Outkast’s Aquemini vs. Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides. Which Is Better?

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One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?

“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.

The next two albums released just over a year apart from one another. Each are significant efforts to their region, and geographic sound. Outkast’s Aquemini contends as one of the duo’s greatest audio achievements. Rolling over The Pharcyde’s debut, this 1998 LaFace Records may not have the sales or award accolades of other ‘Kast efforts, but proves its magnitude in democracy. Meanwhile, Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides toppled Ice Cube’s own debut by just over a 1% margin. Mighty Mos lived up to his name in pushing votes like weight, and moving a five-mic early ’90s gem distributed through the same label. These late 1990s efforts square off, representing a Southern benchmark, and Underground-gone-gold, respectively. For lovers of lyrics, beats, and style, this is no easy choice (click one then click “vote”).

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Aquemini by OutKast

– First Round Winner (against The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, 62% to 38%)

OutKast (as they were still stylized at the time) carried an infallible reputation into their third album. For a group that had helped make the South a destination for lyric-seekers in the 1990s, Big Boi and Andre 3000 appeared to be marginalized from the emerging mainstream movements of No Limit, So So Def, and Cash Money. However, with Aquemini, they sought little outside support—especially from those “face down in the mainstream.” Instead, the pair kept the circle tight, and welcomed a bevy of session players into the Bobby Brown’s Bosstown Studios—which during the LP would become their privately-owned Stankonia. Upon exiting the lab, Outkast had another galactic gestalt of message-Funk stuffed with rhythms and flows that could not be replicated. Moreover, ‘Kast put their finest “F.U.B.U.” feet forward in this LP’s singles. “Rosa Parks” took the Civil Rights Movement’s inciting incident and illustrated how “the back of the bus” was actually where those in power wish to be. The fast-paced single broke from the a la carte offerings of the previous two albums, but maintained the confident, socially-applicable premise, and brilliant Rap commentary. Follow-up single (and next track on the album) “Skew It On The Bar-B” welcomed Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon for an effort that made a Dominique Wilkins-era dunk contest out of flow and cadence. In an era of catch-phrase-driven, unapologetically dumbed-down Rap, Big and ‘Dre were fearlessly inventive. In slang, style, and presentation, this duo had Hip-Hop’s original tenants in mind.

At a time when Rap albums were seemingly seeking judgement based on video singles alone, Aquemini demanded to be looked at as a total sum of its parts. Deep cuts like “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” stretched a brassy groove, with razor sharp rhymes about reality, and lifestyle shifts. On the album closer, “Chonky Fire,” guitars charged a sinister Stankonia seance—complete with an effortlessly human chorus to match the message. In Outkast’s final effort with Organized Noize and Mr. DJ taking on heavy production duties, Aquemini may be the group’s best marriage of rhymes and beats. Big Boi was a lyrical Barry Sanders, bolting up the field with his nimble flow and trademark cadence. Andre 3000 stuck-and-moved with imagery, wisdom, and lines that prove to be Rap-relevant 17 years later. No longer was ‘Kast playing with a geographic inferiority complex. By the third album, these two impresarios knew they were at the top of the skill totem pole. With that confidence and creativity, Aquemini laid out the zodiac to determine what was best for Hip-Hop’s future, and how shiny suits, Italian roadsters, and tanks were merely distractions.

Album Number: 3
Released: September 29, 1998
Label: LaFace Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, November 1998; certified platinum, November 1998; certified 2x platinum, July 1999)
Song Guests: Raekwon, George Clinton, Erykah Badu, Big Gipp, Cee-Lo, Khujo, T-Mo, Joi, Sleepy Brown, Cool Breeze, Witchdoctor, Big Rube, Mr. DJ, The Four Phonics, Lil Will, Delvida Flaherty, Supa Nate, 4.0, CJ Jones, Jamahr Williams, Whild Peach, The South Central Chamber Orchestra, Marvin “Chanz” Parkman, Victor Alexander, Omar Phillips, Darian Emory, LaMarquis Mark Jefferson, Skinny Miracles, Kenneth Wright, Craig Love, Tomi Martin, Martin Terry, Jim Sitterly, Jermaine Smith, Debra Killings, Jim Smith
Song Producers: (self), Organized Noize, Mr. DJ

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Black On Both Sides by Mos Def

– First Round Winner (against Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, 51% to 49%)

Just over one year after Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) stepped forth with his solo debut. Black On Both Sides showcased Dante Smith the MC, the poet, the musician, and the singer. Notably, mighty Mos was fine staying the course in making an album that largely dealt with the state of Hip-Hop. Out of that personal vantage point, so more was said, from Mos’ inner-voice of inspiration (“UMI Says”), his urgency to transmit rhymes (“Hip Hop”), and the impending white-washing of yet another form of Black expression (“Rock N Roll”). As Jay Z, Nas, and Snoop Dogg were making super-albums filled with pointed guests and producers, B.O.B.S. opened Mos’ circle to Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, DJ Premier, and Diamond D. It felt like an album, conceptually and in sequence, that the MC had been dreaming to make for 25 years (and he contributed musically to nearly every track). The sincerity, and range yielded crossover singles to a world not wearing Rawkus hoodies or buying 12″ wax.

Mos Def reminded an especially-segmented music culture that Hip-Hop was all things. He made Jazz, Soul, instrumental grooves, and Rock & Roll on an album that’s ceremony was always mastered by a B-Boy. Like Kanye West would do five years later, Mos Def was a sharp reminder that being yourself and creating courageously could still be rewarded in a music industry that was bulldozing its own middle-class. In step with Eminem, Mos proved that the oft-ignored independent scene could—and was producing Rap’s next stars. As Hip-Hop was changing, Brooklyn was changing, and the music industry was changing, the Black Star member was documenting it all—in one of the most sprawling 70 minute albums that arguably never wasted an instant. Mos Def had messages of love, lust, and environmental survival. Along the way, he was not above calling out white appropriation, lazy MCs, or his own label splits. As much as Illmatic, or Ready To Die, Mos Def—who had already participated extensively in a full-length album–made an example of an idyllic debut album, that fully presented an artist, his wide reach, and his skillful ability. Black On Both Sides seemingly reached all sides of the Hip-Hop universe, and delivered Rap music a star that has lasted more than 15 years since.

Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: October 12, 1999
Label: Rawkus/Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #25 (certified gold, February 2000)
Song Guests: Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, Vinia Mojica, DJ Etch-A-Sketch, will.i.am, Johnny Why, Weldon Irvine
Song Producers: (self), DJ Premier, Diamond D, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Psycho Les, 88-Keys, Ayatollah, D-Prosper, Ge-ology, David Kennedy, Weldon Irvine, DJ Etch-A-Sketch

So which album belongs in the 1990s Top 10? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT: The Albums