Outkast’s Stankonia Showed Miss Jackson & The World They Were For Real
Year 2000 was forced to be big in Hip-Hop. As the whole world saw the changes that came with a new millennium, the culture used the newness of things to seemingly reset from the troubling actions, tones, and violent mistakes of the late 1990s. Hip-Hop as a whole seemed to realize how the actions of a select few had pulled the plug on the colorful music. Headlines eclipsed art for the first time in Rap’s 20 year mainstream history.
Outkast knew this all too well. Their incredible debut album, 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik won big at the following Source Awards—but it’s one of the least talked about items of that fateful August 3, 1995 night. At an event when two humble MCs from East Point, Atlanta and Decatur, Georgia were supposed to open up a new conversation in Rap geography, they were booed.
A year to the month after the jeering and cold shoulders at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theater, Outkast did it again, courtesy of ATLiens. In a 1996 that was big on overt sample-driven music, and over the top productions, ‘Kast launched into orbit with only creativity powering their space ship. The album was subtle, at a time when brash was winning.
By Aquemini, it almost appeared as if Outkast no longer cared where the props came from. Never seeking approval, or validation, the group pushed on with high potency lyrics, rhythms, and messages in Hip-Hop. The multi-platinum status maintained, but somehow 3 Stacks and Daddy Fat Sax were perceived as the other at a time when mainstream Hip-Hop appeared to be holding “Star Search” for who could command attention quite like Tupac or Biggie.
Thus, Outkast’s Stankonia came at the perfect time—although there truly is no clock for music like this. In a year that desperately sought out new narratives, booming beats, and the complete package, ‘Kast’s fourth album collected big. The world, or those holding the spotlights, finally realized that the Dungeon may be the most interesting lair in music, as Outkast made an album that reached several generations.
Stankonia was a statement album for Big and Dre. In newly-released MTV footage from 2000 (above), Daddy Fat Sax said it clearly: “We gonna give it to you like Outkast give it to you every time: and that’s raw, uncut, and brand new. We ain’t doin’ nothin’ nobody else is doin’ out there on the street. We come to put heat in the game so everybody could jump onto somethin’ new, and get motivated to something real, original, and positive—’cause that’s how we like to make our music.”
That comment speaks to six years of extreme creativity, bucking the trends, and trying to give listeners something for their mind and their backbone. While past efforts may have been treated too lightly, or eclipsed by antics and pageantry, Stankonia was something different. Andre 3000 weighted the significance of following up Aquemini. He explained how it’s treated as “Very carefully. You try not to think about it too much.”
The seemingly major distinction between Outkast in 1998 and in 2000 was Organized Noize. The ATL trio had mentored Outkast and established the Dungeon. Increasingly on albums, the duo (and Mr. DJ) were getting creative ideas executed into fully-produced songs. Stankonia, named after the studio they had recently acquired from Bobby Brown, was their moment of proof. All Outkast albums sound like nothing else in the music space. But Stankonia sounds especially different from the first three albums, although Organized would produce mainstream juggernaut “So Fresh, So Clean,” “We Luv Deez Hoez,” and “Spaghetti Junction.”
“When you own the joint, you stay here all day,” said Big Boi, who also recalled the pair in their teens, waiting for days in the parking lot to slide a demo to New Edition’s Bad Boy. That never happened. But in his studios, it did. ‘Kast found its own path to the light, care of a TLC remix (recorded at what would become Stankonia), L.A. Reid and Babyface, and most importantly—a flawless record of music.
It’s so significant that Outkast would go back to the place that it started. Stankonia, as a mere address and structure, appeared to be a nurturing pilgrimage to the sonic explorers. The duo knew that they wanted to go light-years forward, so they retraced their steps back to the recording womb for their existence. Achieving the cyclical path, Outkast reportedly spent late 1998-1999 as creative shut-ins. That sleep-in-the-studio mentality has become something of a Rap cliche in the last 15 years. After all, thanks to software and the Internet, studios are often little different than studio apartments. However, with Stankonia, Outkast built a town-hall in the middle of Atlanta. While they were concentrated on the album, it was by no means an isolated affair. Whether from the D.F., or a passerby, the smoke-filled, overcrowded environment absorbed the energy of guests and its mainstays. All of it translated. This album, in a psychedelic haze, was able to pinpoint a message so clearly. Reportedly, the artists and their ensembles would take field trips, to clubs and venues, picking players for the album. Like a “buy local, eat local” mentality, the Atlanta sound was paramount to the LP. While players like Erykah Badu, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo are there, it is very community-based, clearly by design. Stankonia wanted to welcome the proverbial kids in the parking lot inside—which less than a decade prior, was Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton. Midnight oil and the feeling of lucid moments of insomniac clarity are deeply at play in songs like “Spaghetti Junction” and “Gasoline Dreams.” However, one could argue that there is not a more energetic album of this level in Rap. All of the deliveries, whether stacked, booming vocals or crisp whispers, are sharp, deliberate, and presented flawlessly.
“B.O.B.” was the vehicle that snuck out of Stankonia Studios and let the fall of 2000 know that Hip-Hop was changing—like it or not. Musically and visually Outkast led a Southern marching band, with a call to action in the space for rappers to “be about it” once more. The upbeat fight song would be a dazzling display of nimble lyrics, and syncopated flows. The music video, forever associated with the song, flips the color palette upside down. Purples, yellows, and over-saturated greens made the sobering commentary on the state of Rap feel like the best kind of hallucinogenic adventure. Outkast proved to be conductors—of the creative train, of a Hip-Hop symphony, and of perhaps the illest drum line ever captured on a Rap record.
A month before the LP, “Ms. Jackson” released. Just as “B.O.B.” set one perimeter for Stankonia, this record set the other limits. What may be the definitive entry of “baby mama” into the mainstream lexicon was slow, melodic, and in harmony. Outkast redefined their roles on records in what is a sung chorus—10 years before Thank Me Later. Although whimsical-as much of the album appears-it is highly relevant to the changing family dynamics in the ’90s and 2000s. Outkast was soulful, clever, and hip to the times. For as much as the group channeled Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly & The Family Stone in places, this was their slow-cooked R&B/Rap masterpiece. What’s more, even in heavily caricatured lyrics and a music video, the song was also personal to the experiences of the band.
From its singles to its rich album cuts, Stankonia was hardly a launch for Outkast, but it was their eclipse. In a time when Hip-Hop was looking in the mirror, and trying to make itself about the music once more, Dre and Big stood up and showed (and proved) they’d been ones doing it all along.
Now competing with the Jay-Z’s, Eminem’s, and Nelly’s, Outkast reminded Hip-Hop that it was guttural. The music lives within you—apart from the great characters, the fearless lyrics, or the galvanizing production. Stankonia is a (Grammy-winning) Rap masterpiece—that brought the music to the forefront in its own culture, while showing the rest of the world that the genre was capable of so much more than what was shown in the headlines.