ATLiens Touched Down 25 Years Ago
A classic throwback by Outkast
Outkast revolutionized southern rap and rap in general with their snappy back and forth duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000. Recently was the 25th anniversary of the duo's critically acclaimed ATLiens. To celebrate, they released a special edition of the vinyl press which glows in the dark (sold out already) and includes previously unreleased instrumentals. The title, ATLiens, is a clever combination of Atlanta and aliens which highlights the importance of the city along with feeling out of this world in the music stratosphere.
This project really highlights some of the core elements of rap that we see today along with an homage to the origins of rap. There is the use of hard trap beats, though not as highly mixed as today, along with the reuse of samples and flipping them their head. The duo aspect is really a product of its time as there are very few actual rap groups nowadays. In addition, the use of the old "wheels of steel", classic turntables were a primary source of mixing and producing - there is even a song dedicated to such in "Wheelz of Steel". The masterful blend of old and new along with the smooth alternating bars of the artist led to them becoming legends in, not only the south, but the entire music industry.
The titular track introduced one of the most iconic choruses in rap. The "put your hands in the air, and wave em like you just don't care" line is as old as the genre of hip-hop/rap is, however this incorporation of the one liner and the fantastically funky beat creates a classic line from Outkast. Combine this with a southern shoutout to shrimp and grits and you have yourself a hit. One of my favorite things about the duo is how quickly they fire off bars that are full of meaning and double entrendres that take a minute to process. While you're still processing one bar, the next one has flown by and you're still enjoying the flow and rhythm of the song.
"Wheelz of Steel" is the epitome of a throwback even in the year it was released. The song is initiated with the soft strums of a guitar and is quickly offset by the mixes and scratches of a turntable. The song also has a basic boom-bap element to it that is subtle enough to top off the song yet not distract from the main purpose in the scratching of the turntables. The subject matter of the song itself consist of the life before fame for the duo. It really highlights life in the trenches, being robbed and shot at. The serious subject manner is spoken in a lighter, funk inflection seemingly downplaying the situation and the value of life in general. This song is a reflection after all, they've already made it at this point.
Touched by the wheelz of steel
Now, show me how you feel
The leading single, "Elevators (Me & You)", debuted during Freaknik in 1996 and is most popular for its slow yet addicting chorus and Andre 3000's last verse. The song itself reflects on the success of their debut album and how that came to be. Ultimately, it is derived from the hunger and drive for success in addition to wanting to flaunt the accessories of fame. A huge counterpart of the image of Outkast is the Cadillac, a symbol of status, especially in the south.
A huge theme of this album is the role sex plays in contemporary society. While there are valid points presented at some points, it mostly feels misogynistic in the way women are demonized for exploring sexuality. This is evident in the song "Jazzy Belle", a play on the biblical figure Jezebel and a "southern belle": "While our nation is a boat, straight sinking / I hate thinking that these the future mommas of our chill'un / They fucking a different nigga every time they get the feeling to". This feels hypocritical in nature as artist brags about the multitudes of women dripping off of them.
This theme is also explored in "Babylon". This song is more religious in nature and surveys the thoughts that sex/lust is a sin thereby a source of shame in the beholder/participant. Retrospectively, this is an example of how religion becomes a source of information regarding sexual education.
"Millennium" sticks to the theme of the extraterrestrial and how it would seem alien like to be devoid of personal objections. Just like Earth, the moon, and stars is to the universe, having the materialistic things is part of who you are as a celebrity. Despite this, the duo emphasizes the importance of remaining faithful to your cause whether that be religion or otherwise. The importance of riding for those around you isn't lost upon the artists.
Lastly is "E.T. (Extraterrestrial)". This song sums up the idea that Big Boi and Andre 3000 are so beyond the rest of the music world that they are out of this world and extraterrestrial. The beat is a weird combination of noises that makes it hard to pinpoint a specific instrument or sample point, which adds to the allurement of the alien theme. The song itself speaks on the potential of the youth and the idea of chasing opportunities promptly because it is likely there won't be another. You can also apply the extraterrestrial tag to the city of Atlanta, as the city is poignant in producing some of the oddest yet successful talents the world has ever seen. Oppositely, once you make it out of the city, the natives could see you as an alien or vice versa.
It is amazing just how symmetrical the whole project is. There are songs without either of the artist but it seems they are each redeemed in the next song. The flow, chemistry, and veracity in which the artists counter each other is unseen in rap music throughout the past few decades. 1996 forever changed the rap scene and the trajectory of the Outkast.
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