BREAK: I Live-Blog Stankonia, Have A Hip Hop Breakthrough

I’ve been thinking a lot about Outkast lately, probably because they’re mentioned in ?uestlove’s “Mo’ Meta Blues” a lot. As we warm up for the latest installment of my live-blog for Stankonia, I’m testing my ear with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. I usually can’t write to hip hop unless I know it well enough to ignore it. I am also telling you that I’ve never been drawn to southern hip hop because it’s all drum machines. I really kind of hate them, as I’ve mentioned here in the past. The thing is, if you’re going to use them, I don’t want to hear them. It’s lazy production work. After being disappointed by Hustle & Flow – hey, it was talked up A LOT – I was turned off even more by southern hip hop.

Outkast is from Georgia, so let’s just say they’re from Atlanta. I’ve been reading about Stankonia all day. This is what I know so far: it’s highly acclaimed, sold really well and it’s 72 minutes long. “72 minutes of greatness,” my favorite hip hop head said. Let’s jump in.

1. Intro: Hip hop skits. Dammit, I love this shit. I love seeing how different artists attack the Hip Hop Skit. “Live from the center of the earth. Seven light years below sea level we go. Welcome to Stankonia. The place from which all funky thangs come. Would you like to come?” And then sex noises. Uh, yeah. Outkast is selling some records. It’s amazing to think about this from a prospective that, this record is THIRTEEN years old. And it came out back when people were actually buying CDs.

2. Gasoline Dreams: This record is already doing a lot. It has rock guitar, which I wasn’t really expecting. Andre 3000 is pretty much just yelling at me. Here’s what I can tell you that I already love about this record: they produced it themselves in a studio they had just bought and named Stankonia. There aren’t as many drum machines I can hear. Although, maybe it’s just hard to tell since it’s well produced. They’re already checking OK-by-me boxes. But I will tell you, my mind is wandering a little bit. Time to close some Chrome tabs. Still, I’m surprised by the guitar on this track. I don’t associate dirty channel guitars with Outkast.

3. So Fresh, So Clean: OK, so it’s established that if you’ve never heard this song before, you’re really challenged. In any way you want to interpret. I’m not sure WHO first started the So Fresh And So Clean business, but I’m 99% sure it’s this song. Let’s head to the web. So this was the third (and final) single released from Stankonia. Hmm. Behind “Mrs. Jackson” and “B.O.B.” The song primarily samples Joe Simon’ “Before The Night Is Over,” (and let’s head to youtube…) oh shit! “So Fresh, So Clean” is really just a re-working of the hook for “Before The Night Is Over.” Are people aware of how incredible hip hop is? All it does is help you discover the past. A superior genre at that. Officially in the running as my favorite. OK, back to Outkast. DAMN, they did a nice job with this. Hmm, no personnel listing on this anywhere, disappointing. I like the underwater reverb on Andre’s vocals here, about three minutes in. It’s that drum machine – the acceptable kind – that’s all over this song that will, likely, have the forever assignment to southern hip hop. “Ain’t no body as dope as me/I’m just so fresh, so clean” and the echoes! (It’s like Biz Markie commenting on the Beasties’ echo work on Hello Nasty. “I’m telling you with the echoes! I’m tellin’ you.” At the end of “Intergalactic.” BAM.)

4. I’m Cool: And we have more sound effects. Lots of female voices, up close to the mic. Very sensual. Shit, wait, this is :44. No wonder this record seems lengthy. Outkast was just doing whatever they wanted, with interludes. “BITCH. STAY OFF THAT BLOW.” “BREAK.” That is some serious shit.

5. Mrs. Jackson: We have those backwards tape loop sounds, going out to baby’s mommas: “I’m sorry Mrs. Jackson/I am for real/Never meant to make your daughter cry/I apologize a million times.” If that isn’t a hook, then I don’t know what is. Radio was invented for songs like this. The reason Outkast works so well, is the timbre difference between Big Boi and Andre 3000. They work so well together, and against each other. Andre can sing it and use his syllables and versus, but not as quick as Big. (Actually, they both kind of sing.) This song was released as the second single from Stankonia in January of 2001. AND won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Dig it. This song sums up Outkast’s commercial popularity: they know what it takes to write a pop song. WAIT. Hold the phone!! “Mrs. Jackson” is actually Erykah Badu‘s mom?!! Andre’s ex-girlfriend?!! My entire cultural narrative (mainly concerning Outkast, but still) has just seriously changed. I should do this and I haven’t yet in a live-blog, but I’m playing this song again because I need to read further about this Erykah Badu past. (Note: if I had Protools, it would’ve looped together with itself perfectly. More proof that Outkast is king/how perfect “Mrs. Jackson” is.) WAIT. AGAIN. They had a son, named Seven??! (IS THIS A POSSIBLE SEINFELD REFERENCE??! IN OUTKAST’S LIFE??!) Apparently, Andre 3000 told Vibe that this was originally a song he wrote on acoustic guitar – something else you don’t think about when you think about Outkast – and then developed it further. No, seriously. My life just changed. Let’s move on.

6. Snappin’ & Trappin’: As you know, I don’t really care for southern hip hop. Does this “Trappin'” refer to trap? When did that whole thing start. Dear, Internet…. Yeah, this is the kind of sounds that aren’t for me. I don’t see their appeal. Looks like traps were the police traps for the drug trade, and people just turned it into a genre (oh, like past popular drug terms, “psychedelic”?) There tends to be a lot of repetitiveness in songs with production like this. But Big Boi has some serious chops on him. Arista really found something when they found these two. (For a more complete list of Arista signed artists.) Oh, holy shit, there is some weird dance-hall-Jamaican sounds going on now, all the sudden. Does this really fit? Is this what makes it so groundbreaking? Their ability to do whatever the hell they want? So be it.

7. D.F.: Another :29 interlude. What’s going on here? Favorite part of this so far, “BREAK.” (Looking ahead in the durations, there are many more of these to come! BREAK.)

8. Spaghetti Junction: OK, I’m seriously just getting lost in Big Boi’s speedy rhymes. White men keeping black people down? OK, we’re still on the same page of what hip hop is actually about. And more diverse timbre between Boi and Andre. Now, I’m just curious, what else was coming out in October of 2000. !!!: BMG and Napster formed an alliance. Also, that same month, Limp Bizkit released their debut and it was selling like hot cakes. Ew. Earlier that year, Em and Kim divorced. (Possible bad hip hop juju? But honestly, that was a vicious cycle. Duh.) Hmm, lots of scratching going on in this track. Dig that. I like the classic sounds. Outkast sounds so versatile. I am really impressive with all the shit they experimented with here. Will definitely be listening to more Outkast from now on.

9. Kim & Cookie: Ooh, horns. And a skit. 1:15. Two women. This is…vulgar. But it’s hilarious. I’m just going to direct you to it on youtube. BREAK.

10. I’ll Call Before I Come: Electronica called. So did the electric piano happening on this track, building the hook. OK, I’m seriously having trouble describing Andre’s timbre. I’m pretty sure you know what I mean. It’s just, high pitched, but it folds over itself. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He can rap and sing at the same time. But his breath control is just….Woah. (Remember that single he guested on for Gorillaz and James Murphy? Let’s head to Youtube….shit its 13 minutes long?….because he has serious speed on this track. Damn this was a killer single. ) Yeezus, Mary and Joe, Big Boi’s breath control is even more impressive. They are a match made in heaven. Why did they stop making records? SHIT this track features a slim, slick lady: Gangsta Boo. And Eco. (Who has no page, sorry.) “I’ll call before I come/I won’t just pop over/out the blue.” Oh, so this is the “pop-in” song. Pretty much relatable to every human being. I like this lo-fi reverb, filtered ending.

11. B.O.B.: This is the first single from the record. How have I never heard this song? But no wonder it did well. Boi is just running circles around my brain. It’s kind of hard to digest Outkast because of how quickly they move. They wanted to be different from current music. And I guess with the children-like-chorus of “Bombs Over Baghdad” – which “B.O.B” – they accomplished it. Hmm and there’s a computer electronic thing. I wish I could hear this in 2000. There’s a big chance our family didn’t even own a computer then. I was going into 6th grade when this record came out. I really wish that I was listening to this then. (HA! I was such a loser. I can’t imagine being cool enough to listen to this record – or find this record – in 6th grade. Wait, Almost Famous came out that year. Even though I hadn’t seen it yet, I was about to obsess over it for the next, maybe, seven years or so.) There’s a lot going on here, and it’s perfect. I am impressed.

12. Xplosion: Wait. What was going on politically in 2000? America was likely still racist, but we hadn’t gone through any tragedies yet. Ah, yes. The Iraq War. Enough said. And holy shit, the 2000 Presidental Election. What was I thinking? What was going on politically in 2000? God, I’m an idiot. Really though, enough said. And B-Real from Cypress Hill shows up for a few verses. Doing it well. There’s something about the way words sound on this record. Like everything is quicker. Hip hop doesn’t sound like this. (Does it?) Ahh, the phrase “homemade bombs/blowin’ right up in your face” is everywhere. Yeah, this caught itself a year early from being totally bad news bears.

13. Good Hair: BREAK

14. We Lux Deez Hoez: Even though I know it’s here, it took 14 tracks for front row “traditional” hip hop sexism to show up. “She tried to pull my rubber off with her pussy muscles” DAMN that is some filthy ass shit. I’m going to have to listen to this record more than once to really digest it. And the chorus goes, “from the weave/to the fake eyes/down to the toes/ha-ha-ha-ha/we love these hoes.” That just makes me want to be a grown up and never look back. Big Gipp shows up (you know the one, from Goodie Mob) and, is that him with the deep voice? I can’t tell. If that’s him or Backbone. Dammit this record is dense. Let’s read more about it. (I’m almost bored here. Wait, am I? KEEP MY INTEREST, OUTKAST.) There is so many details on this record’s Wikipedia page (so sue me) and the one I find is, “With Stankonia, OutKast became the first hip-hop act to openly acknowledge rave culture as an influence.” DAMN. Maybe that’s what it is?

15. Humble Mumble: “I stank I can’t/I stank I can’t/the funky engine that could….all aboard the Stankonia Express/the underground smell road.” What is happening here. Boi is just spitting, incredibly. OK, so here’s a question, what kind of production do they use to make his vocals sound so nimble and smooth? Or is that actually his flow? Hmm, it’s rave, then, right? It’s electric. And there’s some kind of drum kit…finally. Big, you’re too Big to follow along. (Wait, it is sacrilege to call him Big? You know, like Notorious? I JUST thought of that. I’m also realizing that I’m having a hard time just now deciphering Andre and Big Boi. I’m such a loser.) AHHHHH Erykah Badu shows up. So, I’m guessing their relationship is pretty wide open. They DO have a son together. And the woman can sing. No wonder they had her guest on this record. (And on a research note, turns out, what looks like, a SHIT LOAD of records came out in 2000. Please go read this list. It might take me months to get through it.) I do dig these jungle/animal noises. And how they bleed into the next song.

16. Drunk Again: “They say a compruter can do my job/better than I can do it.” Hahahah, re: cultural foreshadowing. BREAK.

17. Red Velvet: Jesus, this record is long. OK, so this is a kind of hip hop that doesn’t take as much brain power to listen to BECAUSE Big Boi moves so fast? Does that change the way the listener hears the record? And responds to it? Or is it just how I respond to this record? Again with the timbre in this record, the balance is really quite…perfect. And the electronic movements all over this track and the panning is really trippy. Works perfectly. And then the slow down on the vocal track (this use always makes me think about Tyler, The Creator. Sorry world, if that pisses you off or whatever.) It’s hard to keep track of the message of this record. It’s so much about the plain SOUND of it. MAYBE THAT’S IT!!

18. Cruisin’ in the ATL: Kind of sounds like a bad TV commercial. Another hilarity. Another :21. BREAK. 

19. Gangsta Shit: There are those souther drum machines. Maybe I’m finally getting to the bottom of how hip hop has changed since the “Classic Hip Hop Era” – you know the one I mean: Funky Four, Run DMC, ATCQ, Biggie, etc. Maybe it’s when the music became more about the production, with computers, it became more about “the” “sound.” Add in the fact that Andre and Big Boy move so fast over their lyrics that it’s not really about their message, per say, but about the message of how the overall package sounds to the listener. Ahh, more Goodie Mob shows up. AND I’M LEARNING: Cee-Lo Green was a part of Goodie Mob.  The other featured verses on this track are people who aren’t really “famous” at all. They were signed to Outkast’s label, but really didn’t travel past that. This is some Gangster Shit. I feel like this internet meme when I listen to this track – and really, this whole record. [See below.]

this is me right now

this is me right now

20. Toilet Tisha: Holy god, what the hell could this be? Wait, smooth jazz. Guitars? Again? This kind of sounds like hip hop outer space. What kind of filters are those? Even though it kind of sounds like they’re saying “Tiny Tisha” but every time I look at the song title, that’s not what I see. Confusion, setting in. Now a woman is crying over her, Tisha. What happened to Tisha? Internet: let’s look. Ahh, about Tisha, who took her own life to….avoid the shame of pregnancy? Dammit, Outkast finally got deep. (Or maybe I’m just picking up on it.) I wish I could understand what was going on by just listening to this song. It sounds so messy, especially for a topic that is so…messy. Well, they got me here. I’ll come back to this one, you know, as a listener.

21. Slum Beautiful: MMM, I like those guitars, the rewound tape sound WITH the scratch records. Big Boi and Andre slow it down and sing a bit. Actually there’s a lot of singing on this record. Did rappers do that then? They barely do it now? I like the beats on this track. “Girl/What’s your frequency?/And can I come there/frequently?” That’s a great line. Lucious Left Foot – wait, so that’s where Big Boi’s name actually comes from? (Dammit, that record was recorded over three years in the Stankonia studios.) Woah, Cee-Lo is rapping on this track. He’s come a long way since “Fuck You.” (Which is still a great song.) But I kind of like this verse. (OH SHIT. Never forget: Gnarles Barkley. Whatever happened there? Why don’t they make more records. Consider this a call to action.)

22. Pre-Nup: This is also a Seinfeld reference, I’m convinced. Or maybe not.

23. Stankonia (Stanklove): “What does love look like?” “It looks like you.” Ah, another closing track of a record to reference and extreme ideal about love. (You know the other one I mean.) But I had to actually play this through twice in order to hear what it was. Because it’s :09 and no BREAK.

So, after a short bathroom break – because DAMN that record was long – we can fully digest Stankonia. I’m going to go back a revisit the hits from this record and touch upon something I might’ve figured out while listening to this.

There’s something about this brand of hip hop that sounds unlike anything else in hip hop. That’s DEFINITELY what Outkast has (had?) going for them. The brand of Big Boi and Andre 3000 – and their freedom to do whatever they want musically. No one else has managed to sound like them because of their freedom and because they both have an unmatchable flow. There aren’t rappers who can spit like this.

Earlier, I was talking about ?uestlove mentioning Outkast. In one of the chapters where he asks himself, (which I will go into further detail, LATER, when I’m actually done reading it) “When was hip hop’s funeral?” (Let me get ahead of myself here): his answers describe the second Source awards in 1995 and the separation of the East and West Coast rappers – physically, how they were sitting at the awards – and musically. How their respect for each other was just abysmal. ?uest tells the story that people were booing Outkast “mercilessly.” And that Outkast later said to the crowd, “We just want a’ll to know that South’s got something to say.” (page 135.)

THAT was when I knew I need to be listening to Outkast more. Or at all. Question whatever you want when I say that something, or someone, is telling me to listen to something I had never considered before. But maybe that’s just how the world works. (How else are we supposed to discover music?) At least I showed up and it was in time enough to figure out what’s going on in hip hop – wherever. Hip hop is an ocean of understanding, miscommunication and a over-sized field of sound. It will likely take me my entire life to understand hip hop.

And Outkast will likely play a role in this. Stankonia sounds so unlike every other kind of hip hop I’ve sat through before. My earlier distaste for Southern hip hop might be solved when I figure out what this record is trying to tell me. Is the message the over all sound? Or is it how their vocals sound? What do they exactly want me to listen to when I listen to Stankonia? The production? Their lyricism? Or something else? I’ve yet to figure that out. Have you ever thought about this? Maybe it’s time for an Outkast listening party. Open forum anyone?