What Millennials Should Know About… OutKast’s ‘Aquemini’

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OutKast
Aquemini (1998)

Selling point (in one sentence): The most important (if not best) rap album to come out of the Dirty South, the classic Aquemini LP was perhaps the first major wrecking ball to begin destroying the wall of elitism erected by stubborn New York rap purists.

The singles: “Rosa Parks”; “Skew It on the Bar-B,” feat Raekwon; “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1),” feat. Sleepy Brown

Deep albums cuts: “Return of the ‘G,’” “Aquemini,” “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” “Slump”

Peak moment: Honestly, there are way too many on Aquemini. The smokin’-word poetry and soul-feeding horns of “SpottieOttieDopalicious.” André 3000’s quadruple(!)-time flow to close out the title track (arguably a top-5 ’Dré verse). Raekwon saying “spontangling,” and us knowing exactly what he means. That funky-ass hoedown harmonica on “Rosa Parks.” The too-real narration of “Da Art of Storytellin’, Pt. 1,” which chronicles fictional friends Suzy Skrew and Sasha Thumper, two girls lost in the world.

But this writer’s peak Aquemini moment comes at the onset. The very first record, “Return of the ‘G,’” clears the air on the status of OutKast in ’98, straight up sonning any naysayer who questioned André’s, um, exuberant fashion choices or the group venturing from the criminal content of its debut on the adventuristic sophomore LP ATLiens. ’Dré’s verse is tongue-twistingly nimble, but still somehow measured, ricocheting over the kicks and snares like a stone skipping across a lake. Then Big Boi seals the deal, insisting that the duo is “stickin’ together like flour and water to make that slow dough.”

Bet you didn’t know: Not only did André formerly date Keisha from Bad Boy’s Total, but he initially submitted the instrumental for Aquemini’s lead single, “Rosa Parks,” to the R&B trio. After they passed on the track, Big Boi and ’Dré hopped on it, recording the group’s biggest hit up to that point.

Bet you (also) didn’t know: André wrote all of the skits on the album. The fictional Pimp Trick Gangsta Clique was a lampoon of gooned-out record labels. Along with Cee-Lo and Sleepy Brown, 3000 actually recorded some music under the Pimp Trick Gangsta Clique name, but never released any of it. (More on the anatomy of Aquemini in this incredible oral history by Creative Loafing Atlanta)

Most slept-on: While André tends to absorb the most praise for his extraterrestrial lyricism, Big Boi impressively holds down “West Savannah” for dolo. The autobiographical leftover from the group’s 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is a full-circle moment for OutKast, as a young Daddy Fat Saxxx recounts the monotonous plight of ATL D-boys and serves another STFU to those same doubters addressed on “Return of the ‘G.’”

(But don’t snooze on this either): Erykah Badu’s magical verse on “Liberation.” Her voice is sweet as syrup on biscuits, as she details the binding chains of fame. This, too, is a peak Aquemini moment (dude, there are soo many).

Where have I heard this before? If you’ve never listened to Aquemini—which celebrates its sweet 16th birthday on Monday (Sept. 29)—you’ve probably caught its influence in today’s generation of musicians. That epic brass break in the middle of Beyoncé’s “Flawless (Remix)”? It was pulled from “SpottieOttieDopalicious.” J. Cole sampled the same track for his own 2010 single “Who Dat,” also lifting the beat of “Da Art of Storytellin’, Pt. 1” for Born Sinner’s “LAnd of the Snakes.” Everyone from Lloyd (“Southside”) to Curren$y to Lupe Fiasco (“$Nitches”) to Jill Scott to Lil Wayne (“Right Above It”) have cut slithers from Aquemini—and that’s just what you can find in the credits. Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is noticeably seasoned with spices from OutKast’s masterpiece, particularly on songs like “Real” and “The Art of Peer Pressure.”

Lines best for status updates:
> “Horoscopes often lie” —(“Aquemini”)
> “Have you ever thought of the meaning of the word ‘trap’?” —André 3000 (“Y’All Scared”)
> “If you ain’t got no rims, nigga, don’t get no wood grain steering wheel” —Big Boi (“Aquemini”)
> “You get a lot of love ’cause of what you got/Say they happy for you but they really not” —Erykah Badu (“Liberation”)
> “Question: Is every nigga with dreads for the cause?” —André 3000 (“Aquemini”)
> “Doing doughnuts ’round you suckas like them circles around titties” —Big Boi (“Rosa Parks”)
> “Forever hollering ‘Hootie Hoo!’ when we see cops” —(“Slump”)
> “Ridin round our hood talkin’ that dumb shit, your cabbage is cracked, like plumber’s ass” —Big Boi (“Skew it on the Bar-B”)
> “Smooth like a hot comb on nappy-ass hair” —Big Boi (“SpottieOttieDopalicious”)
> “If niggas all dogs, then what you call broads?/Felines in heat, meowin’ for some yarn balls” —André 3000 (“Mamacita”)
> “Hope I’m not over your head, but if so you will catch on later” —André 3000 (“Da Art of Storytellin’, Pt. 2”)

Synopsis: On “Y’All Scared,” Big Boi notes, “Even though we got two albums, this one feel like the beginning.” Yes, OutKast’s rookie and sophomore LPs are awesome in their own right, but Aquemini is the moment that began rocket-launching the funky twosome toward legend status. Like CeeLo Green in a medium tee, the 16-track set stretched out the boundaries of popular rap music while simultaneously steering its future (see: “Chonkyfire” (peak!)).

Don’t be slow like this (Gemini) author, who discovered years after Aquemini’s release that its title is a portmanteau of OutKast’s complimentary Zodiac signs, Aquarius (Big Boi) and Gemini (André 3000). As the name suggests, this lyrically advanced masterpiece is a mystical listen that juxtaposes two distinct personas sprouted from the same ATL soil.

Over instrumentals that are influenced by literally every genre of music—G-Funk, gospel, reggae, spoken word, jazz, world music, blues—Big Boi skews closer to the streets while André’s mind often drifts, as displayed via his thinking-man raps. Together, these two dimensions, along with some very special guest voices from abroad (Raekwon represents OutKast’s first non-Dungeon Family rap collaboration) made one message louder and clearer to the greater hip-hop landscape than ever before: The South got something to say. Listen up.—John Kennedy (@youngjfk)

You can purchase OutKast’s Aquemini LP on iTunes here.