Timeless Affairs: OutKast - ATLiens
Welcome to Timeless Affairs, the corner within Steppin' Into Tomorrow, where we'd like to shine a spotlight on essential albums that have shaped our culture (and lives in some cases). We lovingly revisit, explore and zoom in on these gems in their full length. Digging out stories and fun facts from the making of the masterpieces that have built the foundation of the music today and continue to shape the future.
Greetings, earthlings! One of the most unique albums of the 90s celebrated it's 25th anniversary yesterday and it only feels right to join the festivities in this corner of Steppin' Into Tomorrow. The sophomore album by the iconic Atlanta duo composed of Big Boi and Andre 3000 is what really embodied Three Stacks earlier announcement:
"The South got somethin' to say"
Listening to this album top to bottom in 2021 feels just as great and relevant as ever before. Personally it takes me back to the high school days in Cali, bumping this album in my neighbor Nico’s Chevy Chevelle, riding around the neighborhood after dark, soaking in the greatness of this nocturnal sound, getting our teenage minds epically blown with every track, every bar, every beat. This album to me represents the journey of finding your own sense of expression as opposed to biting the style of others, which is something OutKast really stood up for in the most majestic way at this time in the history of hip hop. 'ATLiens' belongs in the timeless category without a doubt.
Dropping in 1996, a few years after their Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik debut on Babyface's and L.A.Reid's Georgia based label La Face records (preceded by first single Players Ball, a Christmas seasonal track, mad epic in its execution). This is shortly after the legendary Source Awards moment where they got booed by the crowd that night after winning in the New Artist of the Year category amidst the East Coast - West Coast beef in hip hop. Both of them were 21 years old at the time and this moment must have really contributed to that necessary drive to push extra hard to get taken seriously and carve out that proper lane for Southern rap in the industry. Quite a transformation took place between their first and second release, on both personal and artistic levels, which contributed to the boundaries of hip hop being pushed even further at this point. Big Boi became a father to a baby girl named Jordan. Andre, on the other hand, finished his high school education, quit smoking weed and became a vegetarian.
ATLiens in its title combines the abbreviation for their hometown city of Atlanta and extraterrestrial beings - accentuating the feeling of isolation on several levels that are further explored on the album itself. The comic-book themed artwork depicts Big Boi in his b-boy stance and Andre with a turban - created by collaborative effort of illustrator Vince Robinson and Nigel Sawyer, the Co-Art Director at LaFace Records. The CD even came with a 24-page comic book!
The spacey and futuristic theme carries on effortlessly throughout the 57-minute-long smooth-sounding outer-space-inspired journey, resonating in multiple layers, sonically and lyrically speaking. The beats for this record were handled mostly by Organized Noize, like on their debut album, while this time around there's also a few tracks produced by the two MC's themselves along with Mr. DJ under the moniker Earthtone III, which from this moment on continued to bring production value to all future OutKast releases and more. Lyrically we got the smooth vocals of the wordsmith Big Boi who somehow possesses the superpower to flawlessly rhyme the unrhyme-able and the unpredictable Three Stacks keeping you on the edge of the seat, making you really think with his clever and thoughtful bars. Almost philosophically you could say. All carried out over mellow beats, simple and subtle moody productions. Some of the verses I'm only now getting to this day and it has to be one of my favorite side-effects of this album as well.
”And when I'm on the microphone you best to wear your sweater, 'cause I'm cooler than a polar bear's toenail”
- Big Boi, ATLiens
Opening with Portuguese spoken word poetry, right off the bat we know we're in for a treat, followed by the laid-back 'Two Dope Boys (In A Cadillac)', which was honored with a dope animated visual companion only a few days ago:
The following groovy 'ATLiens' title track hits real hard with the Chambers Brothers sample straight away, some outstanding verses and the catchiest of hooks. O-Yea-Yer! 'Wheelz of Steel' features some fire scratches by Mr.DJ and 'Jazzy Belle' explores the theme of promiscuity, the name of the track being a play on Bible's "bad girl" Jezebel who was known to lure believers away from God and send them down the wrong path. This song, along with multiple other tracks on the album, had a hint of an influence of both MC's alleged beliefs in the Nuwaubian Nation, that was quite popular within the culture at the time as well. The movement, led by Malachi York, departed from typical Muslim beliefs, incorporating Ancient Egyptian and extraterrestrial themes into its teachings. 'Babylon' is also an example of this influence, with the hook sung by the singer/songwriter Andrea Martin, who has sung vocals for the likes of Toni Braxton, Monica & En Vogue among others. The lead single off the album, 'Elevators (Me & You)' , the most other-worldly, smokey and mystical joint with the most captivating chorus is gonna sonically hypnotize you no matter where you're at.
"True, I've got more fans than the average man
But not enough loot to last me to the end of the week
I live by the beat like you live check-to-check
If it don't move your feet, then, I don't eat, so we like neck-to-neck"
- Andre 3000, 'Elevators'
On 'Wailin' we can hear the soulful hum of young CeeLo Green, who's also member of the Goodie Mob and therefore Dungeon Family, musical collective based out of Rico Wade's basement studio in Atlanta. Rico, together with Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown form the legendary production team Organized Noize. You can also hear verses by other two members of Goodie Mob, T-Mo and Khujo on the next track 'Mainstream'. 'Decatur Psalm' is an ode to the Decatur neighborhood in which both Big Boi and Andre grew up. The track features Big Gipp of Goodie Mobb and another Dungeon Fam member Cool Breeze. This is also the only track on the album that doesn't feature Andre 3K. Further in the tracks 'Millenium' and 'E.T.', themes of worldly possessions and vices, sinning and sense of belonging to a grander universe. Closing off with the track '13th Floor/Growing Old' featuring a hook by the singer Debra Killings and spoken word by the resident Dungeon Fam poet Big Rube, we wind down on the note of pondering the future we're all heading towards, social issues and the world of hip hop.
"See all them leaves must fall down, growing old
Fat titties turn to teardrops as fat ass turns to flab
Sores that was open wounds eventually turn to scab
Trees bright and green turn yellow-brown
Autumn caught em"
- Andre 3000, '13th Floor/Growing Old'
ATLiens is an incredibly important album in the history of hip hop by the means of which Outkast has managed to carve out a safe space for those who want to express themselves freely and authentically within the genre without having to compromise or adjust their personality to industry standards. The album peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200 in its first week after release and went on to achieve multi-platinum status. This year, we celebrate 25 years of existence of this album with a new drop of a 25th Anniversary Deluxe edition containing an expansion on the original record with previously unissued instrumentals. Allegedly, there's even a video game on the way, but we're gonna have to stay patient to be able to attempt defending Atlanta from an alien invasion.