A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Happy (early) Thanksgiving to the U.S. readers--and for everyone else--well, erm..I hope your workdays aren't godawful tomorrow..me, I'm going to go through my bootleg tape collection and update some of the tape inserts--on ones I dubbed over ten years ago--the marker for the track-listing has faded so much, I can barely see the song titles anymore. So, there ya have it--a little bootleg tape insert restoration project.

I finally got round to buying the brand-new OutKast double-CD set, The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. The reason it's a double-disc is that each half of OutKast, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, have taken a disc between them for their own ideas. Could this be hip-hop's own Ummagumma? (I hear you snickering out there ;) ) Still, the allusion fits in a way--because this is certainly an ambitious concept--and could've been a resounding flop. Luckily, they seem to have side-stepped both Pink Floyd's tendencies on "Ummgumma" towards avant-garde instrumentals (which make up the "studio" portion of the set) and The Flaming Lips' "cool-concept-but-tough-to-utilise" gambit (with the 4-CD set Zaireeka)...and we'll just ignore E.L.P.'s 1977 ego-fest, Works--Vol. 1, shall we? I don't even know if this has been attempted by a mainstream hip-hop group--unless you count that First Amendment disaster that is 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty As They Wanna Be". A bloated double-record set that had DJ Marquis (or whatever his handle was) dissing M.C. Shan (?!!!) on a ten-minute bland-a-thon of sluggish beats and production that sounded like they were recording in a bowling alley bar with a Casio and a turntable from Jed Clampett's garage sale. That whole set had two good moments--"Me So Horny" and I can't even remember the other one--and those are unintentionally hilarious to listen to now--plus, half of "Me So.." is the "Full Metal Jacket" sample. Anyway........

I've listened to both discs a few times now and I'm finding that I like Andre's "The Love Below" CD more than Big Boi's "Speakerboxxx". I think it's because he tackles far more in his allotted time...he goes from a lounge-y intro (the title track)..into a Hendrix-inspired wah-wah freakout, into an upbeat, jazzy tune (Love Hater)...into a goofy convo with "God" with an acoustic guitar backing (yes, titled God)....and on and on. He's got a Prince/Sly Stone type funk jam (Happy Valentine's Day)...and an 80s R&B/club/George Clinton-esque hybrid (Spread)...even a spoken-word parody of upper-class British dandies (Good Day, Good Sir)..and of course, the irresistible Hey Ya!, which will become the over-played radio track on the album--still, doesn't mean you can't bounce around to it right now. Despite some sexist moments in the lyrics and in some of the tune titles themselves, ("Spread", "Vibrate", "She Lives In My Lap"--and the winner of the awkward track title of the year, Where Are My Panties?) I love this record. The reason that that stuff doesn't cause me to give up on them, is that the music is so damn good--and you get the feeling that Andre really means what he's singing (yeah, he sings on three-quarters of the disc), he comes off as a playa-with-a-heart-of-gold, and I'd rather listen to that than rappers slurring about being in da club or how much bling bling they've got stashed in da crib. "The Love Below" drags a bit toward the end--but it gets off to such a great start, that it was inevitable that the energy would wane for the last tracks.

"Speakerboxxx", by contrast, is almost exclusively 'Lanta style hip-hop from start to finish. Big Boi is sort of the Keith Richards to Andre's flamboyant Jagger--he keeps things grounded and rockin'. It begins with some radio static and a decidedly electro-funk intro., which leads into the hard-techno/R&B Ghettomusick, it's a strange track--with some moments of tempo-change, MC'ing, near-gospel singing--it's no surprise that Boi had some input from Andre 3000 on this one--and it's one of the best cuts on the disc. Unhappy has an interesting intro, but then becomes a standard 2003 hip-hop joint, you know, part R&B/part rap, saved only by Boi's slick flow--which is still top after nearly ten years in the big leagues. Bowtie starts out sounding like a "Mothership Connection" out-take, complete with "Chipmunks" voices--then Boi takes the mic for some lyrics--and back to Parliament for the chorus..it's very catchy, and chalk up another one for "Speakerboxxx". The next few cuts ("The Way You Move", "The Rooster", "Bust") crib some more notes from 70s R&B (particularly Earth, Wind & Fire & Parliament) and "Bust" adds some gangsta bluster into the mix--but with only middling results--though "The Way You Move" has an undeniably catchy chorus. War has a creepy guitar line running through it's verses and a political bent to it's lyrics--and Boi's flow is amazing on it, while Church returns to the P-Funk vibe and reminds me of vintage De La Soul, maybe it's just the bouncy keyboard phrase. Bamboo is an interlude featuring a spare beat and Boi's young son doin' some rappin'....the beat continues into the next track, Tomb Of The Boom, which is probably the weakest track, and just seems a concession to the 50 Cent/Eminem crowd (it features frellin' *Ludacris* as a guest MC, fer chrissakes!). Knowing is a nice return to form, and more input from Andre, singing falsetto backing vocals. Flip Flop Rock cleverly reprises that creepy guitar from "War"--but that's about all that distinguishes it, besides some expert MC'ing from Big Boi (I mean, this one has Jay-Z on it...over-hyped guest MC #2--arrrgh, marketing ploys!) There's a couple more tracks (Reset being the standout, with it's stoned 70s R&B vibe), and interludes before you finally get to a reprise of "Bowtie" and the disc is over. It's some tough slogging after "Church", but even with it's obvious flaws...'Speakerboxxx' is still better than 90% of the junk released as hip-hop this year.

There you have it--I'll end up adding "The Love Below/Speakerboxxx" to my "Top Of The Year" list..it's another good'un from OutKast--though the two separate discs have me confused--I'm hoping this isn't the end of the ATLiens, that would be a shame. Rumours are floating around that the two barely get along these days, and I hope they're not true--if they split, it'll just be another nail driven into the pine box of true hip-hop.

The Love Below: A- Speakerboxxx: B+ Combined: A