – Mainstream
OutKast – Elevators (Me & You)
OutKast – Millennium

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