Outkast’s Aquemini vs. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. 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” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you and your vote have decided the final 32 albums (including Wild Cards), the final rounds begin.
Outkast’s Aquemini and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly are two beaming examples of dense, cohesive, and incredibly musically diverse albums. For both acts, these works came around the six-year point of game-changing careers. Both platinum works, these albums injected issues of race-relations, sexual desire, and uprising into the mainstream. These extensive ensemble creations have each knocked out beloved 1990s and 2000s albums in “Finding The GOAT.” Against each other, the most contemporary album left in the bracket will apparently measure itself against a late 1990s gem—made by one of his biggest influences in Andre 3000. Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).
Aquemini by OutKast
- Second Round Winner (against Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides, 59% to 41%)
- 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
To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
- Second Round Winner (against Common’s Like Water For Chocolate, 55% to 45%)
- First Round Winner (against Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens, 61% to 39%)
Kendrick Lamar followed up his platinum major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city in the most atypical way. 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly was not a concept album. Rather, it was conceptualized around the medium of albums. In a year where streaming platforms would officially become the consumptive means to music, Kendrick Duckworth cast a light on his album’s sums, not its parts. That sum was an evocative work that dealt with uplifting messages to the oppressed, assertions for self-love, and poetic odes to the female reproductive organs. Between G.K.M.C. and T.P.A.B., Kendrick Lamar shocked the industry with his “Control” verse. For an MC known for his kind, competitive spirit, none of that was at play on his second album with Aftermath/Interscope. This time, Lamar aimed to make a statement for the times. Informed by Tupac Shakur, The Isley Brothers, and Parliament-Funkadelic, Kendrick scratched the zeitgeist of the Black American male experience of the mid-2010s. While those seeking more “Swimming Pools” dips may have been left sweaty, this dense listen almost immediately proved its weighty worth in the counter-culture, while the mainstream leaned in for a closer listen.
“Alright” is the triumphant centerpiece of T.P.A.B. With Pharrell on hand for the track, the song meshed a rally cry with Trap and Jazz. Arguably the most significant MC in present-day Hip-Hop still found a way to stand with the underdogs, and offer hope, courage, and assurance. The song would organically become a soundtrack staple to the Black Lives Matter movement. Album closer “Mortal Man” measured the heart of the people. Whether the lyrics applied to loyalty, Rap careers, or daily stakes, Kendrick Lamar checked in with his audience for their commitment. Symbolically, the song closed with an edited conversation between Kendrick and Tupac, who once shared the same treacherous South Central skyline as the MC. “The Blacker The Berry” spoke bluntly about the images of Black men in America. Unrestrained in his writing and his delivery, Kendrick Lamar not only spoke to oppressors, but to himself for hypocrisy surrounding violence. Breakout single “i” was one of the pillars of 2010s cool, reminding the world that love starts at home, with oneself. In order to be alright, and see walls for what they could be, it was about giving yourself the mental nutrition that social institutions would not. Surrounding Kendrick’s dense message, the TDE in-house producers and close affiliates offered complex, dynamic, but understated production. The music queued to the influences (DJ Quik, P-Funk, The Roots), but never once stepped out in front of the message. In the era of the beat, the MC in business with Dr. Dre demanded to put words first. While Dre, Pete Rock, Robert Glasper and others played minor roles in the album’s sound and recording, those features were lost on most. With a clear mind and a pure heart, Kendrick Lamar did not seem to intend to make a classic album. However, in sorting out his perception of the world (and its perception of him), K-Dot stapled his art on the consciousness of 2015, and beyond.
Album Number: 4
Released: March 15, 2015
Label: Top Dawg/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, February 2016; certified platinum, February 2016)
Song Guests: Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Rapsody, Bilal, George Clinton, Ronald Isley, Thundercat, Anna Wise, James Fauntleroy, Dr. Dre, Whitney Alford, Lalah Hathaway, Josef Leimberg, Robert Sput Searight, Rogét Chahayed, Robert Glasper, Brandon Owens, Ab-Soul, Craig Brockman, Marlon Williams, Darlene Tibbs, Wesley Singerman, Matt Schaeffer, Dave Free, Ash Riser, Larrance Dopson, Talkbox Monte, Pete Rock, Javonte, Paul Cartwright, Gabriel Noel, Pedro Castro, Sam Barsh, Kamasi Washington, Gregory Moore, SZA, Adam Turchin, Terrace Martin, Jessica Vielmas, Pharrell, Candace Wakefield, Dion Friley, Preston Harris, Wyann Vaughn, Chris Smith, Keith Askey, Kendall Lewis, Edwin Orellana, Junius Bervine, Devon Downing, Ambrose Akinmusire
Song Producers: Sounwave, Pharrell, Terrace Martin, Taz Arnold, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Flippa, Rahki, Knxledge, Tae Beast, Lovedragon, The Antydote, Boi-1da, KOZ
So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums.