What’s the word folks! I’m back with another salute to those albums that are turning (or have turned) twenty years old this year that are considered classics or at least highly impactful within Hip Hop and music in general. This time, we’re going back down south. Previously, I covered UGK’s southern landmark Ridin’ Dirty. Now it’s time we go into a duo’s sophomore album that still stands as arguably the most innovative and sonically mesmerizing album within their entire discography.
In ’96, Big Boi and Andre (3000) were highly bubbling off their breakout debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The album brought a new sound that the game hadn’t really been introduced since the early days of Geto Boys, UGK, and Eightball & MJG. With hits like “Ain’t No Thang”, the monstrous “Player’s Ball”, and the funked out title track, we knew the industry just laid their eyes and ears on its newest stars. The album hit platinum status and the album was enough to get them “Best New Artist” award at The Source Awards. This album was primarily created from funk and enough gumbo soul to hold you for years to come. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait but two and a half years for a follow-up, and what a hell of a follow-up it was.
Anticipation was climbing with a sophomore Outkast album. Was it going to be another Southernplayalistic for us? Well, hen we first heard their first single “Elevators”, we said “WOOOO!” This cut was unlike anything heard on their debut. This was not a cut that you blow your speakers to. This was a methodically paced, super laid-back cut that flexed Dre and Big Boi’s lyrical muscles even more. The concept highlighted the ups and downs of being noticed and being famous. We already knew this was about to be a new level for them. This cut didn’t even scratch the surface.
When the album finally did drop, it was something we didn’t expect, but that wasn’t a bad thing whatsoever. Clearly put, this album has the six best opening cuts to an album possibly ever from any southern artist. These were all consistent and all flowed gracefully from one track to the next. Organized Noize, along with Earthtone 3 (which was Outkast and Mr. DJ), wanted to incorporate more live instrumentation than the first album, and it showed with tracks like the beautiful and highly introspective “13th Floor/Growing Old” (one of their most breathtaking cuts ever, especially because of Big Rube’s stellar poem for “13th Floor”) and “Millennium”. There were no get-up and groove cuts on here. This was noticeably more laid-back, mellow, and lyrically personal and conscious. The spacey-soul aspect of the production made this a unique album for its time, and provided for some of the best sounds of that entire time period.
In their personal lives, Dre was becoming sober and swearing off weed, while Big Boi became a father during this time so their mindstates were at other more serious places during the recording process, and this marked the true beginning of the greatness of this duo. This is an album that has so many standouts on here that it’s practically impossible to pick which song is the best, which is a compliment that gets reserved only to the best albums going and instant classics. Also, unlike the debut, there’s a growing sense of spirituality on this album, as evidenced in the lovely intro track “You May Die”, the aforementioned “13th Floor/Growing Old”, and “Wailin'”, while staying in the extra-terrestrial concept that revolves around the title and in the center of it as well.
This entire album, compared to their debut, gives you occasional chills, especially on cuts like the Goodie Mob-assisted “Mainstream” and “Babylon”. The elevation (if you will) of this duo was forming on this album, artistically and lyrically. While Aquemini and Stankonia remain their artistic masterpieces, ATLiens is almost ranked as high as them for unique vision and risks to go into “space” while tackling their own personal growth periods and getting a tad more conscious than before. Today, Dre and Big Boi aren’t together as a duo sadly, but they remain the most successful duo in the history of Hip Hop, and with albums like this, one can surely understand how that came to be.