Outkast's sophomore album, ATLiens, turned 20 years old on August 27, 2016. I would like to talk about it.
For as long as I live, I will never forget where I was the moment I heard “Elevators (Me & U)” for the first time. I was on my way to pick up my boy E. from work at Kmart (RIP) on Highway 20 in Madison, AL. That Kmart, now closed, couldn't have had any idea how much loot they got taken for when our friends all started working there. I never personally stuck them for their papers but I was definitely an accomplice via being the getaway driver too many times to count. For whatever reason, there was no security sensor on the exit through the Garden Center and all the employees knew it. They also didn’t lock up video games back then. You can see where I’m going with that. Kmart?
My Their bad.
In Madison, a fast-growing suburb of Huntsville, Alabama, we only had one radio station that played hip-hop, WEUP. And because that station was trash, we’d always have to pray to get the signal from Birmingham’s radio stations (about 90 miles to the south). Well, this particular day, the signal was coming in and as I pulled into the parking lot to pick up E. and whatever video games he may or may not be permanently borrowing, I heard the craziest beat start to play. And then I heard Andre’s voice.
“One for the money, yessir, two for the show/a couple of years ago off Headland and Delowe…”
Now, for most people, they probably had no clue what in the world he was saying, but as somebody for whom an entire half of my family lives in Atlanta and whose grandmother went to church off of Headland Drive in East Point, I was familiar with the area. Then the hook…hit.
“Me and u, yo’ momma and yo’ cousin too…”
Bruh. I was done. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. The beat, the hook, the flow. And it was a new Outkast song. Outkast was already the greatest thing to happen to hiphop (to me) in the history of everything. But a new song that sounded like this? It was pure euphoria. And that meant we were getting a new album. To this day, you cannot convince me that the “Elevators” isn’t one of the greatest hip-hop songs ever. It’s perfect. It’s perfect in the way that kittens playing with yarn and listening to “Player’s Ball” is perfect. It could only have been more perfect if one of the kittens playing with yarn listening to “Player Ball” had on a Colin Kaepernick jersey…in 1996. And it makes sense that “Elevators” is damn near perfect, because it’s one of the songs on my favorite Outkast album, ATLiens, which as of two weeks ago is now twenty years old. Growing old.
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is more lauded because it set the tone and really put Atlanta on the map, and it should be more lauded for that purpose alone. Until “Player’s Ball” in particular, Atlanta didn’t really have a visual. No passion. Now we got some. Aquemini got the coveted five mics from The Source back when that was a thing that mattered. Stankonia didn’t think outside the box, it realized there were no boxes and no U-Haul’s close. And well, we all know what happened with Speakerboxx/The Love Below.
“And the Grammy for Album of the Year goes to…Outkast.”
But for me, ATLiens is where it all came together and set the precedent for the rest. Outkast started producing (“Elevators” being their first production), Dre started to become Andre 3000. Big Boi wasn’t quite at Aquemini level lyricism yet, but almost there. But the production on this album was beautiful. It was atmospheric music twenty years before it (and Drake) was the very sound of hiphop (or rap music depending on how much of a purist you are) as a whole.
“Some go low to get high, it may hurt til you cry, you may die…”
The samples were dope. The beats were dirty and standard Organized Noize excellence. Big Boi was his staple braggadocios self, but Dre had morphed from ATL playa leaving women in the dirt who claimed to be having his baby on “Hootie Hoo” to recognizing that the sex he was having needed to be purposeful because the future of the world depends on it on title track, “Atliens”. Dre became the introspective everyman, rapping about the state of the world and his place in it while having realized that while he’s gained so much, he had gained nothing. Dre was, for a lack of a better term, enlightened.
There’s “Jazzy Belle” and “Babylon” and album-favorite “13th Floor/Growing Old” featuring the line that made guys everywhere take notice:
“I’ll bet you never heard of a player with no game…told the truth to get what I want and shout it with no shame…”
Mind.Blown. (not really.)
At this point, Outkast is one of the most successful duos in hiphop history. Andre 3000 has moved into acting and being awesome in various ways, including taking Uber Pool because he can do that. Big Boi is still making funky music and putting stank on it keeping it as Atlanta as only he knows how. But back in 1996, with the infamous sophomore jinx looming and coming off of a landmark and regional defining album, ‘Kast could have caught the fade, but instead they moved the goal posts and crafted an insular, tightly woven album about growth and understanding as men who were no longer novices to the rap game. They let their creativity drive the car and my life was better it. Not to mention the CD cover art, another of Dre’s naked women drawings, which I’ll ALSO never forget because of the fight it almost started.
Allegedly, I told my girlfriend at the time that the CD cover art was what she looked like naked. She then allegedy shared that information with a dude I knew, who THEN told her that he’d like to see that. She then, allegedly, told me what he said and then we allegedly exchanged words. Now I wasn’t about to fight anybody over that, but I was 16 and had to defend my girl’s honor. Or something.
Thank you, Dre. Allegedly.
A lot has changed in music over the past 20 years, but no matter what has happened musically, both awesome and punch-a-grandmother-in-the-face-worthy, I always return back to this album as one that connected with me that continues to make me feel the same as it did when I was a 17 year old, pissing off my AP Calculus teacher, trying to navigate life.
"Trees bright and green turn yellow brown/Autumn caught em, see all them leaves must fall down, growin' old…"
First they were some pimps, then they were some aliens…
…out of this worllllllllllld.