OutKast – ATLiens (1996)

So as I said in my review of the album, OutKast’s first album was good but was very much in line with the sound that was commonplace in Hip Hop at the time. The duo clearly had talent but -although the promise was there- they had not shown themselves to be particularly original compared to other rappers at the time.

However before I discuss the album itself, I think there’s an important piece of context to know beforehand. In 1995, on the 3rd of August, the Source Awards took place. These awards fell in the middle of the ongoing battle between West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop. The room was very hostile and when it was announced that OutKast had won the Best New Group Award, the hostility increased even more. The group were not from the East or West coast, they were from the South and at the time, Southern Rap was not respected by the Hip Hop community at all. As Big Boi and Andre went up to collect their award they were met with boos. But what Andre said in response to these boos would not only change how the world would view OutKast but Southern Hip Hop as a whole. In the infamous words of Andre: “The South got something to say”.

So after the Source Awards, OutKast had something to prove. They had got an audience through there the first album but it was their second ATLiens that would propel them into the next level of fame and appreciation. In perhaps one of the riskiest moves in Hip Hop and music history, OutKast completely changed their sound. They moved away from the West Coast inspired sound of their first album and became more experimental, adopting a sound that sounded unlike anything 90s Hip Hop had ever heard before. As the title suggests the sound became almost extraterrestrial and otherworldly. The drum beats were echoey and stranger than before. These were accompanied by choirs that added to the alien-like nature of the album even more. Whilst this sound may have turned off a few of the fans from their last album, the change of direction finally cemented OutKast as a duo that could not be ignored or have their talent disregarded.

However it was not just the sound of their music that had changed, Big Boi and especially Andre had changed massively as well, both in their level of ability and their own personalities. In Andre’s case, the time between Southernplayalistic and ATLiens had been vital to Andre finding himself. He had realised that being the archetypal “Pimp” or “Player” was more in line with Big Boi’s personality and that he was actually somewhere more in between. He stopped eating meat, he stopped smoking, he stopped drinking and he started becoming more spiritual and even started growing his hair out and wearing a turban, something that was extremely untypical of a person in the Hip Hop industry at the time. But it was these two alternate personalities that Big Boi and Andre embodied that gave their group such a unique dynamic and style. Whilst Big Boi could provide silkily, braggadocious verses on songs like Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac) or the title track of the album, Andre (sometimes on the same song) could perform some of the most inward looking and socially conscious verses that the 90s had to offer. For instance, his ending verse on the song Elevators (Me & You), gave an insight into an artists relationship between them and their audience that had very rarely been talked about by any artist before him.

If Southernplaylistic had started the fire for OutKast’s career, then ATLiens had poured gasoline all over it. The style of the music and the style of Andre’s persona had never been presented this way in Hip Hop before and had it not been for the bravery of the duo to change their style, even after amassing some amount of success with their previous effort, then we would have likely never got songs like ATliens, Millenium or Babylon. Andre said the South had something to say and OutKast definitely said it, putting the South on the map of the Hip Hop world.

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