Reflection Eternal’s Train Of Thought vs. Outkast’s Stankonia. Which Is Better?
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.
Released within two weeks of one another, Reflection Eternal’s Train Of Thought and Outkast’s Stankonia are two master works of not only year 2000, but the decade that followed. Both duos were making statement albums on the health of Hip-Hop, their respective environments, and stepping up for the cause. One album is now four-times platinum and the other cracked the Top 20 of the charts, inconspicuously. Both of these works aimed to connect the sounds to the kind of music (and musicians) that informed Hip-Hop in the first place. In going backwards, each act surged incredibly forward. With more than 15 years of time to reflect, which album really is the better? Your vote speaks the loudest (click one then click “vote”).
Train Of Thought by Reflection Eternal
Following the massive success of 1998’s Black Star album, Mos Def would go on to release his gold-certified solo debut Black On Both Sides. For Talib Kweli, the Brooklyn, New Yorker would pivot to fully introduce another group. Reflection Eternal, his partnership with DJ Hi-Tek had existed on 12″ Rawkus Records singles since the earliest days of the label. However, when the BK-to-Cincinnati tandem would release Train Of Thought, it showed that music—not branding—reigned supreme. This rich 2000 album served as a complex, intricate solo stage for Kweli (although not officially his solo debut). Moreover, out of the album’s homogeneous blend of Soul, Jazz, and pounding percussion, Hi-Tek would emerge as the star producer out of the Rawkus movement. Literally and figuratively, Talib Kweli candidly spit at his well-heeled peers, with production the A-listers wished they had. Train Of Thought ran on an electrifying third rail of intellect, opinion, and thumping sounds.
“Africa Dream” is one of Talib Kweli’s finest hours. With veteran musician Weldon Irvine on hand, the song chemically bonded African drums, Jazz, Spoken Word, and Hip-Hop together through realness. “These cats drink champagne / And toast death and pain / Like slaves on a ship, talkin’ about who got the flyest chain,” snapped Talib’s verse. The MC was unafraid to throw jabs, regardless of where they landed. The moment was so much bigger than questioning “keeping it real.” Much of the album dealt with survival. “Too Late” was six years ahead of Nas in questioning whether to make plans for Hip-Hop’s funeral. However, rather than just call for a life-line, Reflection Eternal shocked the life back into the art. “Down For The Count” meshed Rah Digga and Xzibit alongside Kweli, in a cypher-like attack, filled with soundbite punch-lines. Hi-Tek’s low-end bass drums took swings just as hard as the MC’s similes in a moment that bridged the gap between Juice Crew and Slaughterhouse. In the era of the hidden bonus cut, R.E. made a Hip-Hop homage to Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” with a searing modernization, dealing with racism and feminism at once. Across the album, esteemed guests joined the party. Whether Kool G Rap or De La Soul, Les Nubians or Res, Reflection Eternal welcomed outside voices, but strictly in the assist role. Talib Kweli—who arguably appeared eclipsed by Mos Def leaving the ’90s—proved that he took a backseat to no one. Meanwhile, Hi-Tek entered the 2000s as one of the most exciting sound creators. He made the kind of music A Tribe Called Quest would have produced had they stayed together (“Blast”), with the pounding effects of a Nottz or Dilla (“Move Something”). At a time when Hip-Hop releases seemingly lived and died in the marketing machine, Reflection Eternal defied the conventions, and successfully bet against the odds.
Album Number: 1 (as group)
Released: October 17, 2000
Label: Rawkus/Universal Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #17
Song Guests: Kool G Rap, Xzibit, Rah Digga, Idle Warship (Res & Talib Kweli), Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli), De La Soul (Posdnous, Maseo & Dave), Pharaohe Monch, Les Nubians (Hélène Faussart & Célia Faussart), Kendra Ross, Dave Chappelle, Tiye Phoenix, Nonye, Vinia Mojica, Donte, Big Del, Piakhan, Supa Dave, Darcel, Imani Uzuri, Katushia, Neb Luv, Tracie, Tiyi Willingham, Owen Brown, Derrick Gardner, Monique Walker, Bassi Kolo Percussion Group
Song Producers: (self), Weldon Irvine
Stankonia by Outkast
After three arguably flawless albums, how could Outkast possibly follow? In the 2000s, what could Andre 3000 and Big Boi say and do to push the envelope? For the first time in their careers, Outkast released an album into an era when Southern Hip-Hop was dominating radio and video—thanks to Cash Money, No Limit, and other burgeoning movements. 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 a charged, fiery, and highly-produced album that reached several generations. Becoming more of their own producers (as Earthtone III), Outkast knew just how to navigate the spaceship.
Courtesy of “B.O.B.,” Outkast led a Southern marching band, with a call to action in the space for rappers to “be about it” once more. ‘Dre and Big 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. In a completely different tempo, “Ms. Jackson” defined “baby mama” into the mainstream lexicon. The smash single was slow, melodic, and harmonized. Outkast redefined their roles on records in what is a sung chorus—10 years before Thank Me Later. For as much as the group channeled Parliament-Funkadelic (“Stankonia (Stanklove)”) and Sly & The Family Stone (“Gasoline Dreams”) 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. Although they had seemingly tickled a pop pocket, Stankonia refused to shake the trademark ‘Kast flare. “We Luv Deez Hoes” was a raunchy, torrid (and cautionary) account of money-shots in the Cadillac. However, the album cut was made with the same care as multi-platinum singles, and just as sincere. In Y2K, Big Boi and 3 Stacks had not let the platinum and praise change their lives. This album portrayed two Seville-driving MCs who liked to rhyme about race relations in the South, avoiding scandalous women, and searching for peace of mind. In a decade where Hip-Hop’s interests would look south of the Mason-Dixon, Outkast’s Stankonia immediately stepped up to show their consistency, creativity, and courage.
Album Number: 4
Released: October 31, 2000
Label: LaFace/Arista Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, November 2000; certified platinum, November 2000; certified 4x platinum, November 2003)
Song Guests: Erykah Badu, Khujo Goodie, Gangsta Boo, Killer Mike, J-Sweet, B-Real, Eco, Backbone, Big Gipp, Slimm Calhoun, T-Mo, Blackowned C-Bone, Joi, Cee-Lo Green, Big Rube, Sleepy Brown, Donnie Mathis, David “Whild” Brown, Jason Freeman, Jerry Freeman, Marvin “Chanz” Parkman, Preston Crump, Aaron Mills, Robert Gristler, Dookie Blossumgame, Victor Alexander, Myrna “Screechy Peach” Crenshaw, Rosalin Heard, Paul Douglass-Fedon, Cutmaster Swiff
Song Producers: (self), Organized Noize (Ray Murray, Sleepy Brown, & Rico Wade), Mr. DJ
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.