When the two men of OutKast were still attending Atlanta’s Tri-Cities High in the early ’90s, Oaktown’s Digital Underground hijacked the P-Funk Mothership, completely unaware that, almost a decade later, OutKast would take the undoubtedly more cerebral route of simply rewriting the damn blueprints. As quick to musically reference P-Funk as Photek, Stankonia is the avant-hop genre-fuck masterpiece merely hinted at by Aquemini‘s “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 2)” when the filtered voice of Big Boi — as if to belligerently prophesize as much as reminisce — added the lyrical coda “[sigma]and the vocals had dis-tor-SHUN!“
The lead single, “B.O.B.” (Bombs Over Baghdad) is hip-hop’s most post-everything moment, before or after Public Enemy’s nebulous n’ noisy “Night of the Living Baseheads,” providing the parking lot for the Bomb Squad’s cacophonous clatter to clash with warp-speed Autechre beat intricacy, Curtis Mayfield guitar shatter, and the warm catharsis of the Morris Brown College Gospel Choir. Winding more precariously than the Metro Atlanta highway system, “B.O.B.” culminates with spastic scratching over a guitar solo and triumphant chants of “power music, electric revival” proudly asserting freakazoid status as one of the tiny handful of hip-hop songs with a key change. If critics hail the Teutonic-tronics of Radiohead’s Kid A as the most sonically ambitious statement of 2000, enter the most sonically ambitious statement of 2001.
But, all is not freak-flag flying and, well, being an outcast in Stankonia. Unlike other progressive hip-hop artists that flirt with electronica, OutKast’s “outcast” tag is implied, not forced, due to the fact that the music has the inherent street-savvy mindset absent from Timbaland, Automator, or the Jungle Brothers. One need only listen to way Big Boi and Andre 3000 soulfully croon the line “I am for reeeeal,” in a sorrowful apology to the “baby’s mama’s mamas” in “Ms. Jackson” or, conversely, militantly shout “Burn muthafucka burn American dreams” in “Gasoline Dreams.”
The conscious soul of Sly Stone and the incendiary anger of the Last Poets are nothing new to the hip-hop nation, but OutKast infuses them with an awareness to the dualities and ironies of the South, where even the most ballin’ player is surrounded by poverty (“Gasoline Dreams”), where the quest for women is detoured by gentlemanly morals (“I’ll Call Before I Come”), and where even the hardest gangsta just wants to “take [his] guitar and take a walk in the park” (“Gangsta Shit”). A genuflection at the Temple of the Atomic Dog with one foot in the street and the other in space, the music of Stankonia, like the mentality of Stankonia, is tragic, beautiful, urgent, and unparalleled.
Arista Records, 6 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019-3913; http://www.arista.com