In 2000, OutKast finally started to break into serious international stardom with their fourth album Stankonia. But after that, Big Boi and Andre 3000 began experimenting on their own, making songs apart from each other, not even spending studio time together. Over the last couple of albums it had become evident that they were growing into different directions. But their record label of course wanted another album with both of them, to build on the success of their aforementioned album from 2000. So they decided to make their next effort a double-album with each one of the discs giving a taste of where they were individually taking their music, but still making occasional appearances on each others' tracks. The "yin and the yang" element had already been mentioned numerous times when describing the feeling of hearing the two of them together, and with Speakerboxxx / The Love Below they were ready to take this element to a whole 'nother level.
They say "Big Boi, can you pull it off without yo' nigga Dre?"/ I say "People, stop the madness, 'cause me and Dre be OK!"/ OutKast! Cell therapy to cell division/ we done split it down the middle, so you can see both visions
- Big Boi on "Tomb of the Boom"
When this album first came out, most people, including myself, automatically had their attention drawn mainly towards Andre's wild and eclectic The Love Below disc, since it represented the most progression and excitement. Big Boi's disc just sounded pretty much like a "ordinary" rap album in comparison. But as the years have gone by, it is actually his Speakerboxxx that has grown into my favorite part of the album, and displayed the most timeless quality in the long run. Daddy Fat Sax has always been my marginal favorite piece of the duo anyway, and the first song out is anything but a ordinary rap tune. After a tight instrumental intro, "Ghetto Musick" hits us with a bang; superfast rave-rhythms who are at times ingeniously broken off by a slow Patti LaBelle sample, Andre 3000 singing the chorus, while Big Boi drops a verse that stands alone as one of the great proofs of him being the most underrated rapper of all time. When he goes off with flow and lyrics like this, there are few, FEW, FEW others in the genre's history that is, or has been, able to keep up with him on the mic (his partner-in-rhyme, of course being among the very few). All in all, it begins with one of the best tracks on the whole album. After this, a great and varied run of songs follows all the way to the end of the disc. Mentionable among them all are the beautiful southern fried soul on "Unhappy", the funky and delightful "Bowtie", as well as the hit-single "The Way You Move", which IS hard not to move anything to. The loud funk-rock of "Bust" with a killer (pun intended) guest verse from Killer Mike, also stands out, and on "War" Big Boi even touches on some politics with his lyrics. The album is probably never more street than on "Tomb of the Boom", where he teams up with Konkrete, Big Gipp from Goodie Mob, as well as Ludacris, for some pretty hardcore rhyming. While on "Reset", which features fire from two other Goodie Mobsters, Cee-Lo and Khujo Goodie, they take it right back to the deep spiritual feeling of Soul Food (1995) and ATLiens (1996) both musically and lyrically - also recalling that era in terms of quality. But the song that I might consider as the best, not only on Big Boi's disc but the whole album, is "Flip Flop Rock" feat. Jay-Z and once again Killer Mike. Over a chilling beat that's driven by some up-tempo stop-and-go drums and what sounds like a looped steel-guitar, the three of them demonstrate flows, word-play and punchlines as good as it can be done.
Got a sweet lil' darling back in my corner/ below I know I love her, but act like I don't want her/ surrounded by the lovely, but yet feel like a loner/ could be an organ donor the way I give up my heart, but.../ never know because shit I never tell her/ ask me how I'm feelin', I holla that it's "irrele"/ I don't get myself caught up in "Jello Gela"/ and pudding pops that others opt to call falling in love, but.../ for the record, have you ever rode a horse?/ Like for you to take me to Pluto, I said "of course"/ but if you ain't a sweety, indeedy I won't endorse/ Han Solo till I'm hit by the bullet, so may the force be with you!
- Andre 3000 on "Happy Valentine's Day"
The production on the first disc is mostly handled by Big Boi himself, with otherwise Mr. DJ producing or co-producing a number of tracks, and also Andre 3000 gets involved on two. In other words, the three who made up the production-team Earthtone III, who stood behind the major part of the music OutKast had made over the last few years, at the time. And the production is very diverse and consistently good ... even the songs that I don't exactly rank among the highlights are more than worth the listen, since there's always something sparkling and refreshing going on in the mix. And considering the diversity of the music, the most impressive part is Big Boi's ability to just fit into anything, while at the same time keeping it playful and bringing something distinct to every track that sets it apart from both the one we heard before and the one coming after. So in that matter, I think Speakerboxxx so far represents his peak as an artist and musician, not counting out last year's critically acclaimed Sir Lucious Left Foot album with that. And it's definitely something that he deserves tons of more recognition and praise for, than what he has actually gotten.
And then ... we have The Love Below. Ever since their first album, both members of the 'Kast had proven themselves to be progressive artists with an eager to try out new things. Still, Andre quickly stood out as the most radical of the two, by for instance rejecting rapping in favor of singing on more and more occasions, from their third album and on. So his part of this album ended up as the accumulation of it all, and dare I also say: Perhaps the most ambitious collection of tunes ever made by a rapper. Just like the first disc it starts off strongly: Andre pays tribute to Frank Sinatra on the intro, before a distorted guitar-solo slides us into the jazzy "Love Hater". I remember that this particular track caught a lot of heat when the album dropped, but to me it has always been one of my favorites on the whole record. Following are "Happy Valentine's Day" and "Spread", who are two out of only three songs where 3 Stacks actually raps, even though he sings most of the time on these, too. He produced the whole disc himself, and with studio musicians all over the tracks, he pushed the use of live instrumentation that has been a part of OutKast's music since day one, to the maximum. He even plays acoustic guitar himself on some tunes.
There'll be no tomorrow, but sorrow and horror will follow, the hollow hearts battle for dollars/ politicians, modern day magicians, physicians of death, more healthcare for poor health.../ who makin' us ill, they makin' us kill, it's makin' me spill my guts, chill Big, lay in the cut!/ For what? I refuse to sit in the backseat and get handled/ like I do nothing all day but sit around and watch the cartoon channel/ I'll rap about the presidential election, and the scandal that followed/ and we all watched the nation as it swallowed and chalked it up/ basically, America you got fucked! The media shuttin' it down, now we stuck!
- Big Boi on "War"
About halfway into the disc, we get the four strongest songs coming right after each other. On "Prototype" he sings about meeting a woman that's too perfect to be true, over slow tic-tac rhythms and a nice, airy melody. While on the hypnotizing and a bit lyrically disturbing "She Lives In My Lap", he sinks deeper into Prince territory than on anything else on the disc ... because there's no doubt that especially Prince inspired much of The Love Below's style and concept. Then of course there is the mega-hit "Hey Ya!". Not necessary to write much about this one. Let's just say that for decades to come, people will clap, dance and sing their asses off to this song and think "Aaaah ... the '00s!!", the same way they will do with only a few others like Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes". To finish off this hard-hitting four-punch comes another hit-single: "Roses", where Big Boi too, drops by with a tight verse. This is the kind of soulful and timeless song that shows why I think many of the Dungeon Family members, with OutKast in particular, truly are the ones who carry the torch from all the funk pioneers of the '70s and '80s.
Miss Lady! You could have been born a little later, but I don't care
So what if your head sports a couple of grey hairs
Same here, and I actually think it's funky .... (in a Claire Huxtable type way)
Miss Lady! It looks to me like you need a little juice in your life
Call me when that big ol' house gets lonelyfied
And I'll teleport from here to there
You show me how it's supposed to be done, I'll make sure you have young fun
- Andre 3000 on "Pink & Blue"
After this the eccentricity really starts to kick in. Or the weirdness, as many probably would call it instead. And at the same time, the consistency that has been running throughout both discs drops a bit at this point. But there are still more bright moments to come. My biggest personal favorite of this section is probably "She's Alive", which through its striking minimalism both lyrically and musically, ingeniously reveals itself as a powerful ode to single women raising children on their own. Other highlights are the beautiful, yet a bit too short, "Take Off Your Cool", which I think was the first one out among several brilliant collaborations between rap artists and adult-pop star Norah Jones, to come during the following years. I've also always fancied the up-tempo'ed garage rendition of the jazz classic "My Favorite Things". And then we have the album closer "A Life in the Day of Benjamin André", the only song where Andre goes 100% rap. Over an eerie but soft production that sounds like it samples music from some old horror movie, he spills out the whole story from him being a young teenager about to release the first album with his group, and up to the point when he wrote this song.
I have a feeling that The Love Below was just something that Andre 3000 HAD to make. His head was probably about to blow up because of all the ideas he had, but couldn't breathe fully life into when making the last two 'Kast albums. He just needed to shine on his own for a moment, to make it happen. And the result is a journey into the mind of a twisted genius, bubbling over with creativity. And even though his disc hasn't aged quite as well as Big Boi's disc, it's still a impressive piece of work that stands its ground. And while Speakerboxxx also stands, even better, on its own, it definitely IS the combination of the two that holds the most strength. OutKast is a two-headed monster, and this is the album that points out the individual talent and uniqueness of each one of them in the clearest way. There's no other rap group with the musical craft, finesse and understanding to make something like this. In fact, I'd say that there's no other artist, group or band at all that could've made such an immense and well rounded mix of rap music and many other genres. Double-albums have always been suffering - and will continue to suffer in the future - to criticism of stretching things too far. And while it's not the best overall, Speakerboxxx / The Love Below is surely ONE of the very best double-albums I've heard. And it's also the only one I've heard that doesn't have a single moment that's unquestionably filler, over the course of its two discs. About 2 hours and 15 minutes of music, and (in my opinion) not a GODDAMN weak or average track ... that's a huge triumph in its own. It was deservingly one of the most-selling albums of the '00s.