Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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OutKast

  • Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik [LaFace, 1994] Dud
  • Aquemini [LaFace, 1998] A-
  • Stankonia [LaFace/Arista, 2000] A
  • Big Boi & Dre Present . . . OutKast [Arista, 2001] B+
  • Speakerboxx/The Love Below [Arista, 2003] A-
  • Idlewild [LaFace, 2006] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik [LaFace, 1994] Dud

Aquemini [LaFace, 1998]
If Dre and Big Boi were addressing real "real life situations" on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik or ATLiens, they were drawling too unreconstructedly for any Yankee to tell. This time they're clearly about babies making babies in a place with enough nature around for that kind of biology to seem like destiny. The blackstrap flow of their live slow jams ends up an evolved G-funk with denser instrumental crosstalk, no less street for putting organ rumble or soundtrack keyb where the eerie tweedie used to be. But even so the music's Southernness signifies as rural, evoking Booker T., endless Gregg Allman ballads, humid afternoons with horseflies droning over the hog wallow. Uncosmopolitan enough to call choruses "hooks" no matter what RZA thinks, OutKast probably would have quit dealing even if said hooks didn't get bought. And if not, they would have told some unheroic, untragic stories about it. A-

Stankonia [LaFace/Arista, 2000]
Comic and expansive, P-Funk were '60s from their psychedelic universalism to their rock dreams. OutKast are straight outta the Reaganism that immiserated underclass blacks who could still laugh at Star Child back when. They still take gangsta's Reaganomic equation of crime and self-help too seriously, which imparts cred as it narrows the grand good time they have whether they're petitioning their babygranny or loving deez hoez "from the wigs to the fake eyes to the fake nails down to the toes." But on this album their realism and high spirits drive each other higher. There's more bounce-to-the-ounce and less molasses in the jams, more delight and less braggadocio in the raps. Ever the happiness salesman, Big Boi would like you to know that every song has a hook. Dre's chief interest is the ideas. Drawl this very fast: "Speeches only reaches those who already know about it/This is how we go about it." A

Big Boi & Dre Present . . . OutKast [Arista, 2001]
Subtract the seven Aquemini and Stankonia tracks from this best-of and you're left with only one that could compete with them--the more-song-than-rap single "The Whole World." Everything else, including two other new tracks, streamlines the tangle-rooted funk of their must-own albums into a discernibly Southern G-funk that meditates on the constraints of life outside the law: hit-the-streets pep talk, Christmas carol, the shallow-as-its-title title track "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik," and my favorite, the languid "Crumblin' Herb," about doing what you can while you're still alive to inhale it. More pleasurable than most gangsta hedonism, yes--and all the early OutKast most will ever need. B+

Speakerboxx/The Love Below [Arista, 2003]
Statistical analysis yields but one conclusion. Better for Andre 3000 to have donated "Roses" ("really smell like poo-poo"), "Spread" (Prince should be so horny), "Hey Ya!" of course ("a-right a-right a-right a-right"), and an oddity of his choosing (say the single-mom "She's Alive") to Speakerboxx, thus rendering it the classic P-Funk rip it ain't quite, and released the rest of The Love Below under a one-off pseudonym that fooled no one, where it would go gold as an avant-funk cult legend long about 2010 (assuming the RIAA exists at that time). But in the absence of compelling economic motivation, this just didn't happen. No "Ms. Jackson," no "Rosa Parks," no "Bombs Over Baghdad," no "The Whole World" either. Just commercial ebullience, creative confidence, and wretched excess, blessed excess, impressive excess. A-

Idlewild [LaFace, 2006]
In a poetic biz snafu, the not-actually-a-soundtrack that got mixed reviews in periodicals with July deadlines was substantially revised for its Aug. 22 release. But due to the usual dumb critical systole-diastole plus the premature burial of Idlewild-the-movie, the backlash didn't stop there. Me, I liked it fine before catching the near-empty late show where I fell in love. Flick's a sepia-tone "Moulin Rouge" that makes just as much hash of musical historicity--Big Boi the bootlegger's nephew raps with a territory band, Andre the mortician's son ivory-tickles like he's studied Debussy and dreamed Monk. Record's a joyous mishmash, so light-spirited that rumors of OutKast's demise are irrelevant regardless of accuracy, which nobody can gauge anyway. The endless grindcore finale that bloats proceedings to 79 minutes is their stupidest track ever, and occasionally a forgettable song sets down and rests awhile. But from the mainstream hip-hop Big Boi articulates with so much muscle to the retro swing Andre sings just fine, they sound happy to parade their mastery. Also on parade: Janelle MonŠe. A

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