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Big Boi and Andre 3000 show skills as solo artists

Kenyatta Storin | Thursday, October 16, 2003

Outkast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000 have been among the best in rap since the late 1990s, and are among a small group of elite rappers that have achieved both critical and commercial success. Unlike other duos in rap, like Mobb Deep or The Clipse, over time Big Boi and Andre have distinguished themselves as individuals under the name of Outkast. Big Boi is the more conventional street-smart hustler, while Andre is the flamboyant out-of-this-world poet. Perhaps it is no surprise then that their latest and likely last installment together, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, is a double-disc split into two solo albums.

As many might expect, Big Boi’s disc, Speakerboxxx, is the more conventional of the two. Nonetheless, the album remains unique through its eclectic selection of experimental production, and Big Boi’s ability to rap quickly and creatively. He fires out rapid rhymes on “Ghettomusick” in between intermittent slow seductive female vocals, successfully shifts between hard rhymes and a soothing chorus on the single, “The Way You Move,” shows his political side on the more serious “War,” and crafts clever sports allusions to family life on “The Rooster.” A number of other tracks are assisted by a large array of guests, with well-known rap heavyweights like Jay-Z and Ludacris, as well as up-and-coming artists like Killer Mike and Konkrete. These guests generally hold up their end of the bargain, like in the fast-paced guitar and piano driven “Flip Flop Rock” with Jay-Z and Killer Mike, one of the album’s best. The only real misgiving of the album is the inclusion of too many interludes in its second half, which disrupts its otherwise excellent flow.

In contrast to Big Boi, Andre 3000’s The Love Below is notably eccentric, drawing from jazz, pop, soul, funk, and hip-hop all at once. As a result, it is really anything but a hip-hop album. In fact, he does not rap until late into the fourth track, and rarely raps there after. Many listeners will be disappointed by this decision to stash hip-hop away in the backseat, but if one is able to get over this and the over-the-top eccentricity of the album, a lot can be appreciated. Several critics have even regarded the work as a long lost Prince album of sorts. Andre produces the entire album, showing great range with superb results. He dabbles in soul and electro-funk on the catchy “Hey Ya!,” perhaps the best track on both albums, plays guitar in a duet with Norah Jones on “Take Off Your Cool,” and even produces a jazzy instrumental track, “My Favorite Things.” Lyrically, the entire album is about love and women, and Andre unfortunately lacks the poetic creativity he has shown on previous Outkast albums. Despite the lack of substance, however, Andre shows a lot of emotion, and the album’s overall sound has so much variety that its lyrical simplicity is not only much more forgiving, but almost a moot point.

Many longtime Outkast fans will undoubtedly be dismayed by the thought of the group parting ways, and many more will be disappointed by Andre’s lack of rapping. However, Big Boi’s piece is still a top-notch hip-hop album, and, if given a chance, Andre’s album is a work of art in its own right. Also, despite such discrepancies between the two, both artists still show elements of Outkast in their individual creations. It remains to be seen whether they will ever be able to duplicate the success they had as a pair, for Speakerboxxx lacks the razzle-dazzle of Andre, while The Love Below lacks the logic and direction of Big Boi. Nevertheless, the two show much potential as solo artists, and this is probably just the starting point of two great solo careers.

Contact Kenyatta Storin at kstorin@nd.edu