OutKast’s Aquemini Turns 20. This 1998 Interview Shows They Saw The Future (Video)
OutKast has one of the most consistent catalogs in all of music. Their first four albums, in particular, are revered as some of the best Rap music released between 1994 and Y2K. However, during that legendary run, André 3000 and Big Boi turned on the turbo jets 20 years ago with Aquemini. Released on September 29, 1998, the Dungeon Family duo’s third release raised the stakes, took big chances, and put ‘Kast in position to be kings.
For many, Dré and Big’s Aquemini was the pinnacle of the group’s cosmic Afrocentricity. Combining their astrological signs to one word, it marked an evolutionary leap from their sophomore effort, ATLiens. By this point, the two Atlanta artists had formed a production team with their disc jockey, Mr. DJ. The trio, as Earthtone III, produced the majority of Aquemini. The collective responsible for some of ATLiens‘ key moments pressed ahead. Notably, mentoring production team, Organized Noize remained in the mix. While 3 Stacks and Daddy Fat Sax turned a Civil Rights Movement hero’s name into a party on “Rosa Parks,” Rico, Sleepy, and Ray lit the grill for the two-piece with the Raekwon-assisted “Skew It On The Bar-B.” Both songs used jarring rhythms, especially for what was on the radio in ’98.
And that was by design.
In an interview just after Aquemini dropped, OutKast spoke on camera to John Reed in Chicago. They explained their intention. “We like to do ‘creative sampling,'” Big Boi revealed, seeking originality in the genre. “We’ll sample a horn riff or some type of drum kick or snare or anything. A hat. You’ll never know where it came from ’cause we alter it so much to fit what we doing that it’s OutKast.” At a time when JAY-Z looked to 45 King for an anthem made of show-tunes, Lauryn Hill was modernizing ’60s Soul classics, and DMX was reworking EPMD beats, OutKast was uncompromisingly organic. “We don’t do sampling where you can identify none of our music,” Big challenged in the footage. “We bringin’ that Funk back, like we always did from the first album,” André touts, pointing to ’94’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. “This right here is extreme, OutKast-extreme.”
From the rhymes to the beats, Aquemini was extreme. At a time when DMX, Method Man, Beastie Boys, and Snoop Dogg topped the charts, times called for such measures to stand out. However, ‘Kast lacked the menacing threat of X, who had stepped into Hollywood. They did not have the mainstream narratives of Meth’ or Dogg at that time—and they were a decade newer than the Beasties—who also had the benefit of Rock radio support. This Georgia duo relied solely on music. In the interview, they own their great, by recognizing the fact that they are pushing the envelope of originality. Big Boi shouts out ‘Kast and Goodie Mob, as well as Wu-Tang Clan and Scarface.
J. Reed’s conversation has power 20 years later. He asks the group about a rumored breakup, even after their second album. After the pair quickly waves off those reports (and scoffs at solo album prospects), André forecasts a decision he would seemingly make a decade later. Asked what the next 10 years will look like, André says, “Really, I don’t see us rappin’ when we get really old. ‘Cause it comes to a point in time when you have to say, ‘Man, you gotta chill out.’ But you can make music forever though. You can be 80 years old on the beat-machine; if it’s jammin’, it’s jammin’.” In the last two years, conversations have suggested that 3 Stacks still feels that way. Last year, he told Complex that he felt too old to be rapping.
The pair of then 23-year-olds made an album that was, to use André Benjamin’s words—jammin’. Eventually double-platinum, millions clearly were in agreement. Three years removed from being booed at the Source Awards, OutKast brought no hard feelings. Snoop had moved his operations to New Orleans for a #1 LP. Master P, Mystikal, and Silkk The Shocker were crushing the charts. The masses had finally put an ear to what the South was saying.
OutKast sent invitations to their party. Raekwon on a single was a shot of adrenaline to the Chef, two months before Immobilarity. The single version of “Da Art Of Storytellin'” involved the newly-freed Slick Rick. It showed that ‘Kast was studying the giants of captivating Rap narratives, just as Snoop had done with “Lodi Dodi.” George Clinton, a godfather to the G-Funk sound, was also present, showing that the South tapped into the pioneers on its own terms. From jeers to cheers, some rough footage from The Tunnel—the Big Apple’s reigning club, shows that the city had changed its mind on the Rap outcasts:
Big Boi and André 3000 were not out to yank the spotlight from the East or the West. They were merely devout fans of music, willing to show their love without being copycats or shine-blockers.
While it had groove, catchy lyrical riffs, and tons of energy, nothing on Aquemini pandered to radio or video. ‘Kast kept the party jumping like kangaroos at a time when the record seemed to screech following the murders of Tupac and Biggie, and a dark period in general. This zodiac LP was colorful, creative, and the perfect set-up for Stankonia. In the spirit of the Native Tongues, G-Funk, and Wu-Tang, this album and its extreme nature was a reminder that sometimes, creativity can still conquer.
Additional Reporting by Lauren Benzo and Jake Paine.