The last time Atlanta rap legends Big Boi (born Antwan Patton; known also as Daddy Fat Sax, Sir Lucious Left Foot or General Patton, among other names) and Andre 3000 (André Benjamin, known also as 3 Stacks, Possum Aloysius Jenkins or simply Dre) recorded an album together as Outkast was 2006. Idlewild was the soundtrack to Big Boi and 3000’s unmemorable film of the same name, and if the soundtrack itself is to be remembered at all it might be remembered as Outkast’s death certificate. Outkast didn’t run out of ideas–in fact, the seventy-nine-minute Idlewild might have too many ideas stuffed into it. Rather, they finally succumbed to their own irreconcilable creative differences. This has happened to many once-great bands and musical groups throughout time, but it’s arguable that no quintet, quartet, trio or duo has been more aggressively sought after for a reunion in this millennium than Outkast. The world misses them dearly, misses their idiosyncrasies, their vast talents, their wild imaginations and their penchants for atypically long hair, furry Kangols and bright green Velour track suits.
In some ways their career arc resembled that of A Tribe Called Quest. Idlewild was for Outkast what The Love Movement was for Tribe, the last hurrah of a still-talented tandem of emcees butting heads with each other, an album full of creativity and ingenuity but bereft of chemistry and truly memorable moments. I’d be willing to bet a kidney (assuming I still have both of them) that my grand-children will bump “Hey Ya!” and “Ms. Jackson” and if they don’t, I will make my grand-children bump “Hey Ya!” and “Ms. Jackson” when they are on timeout for not bumping “Hey Ya!” and “Ms. Jackson”. Idlewild just doesn’t have any tracks with that sort of staying power. And when ‘Kast dropped Speakerboxx/The Love Below, two solo albums masquerading as one record, we couldn’t believe how much fun we had indulging in their separate creative impulses but we felt like we were watching our favorite married couple in the early stages of a public divorce, still inhabiting the same house but no longer sharing a room. Idlewild felt like we were guests a strained dinner conversation in their cold, vacant dining room–on those rare occasions when parents Andre 3000 and Big Boi did converse, they shot passive-aggressive barbs at each other from opposite ends of an impossibly long dining table.
Idlewild‘s release was my own version of “The Day the Music Died”, not because it was an altogether terrible album (it wasn’t) but because it clearly signified the end of Outkast, my personal choice for hip-hop’s greatest emcee duo. ‘Kast took hip-hop in a completely new direction, popularizing their unmistakable hybrid of gangsta themes, atmospheric productions, positive and wildly intelligent lyrics and dense, honest autobiography. They were remarkably consistent, too–I can think of no other hip-hop act than Outkast whose first five albums were so highly acclaimed, so inventive and so unique in the sonic landscapes of their respective times.
Southernplayallisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens, Aquemini, Stankonia and Speakerboxx/The Love Below. A murderer’s row of classic southern hip-hop. RIP Outkast :'(
Now, we are left with false hope and a multitude of YouTube comments like this:
Outkast why just why airent you guys making music you guys are way to talented not to make music
Ignore memobster92’s unusual spelling errors (“airent”) and consider his sentiments. This is how all of us really feel. We want a reunion, and we’ve been teased several times, but we
airent aren’t any closer to a reunion than we were seven years ago. Sucks to be us. “International Players’ Anthem” wasn’t a reunion. Neither was “Royal Flush“. We thought the original cut of “Pink Matter” might be evidence of a reunion to come. No dice. memboster92 is the voice of our generation, or at least the voice that echoes the voice of our generation. Since 2006, Big Boi has released two very good solo albums. Andre 3000 contributes his unparalleled fashion sense and charisma to the big screen. But there is nonetheless a huge void in hip-hop where once there was Outkast.
Speakerboxx/The Love Below was released almost exactly ten years ago. Let’s remember the good times. To begin, I have created three simple and effective visual aids for those would like to become more acquainted with the glory that is Sir Lucious and 3 Stacks:
Other important commonalities shared by Big Boi and Andre 3000 include “cooler than a polar bear’s toenails”, “East Point, smoke some dank”, “furry kangols”, “not for that ‘fuck shit'” and “Damn, damn, damn, James”.
So, there’s that. I hope that answered any questions anyone may have had thus far. Now I’m going to do what I came to do. Here is THE STANKY 16:
But before I dive headfirst into one of the nerdiest bracket exercises any of you have ever seen…
-SHOUTOUT to Grantland writer Rembert Browne for repping Outkast really hard all the time and for actually doing a way more extensive and far more interesting Outkast bracket way before I considered doing one. I didn’t invent the Outkast bracket. This is my perspective–his can be found here.
-SHOUTOUT to betterbracketmaker.com for making brackets really easy and also to Microsoft Paint for being the place where I paste all my screenshots
–SHOUTOUT to Patrick from The Word Is Bond for writing this
–RULE #1: The songs chosen for this bracket and their seeding are determined by popularity on iTunes. I included the three most popular songs from each of ‘Kast’s first five albums. This means that a lot of really incredible Outkast songs don’t make it on to the bracket (“Jazzy Belle”, “Benz or Beamer“, “A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre”, “Ain’t no Thang” and “2 Dope Boyz” to name several). I’m already crying about it, so I don’t need you to tell me what I missed.
-RULE #2: There are no other rules. The songs that advance in the bracket are the ones I like more. But I love all of them. If you disagree, make your own bracket. These are my opinions, and I’m not a doctor. I might even feel differently tomorrow.
First Round: Bankhead Region
(1) Ms. Jackson v. (8) Git Up, Git Out: “Ms. Jackson” is and will always be one of my favorite performances by Andre 3000, but this match-up isn’t as lopsided as it appears on paper. “Git Up, Git Out” is something of a showcase for the Dungeon Family, prominently featuring everyone’s favorite judge from The Voice (no, it isn’t Future). It may be the most mature song on ‘Kast’s debut album. All these teenagers shouldn’t have so much wisdom. Still, I’m taking “Ms. Jackson”–we’re blessed to hear Andre pour his heart out.
(4) The Way You Move v. (5) Player’s Ball: A classic battle: the four-seed is probably my choice for “best Outkast song to play at a really large wedding party”. The five-seed is Outkast’s first single, a tale of pimp gatherings and southern hip-hop tradition. Also, this. Been wearin’ furry Kangols, so that sh**is old. Let’s pretend Andre 3K was right there with Big Boi when “The Way You Move”–it’s easier that way. I’m picking “The Way You Move” because it masterfully juxtaposes subdued bass music with a bright 70s soul chorus featuring Sleepy Brown.
(3) Roses v. (6) Elevators (Me & You): Caroliiiine…she’s the reason for the word “bitch”…BITCH…This song was and still is endlessly fun for those of us fortunate enough to have friends named Caroline. Shout out to my favorite Caroline–she’s quite a nice lady, AND she always sings along to this lyric extra loud. Plus, I like the idea of some girls being really egotistical but actually smelling like doo-doo. The hook to “Elevators” (see Fig. 2) is just as catchy. Lyrically, it’s much more impressive than “Roses” which, while an ingenious lecture on the merits of humility, doesn’t hold a candle to Fat Sax and Andre’s use of extended metaphor and self-conscious discussion of fame. It presages Outkast’s greatness. “Elevators” is the highlight of ATLiens and advances easily to the East Point Eight.
(2) ATLiens v. (7) Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1): UPSET ALERT!! Simply put, 3 Stacks’s verse on “Storytellin'” is my favorite 3 Stacks verse. Ever. “Storytellin'” lives up to its name, a masterfully crafted work of rising action and haunting resolution. “ATLiens” almost moves on by virtue of Big Boi’s “Cooler than the polar bear’s toenails” line. But if you’re an aspiring rapper, “Storytellin'” is required reading.
First Round: “Southwest Atlanta, Too Strong” Region
(1) Hey Ya! v. (8) Int’l Players Anthem: I had a tough time picking the 8-seed in this region. In an effort to represent the different stages in ‘Kast’s magnificent career equally, I chose the three most popular songs from each of their first five albums. But when was the last time you saw a bracket with fifteen teams? Well, I don’t need to know the answer to that, and I also don’t need to know what the sixteenth team in this bracket is to know that it’s going to lose to “Hey Ya!”.
(4) Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik v. (5) So Fresh, So Clean: If this bracket was “The (Less) Stanky 16: a WIB Writer’s Quest to Find the Greatest Outkast Song to Listen to While Stepping Out of the Shower”, “So Fresh So Clean” would be the undisputed Old Spice Body Wash Champion. The song samples Joe Simon liberally in one of Outkast’s most successful exercises in musical cross-pollination. However, “Southernplayalistic” is just so stanky. It’s so, so stanky. It’s quite rare for a debut single to be so stanky. It’s hard to believe that Antwan and Andre could make such stanky music before they were old enough to vote. That’s very rare indeed.
(3) B.O.B. v. (6) SpottieOttieDopaliscious: This is, for me, the most even matchup in the first round. Maybe until the finals. “SpottieOttie” is beautiful–I’d love to have those trumpets playing at my wedding (which, I hope, will look something like this). You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. “B.O.B.” has a slight edge just for its genre-bending creativity–this song is unmistakable, unrelenting and off-kilter, just like Outkast themselves. It’s one of ‘Kast’s crowning achievements and it’s an appropriate soundtrack for the beginning of the 2000s. Still–don’t f**k with Hollywood Court.
(2) Rosa Parks v. (7) Wheelz of Steel: “Wheelz” is an impressive display of lyrical dexterity. The second verse radiates charm–it exemplifies the interplay we have come to love, but it effectively differentiates Andre 3K and Big Boi’s styles. This is Outkast’s most scratch-heavy song, an irrefutably cool blend of hip-hop traditionalism and unique southern flavor. With a different match-up, “Wheelz of Steel” has a lot of upset potential. But “Rosa Parks” isn’t going anywhere.
EAST POINT EIGHT: Bankhead Region
(1) Ms. Jackson v. (4) The Way You Move: Me and yo’ dawwwwwtah/Got a special thing goinnn’ on/You say it’s puppy love/We say it’s fuuuullll grown/Hope that we feeeeel this/Feel this way foreeeeever/You can paint a pretty picture but you can’t predict the weeeaaatherrrr…
(6) Elevators (Me & You) v. (7) Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1): “Elevators” makes the wood block (made of wood) sound like a knock on the door to my heart. Two words, though:
‘Kast was different from many rap groups in the mainstream consciousness–and different from other groups from the south–because they endeavored to give marginalized women a voice in their stories, depicting their hardships rather than commodifying their sexualities. Sasha Thumper is a metonym for so many women, and her story has nearly led me to tears. Well done, Andre 3K.
EAST POINT EIGHT: S.W.A.T.S. Region
(1) Hey Ya! v. (4) Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik: Let’s talk about how weird Andre 3000 is. 3 Stacks, Dookie Blossom Gain the 3rd, Johnny Vulture, Ice Cold–whatever you want to call him, he’s weird. Ever since Aquemini, he’s been on a perpetual quest to find himself. The Love Below was Dre’s chance to be as peculiar as he wanted without ‘Twan’s rigid ideas of hip-hop. He found himself–maybe–and the person he found was some long-lost child of Little Richard and Prince with a penchant for animal rights and plaid bowties. Some moments evoked Oompa Loompas, other moments (“She’s Alive”) evoked the bully kid from “Les Choristes”, and others yet evoked Bilal’s psychedelic brand of soul. His persona? Possum Aloysius Jenkins–like R. Kelly and Lord Byron had a baby and named it this exact situation. Anyway, “Hey Ya!” endeared this new, weirder Andre to all of us. It is a song for the ages.
BUT…”Southernplayalistic” single-handedly made the South a credible region for hip-hop. It’s hard to measure that song’s indirect impact on hip-hop history. It sneaks past “Hey Ya!” to move on to the Final Four.
(3) B.O.B. v. (2) Rosa Parks: Lyrics and musical ingenuity aside, I have to say that I generally enjoy listening to “Rosa Parks” a little more than I enjoy listening to “B.O.B.” . “Rosa Parks” is accessible, catchy, funky and harmonica-y. “B.O.B.” is adventurous and unforgiving, almost like a chaotic postmodern painting–it begs appreciation rather than merely listening. It’s a pivotal song in Outkast’s career, but “Rosa Parks” has too much replay value.
So here they are–the four greatest Outkast songs of the last 14 million years (at least out of the sixteen chosen for this bracket). After closely and adoringly listening to these four songs on repeat for well over an hour and using my liberal arts education to have strong opinions about things that might not matter to everyone else, I have determined that:
a) In addition to his own larger-than-life creative impulses, Andre 3000 is also VERY good at just rapping
b) Big Boi’s verse in “Rosa Parks” isn’t lyrically one of his best, but it’s still masterful. Why? Because it combines a well-deserved braggadocio with a thoughtful acknowledgement of Outkast’s hip-hop cultural revolution. It deserves every bold claim it makes–including the beat that goes with it.
c) All of these songs are perfect
d) Andre and Big Boi were more polished at 17 (their age when they began work on “Southernplayallisticadillacmuszik”–THINK ABOUT THAT) than any hip-hop artist in history when they were 17. If you were that good at rapping before you were old enough to vote, I’d love to hear your mixtape.
Okay. Let’s see if we can eliminate two more songs…
(1) Ms. Jackson v. (7) Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1): If you are faithful/bored enough to have read this far, I trust that you are the type of person who knows all well that I am addressing the ALBUM version of “Storytellin'”–not the version that features Slick Rick. You are also the type of person who likes Outkast, which means that we’ll get along swimmingly. Perhaps this match-up is as huge a dilemma for you as it is for me. Both of these songs have incredibly poignant lyrics. Many people don’t realize that about “Ms. Jackson”; it’s this incredibly catchy song that exhibits such a wide range of musical influences, but its story is what will keep me returning to this song forever, forever ever, forever ever.
(4) Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik v. (2) Rosa Parks: “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” is probably my favorite compound word in existence whether or not Webster’s recognizes it . Rosa Parks (yes, the prominent civil rights activist) actually sued Outkast and LaFace Records for this song, claiming that Fat Sax and 3 Stacks misappropriated her name and pointing out that the song didn’t reference her or allude to her metaphorically. But it’s easy to see what ‘Kast meant by naming their hit single “Rosa Parks”. They believed in earnest that they were spearheading a revolution of their own. No legendary civil rights activist named Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik has sued Outkast thus far.
Two southern bangers for the history books. Two songs that offer more with each listen. Two fascinating instrumentals. One is Parliament-Funkadelic, the other is a ho-down. Two undeniably stanky songs. They are interconnected, too–remember that “gypsy” that “hipped [Andre] to some life game/to stimulate and activate the left and right brain”? Well, 3 Stacks is apologizing to her mom in “Ms. Jackson” for all the pain he caused that “gypsy”, who happens to be Erykah Badu. “Mrs. Jackson” is a radio-smart single with an instantly memorable, shower singing-compatible hook. “Rosa Parks” features acoustic guitar, woodblocks, folk harmonies, liberal DJ scratches and a raging harmonica solo. It’s as Southern as it gets.
Rosa Parks is your Stanky 16 Champion–this song introduced much of the public to Outkast and to southern hip-hop in general. Not only does this song have more to offer musically than “Ms. Jackson”, it is effectively Outkast’s most salient and lucid mission statement. Big Boi and 3 Stacks deliver calculated verses that demonstrate their departure from hip-hop’s established trends and invite us to join their movement. It’s the perfect blend of braggadocio and thoughtful reflection.
Here are the combined win-loss records for songs from each of the Outkast albums represented in the Stanky 16:
-Speakerboxx/The Love Below: 2-3
Combined Record: Outkast wins, 5-0.
Peace up, A-Town Down.
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