Outkast The Love Below/ Speakerboxxx
Grade
A-
 
Also Try
Prince
Ludacris

Track List:

The Love Below
1. The Love Below (Intro)
2. Love Hater
3. God (Interlude)*
4. Happy Valentine's Day
5. Spread
6. Where Are My Panties?*
7. Prototype
8. She Lives In My Lap
9. Hey Ya!
10. Roses
11. Good Day, Good Sir*
12. Behold A Lady
13. Pink & Blue
14. Love In War
15. She's Alive
16. Dracula's Wedding
17. The Letter*
18. My Favorite Things
19. Take Off Your Cool
20. Vibrate
21. A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre' (Incomplete)

Speakerboxxx
1. Intro
2. Ghetto Musick
3. Unhappy
4. Bowtie
5. The Way You Move
6. The Rooster
7. Bust
8. War
9. Church
10. Bamboo (Interlude)*
11. Tomb of the Boom
12. E-Mac (Interlude)*
13. Knowing
14. Flip Flop Rock
15. Interlude*
16. Reset
17. D-Boi (Interlude)*
18. Last Call
19. Bowtie (Postlude)

Overview: I've heard that Outkast is 'white rap'. Not sure how bad of a thing that's supposed to be, but if it means that they've broken out of the gangster stereotype of spending all your money up front and dying young, leaving a legacy more known for your mouth and your violence than your music…then I guess that holds true. Outkast have steadily picked up more and more listeners with each album, first on the dance floor, and now in the Gap. With Hey Ya! exploding on to the MTV scene, all the VW Bug drivers are humming to the music now. But their current popularity matters not, because I can assure you, Outkast are no flash in the pan; they'll be here for awhile.

Their latest double CD set is supposedly where the two members of Outkast would pursue solo projects together, each focusing on one CD of the set. While the line isn't drawn cleanly through the middle of the set, the two CDs do have distinct flavors. For my money, as someone who listens to a lot of music but only a little rap, Andre 3000 is the half of this duo that lends the versatility to this outfit. This shows most on his album, The Love Below, where he varies vocal stylings and combines disparate elements to create a musical style that, while not always the most listenable, is definitely cutting edge. I don't know that this should've won album of the year, but I applaud Andre for being so experimental in a day when record companies want an album full of singles. How odd, then that I actually like Big Boi's album, Speakerboxxx, better. Of the two, The Love Below is infinitely more varied, takes more chances, and has more standout tracks. But some of it is not stuff you'd want to listen to often. There's something on there for a great variety of music lovers, but similarly, most people will probably not like a few of the tracks…though which ones will vary from person to person. Speakerboxxx, on the other hand, is much more of a straight rap album, though still in Outkast style (meaning generally a cut above the rest in quality and versatility.) But overall, I can just throw Speakerboxxx in and let it play, partly as background music, but getting in to the songs that I really like. The Love Below is not background music. It demands attention, possibly negative attention.

A last note, you really get your money's worth with these albums, as their both packed with tracks, but there are also several skits on each album. Now you won't catch me buying many comedy CDs, 'cuz it gets old after awhile. Outkast are no comedians, and this stuff gets old real quick (as do most rap skits.) I noted the skits in the track list with an asterisk*.

Standout Tracks:
The Love Below - This album just has such a variety on it that I need to at least say a few words about each piece. The title track opens the album with a retro musical-style crooning, which then segues into the very jazzy Love Hater. Happy Valentine's Day shows similarities to Prince when he was with The New Power Generation: elements of funk mixed with hip-hop. Spread is drum & bass, quick rappin' Outkast, though not amped to the level of say, Bombs Over Baghdad. Prototype is a slow-groove ballad. She Lives In My Lap is an odd hybrid. It's like a slow R&B groove mixed with Nuevo hip-hop beats. It's a very cool song that definitely grows on you. That kicks into the huge radio hit Hey Ya!, and then onto their latest hit, Roses. Behold A Lady is more stripped down, laid back funk. Andre 3000 seems to really enjoy kickin' into this on this album, and here he does it with great effect, combining slight elements of West Coast Rap and gospel to make a really unique but infectious groove. Then we hit Pink & Blue, where I swear Andre is channeling Prince. This sounds almost like a lost track from Prince's Batman soundtrack. Love In War has got a lot of electronica going on. It's a little repetitive, but it's got some pretty phat beats. She's Alive is odd. Andre's falsetto singing here is exaggerated to a comical effect, which combined with a meandering, warbly chorus Ol' Dirty Bastard would be proud of, creates just a weird song that would be funny if not for its serious subject matter. Dracula's Wedding is 70s-influenced disco-type groove. My Favorite Things is a drum & bass version of the old Rogers & Hammerstein song, sans vocals but with accompanying piano and horn. A pretty cool track for anyone who waxes nostalgic about the old musicals. Take Off Your Cool is a little acoustic guitar duet with Norah Jones. Vibrate is a stripped down song kickin' the reverse bass Beastie Boys' style. It's cool, but goes on about a minute too long. And then we close, oddly enough, with Andre's most straightforward rap song. Admittedly, still incorporates odd melodies and an eerie style that's almost off-putting at first, but then it suddenly ends. Strange for an album that seems just short of a concept piece themed as if Andre's life were a musical. Maybe the key is that it's (Incomplete)…

Speakerboxxx - This album is ostensibly Big Boi's solo half of this double solo album package, but in reality, Andre contributes writing and or vocals to at least half these songs, whereas Big Boi's contribution to Andre's album was considerably less. In any case, this disc is much more of a 'standard' rap album, though Outkast still has much more innovation and variety than the standard rap act out there. We get a bass intro into Ghetto Musick, which is the definitive Outkast hit of the set. Compare it to Bombs Over Baghdad, Speedballin', etc. I hate to jump on the conformity bandwagon, but it's fast and hits hard, and is probably my favorite song on either disc, formulaic or not. Unhappy is rap groove Dr. Dre would feel right at home in…which leads into the funky hip-hop of Bowtie, which leads into the bass-heavy R&B hit The Way You Move. Next up is The Rooster, which combines Spanish horns and wah-wah guitar to make another song that grew on me like a fungus. Bust and War are both close to being hardcore rap. Church mixes harpsichord-sounding keyboards with a gospel-influence chorus. Tomb of the Boom is the requisite rap song with more guest rappers and writers than there are notes in the song. It's really the only song in this set that I don't care for at all. Knowing is Outkast rap-funk at its finest. Flip Flop Rock mixes in several guest rappers again, but this time with a faster, more complex song that works a lot better than Tomb of the Boom, and has more energy. Reset is so laid back it's almost catatonic with its lounge jazz keyboards and sleepy chorus. File it under rap/trance. Last Call goes back to the guest rappers, this time with the greatest effect, due to quick and precise rapping and a funky baseline. A decent way to end the album.

- - Jeff Light

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