Friday, May 10, 2013

38. OutKast - ATLiens

It's hard to imagine Antwan Patton and Andre Benjamin as anything but household names. In contrast to their current fame, 1996 saw them low on cash, fearing a sophomore slump and struggling to fully realize a unique identity. They certainly had the opportunity to dive headfirst into the mainstream, but they wanted to develop their ambitious Southern blend of rap beyond the canon of commercially-accepted urban music. Their creation would become the first major work from one of hip-hop's most distinct and empathetic collective voices.

Bringing along the quick-witted verbal quips and playful banter present on Southernplayalistic... (see "cooler than a polar bear's toenails"), Big Boi and Andre 3000 have tempered their fanciful dialogue with a sober wisdom, due in large part to hip-hop's coastal feuding and the stale shallowness of the commercial rap game. The group sounds defensive on occasion, protecting their hometown and message from being slandered or misconstrued. They've even developed a sound influenced by their environment, which perfectly matches their ever-expanding social awareness.

This warm, contemplative sonic profile, built around live instrumentation and soulful vocals, makes for a rich listening experience in stereo. Ace production team Organized Noize (with contributions from OutKast) utilize clean and crisp drum hits, delicate piano and the occasional bluesy guitar lick to craft a joyful noise worthy of a church choir. That is, if your church band jammed on trippy synthesizer, sleigh bell and low, slinky bass.

The overall tone is measured, having as much of a drawl as the vocals and shrewdly leaving some breathing room between chorus and verse. These ambient moments make narrative driven tracks like "Elevators (Me & You)" and "13th Floor/Growing Old" flow more organically. Dre and Big Boi are superb storytellers and a hurried tempo would overshadow complex and emotional topics like the progression of time, poor health, lack of self-confidence, violence and community division (black, hip-hop or otherwise).

Confronting the demons of gangster rap and life below the poverty line, ATLiens comments on pre-Y2K tension and violence with a rare verisimilitude. OutKast heightened their message to mirror the times and what came of it is a record of striking clarity and social conscience.

Buy it at Insound!

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