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Review: OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Sal Cinquemani



OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Speakerboxxx and The Love Below, the new two-for-one solo discs from Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “Dre 3000” Benjamin, respectively, could have (and probably should have) been whittled down to a single-disc OutKast release. But, being far from outcasts in the largely barren spiritual wasteland known as hip-hop, OutKast can pretty much get away with any ambition—no matter how frivolous, non-functional, or just plain funky. Big Boi confronts frontin’ MCs on Speakerboxxx’s opening track, the electro-funk/techno number “GhettoMusick” (“Campaign in vain for the same lame fame you obtain/You ought to be detained by the hip-hop sheriff”), simultaneously declares his devotion to his craft and family life on the horn-y “The Rooster,” and searches for redemption on “Church,” a track which recalls Stevie Wonder in his mid-‘70s prime. As on past OutKast efforts, the collaborative efforts here dirty things up unnecessarily: “Bust,” “Last Call” and “Tomb of the Boom,” which feature no less than eight guests collectively, drag the proceedings into a typical glocks-cocks-and-rocks mediocrity that directly counters the anti-materialism and knowledge-is-nothing-without-action message of tracks like “Knowing” and “Reset.” Like Eminem, Big Boi almost always overshadows his rapper friends, and while most high-profile hip-hop and R&B artists have kept mum (or politically vague) post-9/11, the more politically-conscious half of OutKast refuses to vacillate: “Ask yourself, was it all full of bleeps and blunders? Did they ever find Osama?” he begs on “War.”

To Big Boi’s socially-charged yin is Dre’s horny yang. If Speakerboxxx hints at the pop-friendly funkadelic stylings of Prince, The Love Below fully channels his purple majesty’s libido, not to mention his sometimes-sexy, sometimes-irksome falsetto. “Love in War” is Dre’s response to Big Boi’s “War,” while “Vibrate,” a sly ode to masturbation disguised as a pro-environmental ditty (“Mother Earth is dying and we continue to fuck her to death…The future is in your hand”), suggests that the cure for loneliness and despair can be found in the battery-operated self-massager in your top drawer. Whether he’s imagining his two-timing girlfriend crashing into a ditch while applying make-up in the car or re-imagining Cupid as a gun-toting thug on “Happy Valentine’s Day,” humor is key to the success of Dre’s disc. Though we’re asked to indulge some half-formed ideas (a too-brief duet with Norah Jones, a jazzy, drum n’ bass rendition of “My Favorite Things,” and a literally incomplete final track), The Love Below is more consistent than Speakerboxxx. Still, as was probably intended, the double-album is greater than the sum of its parts, and this kind of expertly crafted pop and deftly executed funk rarely happen at the same time—not since Stankonia, at least

Label: Arista Release Date: September 19, 2003 Buy: Amazon

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