Friday, February 8, 2008

No. 359: Stankonia

Band: OutKast
Album: Stankonia
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The last 10 years have seen many hip hop albums released, but few have received the praise that "Stankonia" has. The album's diversity of sound and theme straddle the line that the genre has dealt with (the backpack and the gangsta, or the "player and the poet," as the duo called it) since the early 1990s. The album melds the themes incredibly well and was the band's crossover breakout.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album falls off toward the end.
Best song: "B.O.B." has the surefire drum and bass beats and a searing political message in the chorus.
Worst song: "Snappin' & Trappin'" isn't great. But, really, the rest of the album is nearly flawless.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

Here's a question: Why do so many hip hop albums have skits in them? Obviously, not all hip hop records have them and most of the best ones don't (Jay-Z doesn't, for example, have a lot of skits). But, a lot do and certainly a lot more hip hop records than rock and roll ones have skits. Why is that? Also, is anyone else annoyed by these skits?


What's cool? According to OutKast, they're "Cooler than Freddie Jackson sipping on a milkshake in a snowstorm." Now, if you like lyrics, you cannot not love that lyric.

The reason "Stankonia" is great is because of its lyrics. That's not to say that the album's production of Prince-like varied influences isn't awesome. It is. The album bounces from pop-meets-P-Funk of "I'll Call Before I Come" and " to the rapid-fire rap of "Snappin' and Trappin'" to the drum and bass of "B.O.B." to the slow burn of the title track. Few groups can pull that off and OutKast does it perfectly.

But the lyrics are where these guys make their hay and clearly this album has superlative lyrics. The record is socially conscious concerning both the world and the black community. The latter gets treatment on ""Red Velvet" and "Humble Mumble," the former gets it on "B.O.B." and both get treated in "Gasoline Dreams."

Certainly, Andre 3000 has gone off the rails in recent years, as far as focusing his talent on music. But, his avant garde hippie is the perfect compliment to Big Boi's player's ball attendee. While Big is rapping about guns and violence (after all, this is a guy who raies pit bulls), Andre is hitting metaphors about elephants, the highway to heaven and puppy love. As well, the duo's clear homage to George Clinton's various projects are in their update of "funk" as "stank." Clearly working a Southern angle, the duo uses the colloquial language of the region to update P-Funk's language of space funk.

Does the album have issues? Sure. "We Love Deez Hoez" is kind of silly, but that's going to come along on any record. As I've mentioned, the skits get tedious. The final song, while a nice adventure, gets tedious.

Still, this is one of the great albums of this young century. It was OutKast as their best, merging the gangsta and the backpack.

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