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Big Boi and Andre 3000: Two Sides of A Platinum Coin
on September 25, 2003
For nearly ten years, Outkast has done what few hip-hop groups have been able to: grow as artists and push the limits of the genre without losing their core fan base. While the evolution of Outkast as a group has lead to four classic albums, the groups MCs also evolved as individuals. Big Boi emerged as the conscious pimp, both representative and critic of the streets, while Dre began to focus on the more abstract and spiritual. With their latest release, each gets to express his individual vision on a solo disk, yet the results manage to stay within consistant evolution of the group.
Big Boi: Speakerboxx - While many considered Dre the innovative half of the group, Speakerboxx proves that Big Boi is every bit the visionary that his more eccentric counterpart is. The production is an aural buffet, filled with funky horn riffs, driving electronic groves and soulful melodies which take southern rap to a level of musicality it has never before seen. On top of it all, Big Boi's continued growth as an MC is evident throughout, whether he is waxing political ("War"), spiritual ("Church"), or simply bragging on his pimp game ("Bowtie"). And when placed along side the album's A-list guests in straight up spit fests, Big Boi manages to hold his own with the south's cameo king, Ludacris on "Tomb of the Bomb", and out shine Jay-Z on the ridiculously funky "Flip Flop Rock". And long time Outkast fans will be rewarded with a blast from the past on the contemplatively soulful "Reset", which uses the soulfully airy minimalism of ATLiens, a perfect juxtaposition to the sonic circus that is the rest of the album rest of the album. Taken by itself, Speakerboxx would likely be the best hip-hop album of the year so far.
Andre "Ice Cold" 3000: The Love Below - Where Big Boi chose to push hip-hop forward on his disk, Andre's album reaches back to more fully explore the influences from other genres that made Outkast what it is. A concept album, which follows one man's trials and tribulations in the search for love, The Love Below bears more than a passing resemblance to Prince's Parade. The rollicking electro-funk of "Happy Valentines Day", the cheeky raunch of "Spread" and the intentionally vague sexuality of "She Lives in My Lap" all draw liberally from the Purple One. But they also pull it off better than the legions of Prince imitators we have seen over the years. In fact, it could be said that Andre made has made the best Prince album in quiet some time. But a closer listen reveals that Dre is far from a one trick pony. The lingering ballad, "Prototype" is sublime, in spite of Dre's limited vocal range. "Hey Ya" begins as a campy, early Beatles inspired lark, but somehow evolve into a sublime mix of modern rock and classic funk/soul. "Roses" and "Dracula's Wedding" are dark grooves that manage to be at once dancable and eerily brooding. And just when the listener is fully absorded in Dre's new incarnation as a neo-funkateer, the disk concludes with "A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre", a rap track that sums up the stories of the album in a concise five minutes and makes us hope that even as he grows more eclectic, he never gives up rhyming.