By Nick Margiasso
One of the biggest puzzlers regarding Outkast’s new double solo records — Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx and Andre 3000’s The Love Below — was figuring out which direction each dirty Southerner would take. While Dre made himself comfortable in his synthesized rocket ship and charted a course for Planet Prince, Big Boi made a statement about his own musical dwellings. Home is where the STANK is.
It should have been no secret that starry-eyed Andre would immerse himself in free-form funk and glittery songwriting, while Boi would throw down his stanky, crunked-up rap. But what is surprising is the fact that Boi, by sticking to his guns, has made a better album than forward-thinking Dre.
Speakerboxxx kicks off with the rump-shaking rap song, “GhettoMusick.” The tune shifts from Big Boi’s intense lyrical flow over lap-dance electronics to a Marvin Gaye-ish bridge showcasing a crooning Boi.
This song also marks the first of five tracks that could, by themselves, make this one of the best hip hop outings of the year.
After the summer sunshine of “Unhappy,” Boi lays down pimptastic verse and chorus in “Bowtie.” Vibrant horns at the songs front-end give way to a strolling, head-nodding beat accompanied by Boi’s smooth verse. If the sound isn’t “playa” enough for you, Boi jumps into the chorus stating: “Crocodile on my feet/ Faux fur on my back/ Bowtie around my neck/ That’s why they call me the gangsta mack.”
Next up is quite possibly the song of the year. “The Way You Move” mixes Boi’s smooth Southern verse along with a big, raw beat. This isn’t exactly anything special by itself, until that naked rap changes into the sparkly jumpsuit and picked afro that is the song’s chorus. Songs as good and dynamic as “The Way You Move,” with its gritty rap flow into a barrage of bursting horns and soulful vocal outcry, are few and far between these days. The fact that this tune came from Boi instead of his counterpart is all the more reason to bestow the supposed strictly rap man even more praise on the subject of innovation.
While the album drops off a bit in the middle because of low grade rapper cameos and superfluous skits (save for the “Bamboo” interlude, where his 1-year-old son grabs the mic), there are still a few tracks left that make Big Boi’s half of this highly touted Outkast vehicle worth any music fan’s hard-earned dollar. The rattling, rough-neck rap of “Knowing” and “Flip Flop Rock,” a funky, edifying rap featuring some A-list rapping by Jay-Z, round out this stellar solo outing by the crunker of the Outkast duo.
So what can the music world learn from Big Boi’s valiant solo efforts on this highly touted double album? Sometimes counting on established rap pedigree as a basis for subtle innovation makes for a better product than flamboyant, feathered-boa funk exploration.
By Rorik Williams
As rap music problematically travels along a newly platinum-forged one-dimensional plane, some artists beg simply to be unadaptable and revolutionary. While on the way to becoming more creative than their counterparts and exploring new ambits, artists who search for a musical utopia are often banished from the land where Jay-Zs and 50 Cents carry platinum plaques and have Reebok shoe contracts. But some get to stay, and these artists have the peculiar attribute of moving in and out of music’s permeable membrane between rap and hip-hop exploration.
With his first semi-solo album, The Love Below, Andre 3000 does it better than anyone in the industry. He quickly opens the album with a resounding motion picture-like score and pulls back the black velvet curtains to expose TLB’s quirky yet philosophical innards. Andre also hints, “Everybody needs a glass of water today/ to chase the hate away,” to those who may think negatively about his style on “The Love Hater.” Wrapped with the choral discourse of an electric guitar, the track softens and Andre sings, “Everybody needs somebody to love.” Love is a recurring theme on the album and TLB often seems to act as a personal commentary on Andre’s struggle to find it.
The love theme follows Andre as he takes his special blend of Prince and P-Funk to the extreme on “She Lives In My Lap.” The track’s fusion of hop-scotching drums, bubbling organ notes and swarming synthesizer hums create a luke-warm atmosphere that invites in a haunted house kind-of-way. Rosario Dawson’s accompaniment on the track adds to the vibe as she pleads, “Baby, why are you acting like this/I don’t care about any of them/I care about you/Baby I love you,” on top of Andre’s feedback marinated voice.
Much like the funk/soul influences that come through in the music and vocalism on TLB, Andre tries to exhibit his rock inspired persona on tracks like “Hey Ya!” This hand clap acoustic guitar filled sing-a-long has the feel of a classic Beatles record. Images of American Bandstand quickly ensue. In addition, Andre borrows the famous Sound of Music mainstay “My Favorite Things,” minus the lyrics, and sprinkles it with a frantic break beat. The last track of the album, “A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre,” is a journey rapped through the halls of Andre’s life. While there, he raps of the love he lost and closes the ride with comments about his relationship with Erykah Badu.
The journey this album takes is a well-seasoned addition to the rap heavy Speakerboxxx. The Love Below completely displays Andre’s eclectic nature and, to borrow a phrase from Big Boi’s “The Way You Move,” gives “eargasms” the whole way through.