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Singled Out

 

OutKast: Big Boi and Dre Present…OutKast

LaFace/Arista, 2001

Rating: 4.2

 

 

Posted: December 27, 2001

By Laurence Station

Next to critically acclaimed art-rock titan Radiohead, no performer or group of the last decade has made music as consistently brilliant as OutKast. That's quite a statement, considering the Atlanta duo didn't break onto the scene until 1993 (coincidentally, the same year Radiohead's debut Pablo Honey appeared). But the facts back it up: Ever since, Big Boi and Andre 3000 have relentlessly upped the ante in the world of hip-hop, reinventing the deep funk of mid-70's Parliament/Funkadelic with liberal doses of Zeppelin and Hendrix-inspired electric guitar and throwing in the fresh beats of Dirty South collaborators Organized Noize for good measure.

Like Radiohead, whose breakthrough hit "Creep" wasn't exactly a revolutionary statement, OutKast evolved quickly. The duo's debut single, "Player's Ball," featured a relatively pedestrian hook that celebrated nothing more than looking good in your Cadillac, smoking Mary Jane and hanging out with the Dungeon Family (a talented coalition of like-minded Atlanta-based rap artists).

But with its second release, 1996's ATLiens, OutKast made a quantum leap in terms of inventive beats ("Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)") and smarter raps, as evidenced by "Elevators (Me & You)," where the same homies Dre and Big Boi hung out with during their Player's Ball days are looking to ride the coattails of two local boys made good: "Facial expression lookin' silly/And he kept askin' me, what kind of car you drive, I know you paid/I know y'all got buku of hoes from all them songs that y'all done made/And I replied that I had been goin' through the same things that he had."

The masterstrokes would come on 1998's Aquemini and 2000's Stankonia. ATLiens pointed the way, bearing a cosmically tinged theme with OutKast as interplanetary explorers in a spaced-out mode that would have made Sun Ra and George Clinton proud. Aquemini (focusing on the decidedly different, yet unified strengths of Dre's and Big Boi's rap styles) and Stankonia (using Atlanta as a microcosm to explore urban problems ranging from drug abuse to the near-pandemic explosion of unwed mothers) were held together by an organic tissue of sound and, critically, brief, mostly comedic, interludes that added levity, but also greater depth to the songs.

Big Boi and Dre Present...OutKast doesn't fit into the mode of these albums, indicative by the fact that the band's first release, 1994's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, is most heavily represented, with five tracks. This is a singles collection, and therefore the only consistent theme running through this release is the high quality cuts that fill the generous 73-minute-plus playing time. Fans spoiled by the organic flow of Aquemini and Stankonia might find the record jarring upon first listen, perhaps slightly disappointing. Sure the individual tracks are great, but where is the greater ambition, the expansive, carefully sculpted creations one has come to expect? For that answer, fans will have to wait for the next proper OutKast effort.

Big Boi and Dre Present... doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is: an excellent introduction to those looking for a sampler of the group's most popular efforts.

Three new tracks are interwoven with the hits, two of which serve as nice bookends: The bright, horn-laden "Funkin' Around" acts as a creative introduction to the record, while the jazzy, smart, "Movin' Cool (The After Party)" closes out the collection, and, hopefully, points the way toward the upcoming OutKast album. The singalong "The Whole World," while radio friendly, is the lone unnecessary track here. Bottom line: Save for a few omissions ("ATLiens," "Gasoline Dreams"), this is a great overview of one of today's most vital hip-hop groups. One that, with this brief respite, adds fuel to the fire for those anticipating the talented duo's next official release.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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