While the hip-hop world continues to generate increasingly talented MCs and mega-producers, most of its actual releases have become increasingly stagnant. The typical hip-hop video is filled with women in bikinis licking lollipops or ice cream cones and the music is usually formulaic and musician-free. Thankfully, Outkast’s fourth album, Stankonia, continues André 3000 and Big Boi’s progressive blend of hip-hop, funk, rock, and soul. The album is socially conscious while maintaining street credibility, using clever metaphors as hooks (“I hear Mother Nature’s now on birth control”). The guitar-driven “Gasoline Dreams” attacks the country’s racist war on drugs while “Toilet Tisha” poignantly tells the story of a young girl who abandons her baby in a public restroom. Coming from a male point of view, the hit “Ms. Jackson” is a surprisingly honest and responsible take on relationships and children: “It happened for a reason…Yes I will be present on the first day of school and graduation.”
“Bombs Over Baghdad” is an urgent hip-hop/rock hybrid, brilliantly combining rapid-fire rhymes with a frenzied organ, frantic percussion, and electric guitars. In a self-declaration, a choir sings, “Po-wer music, electric revival!” “Humble Mumble,” featuring a glorious vocal bridge by Erykah Badu, explores the dichotomous nature of albums like Stankonia, where street credibility isn’t sacrificed for enlightened social issues. The song suggests that hip-hop doesn’t have to abandon gangsta rap characteristics to make a difference in the world. The album’s only misstep is “Snappin’ & Trappin’.” The track’s graphic violence seems grossly out of place, and special guest Killer Mike’s lyrics are completely gratuitous: “I’m looking for love all in her mouth/Need her to gobble up jism like school lunches.” It just doesn’t sound like something you’d want Ms. Jackson to hear.