OutKast :: ATLiens :: LaFace/Arista Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

At first, their career seemed to be something of an accident. Andre Benjamin and Big Boi recorded what might have been a throwaway song for a LaFace Christmas album, but whether intentionally or otherwise their song "Player's Ball" went on to become a huge hit. In turn the hit led to the album "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik," on which OutKast expanded their fan base with a creative album mixing Southern pimplogy with the concrete street smarts and intelligence of KRS-One and Ice Cube. This was a good start, but on their second LP it was time to declare in no uncertain terms that the "ATLiens" had arrived to shake up the xenophobes:

"Just tryin ta find that hookup
Now everyday we look up at the ceiling
Watchin ceiling fans go around tryin ta catch that feelin
off instrumental, had my pencil, and plus my paper
We caught the 86 Lithonia headed to Decatur
Writing rhymes tryin ta find our spot off in that light
Light off in that spot, known that we could rock
Doin the hole in the wall clubs, this shit here must stop
Like freeze, we makin the crowd move but we not makin no G's
And that's a no-no.."
-> Andre

"Niggaz say motherfuck that playin, they payin
We stay in layin vo-cals, locals done made it with them big boys
up in dis industry, Outkast yea dem niggaz they makin big noise
Over a million sold to this day, niggaz they take it lightly
Ninety-six gon be that year that all y'all playa haters can bite me
...around this bitch"
-> Big Boi

Everything about this album screams surreal, funky, and just a little bit out there. From the moment one picks it up off the shelf, the comic book cover shows our erstwhile rap duo fighting their way through an evil jungle (no doubt symbolic of the concrete mean streets of Atlanta's hoods) to escape to freedom. It's far more than a cover though - flipping it open reveals a real comic with the same artwork, a sci-fi epic where the duo escape from evil only to become forever "OutKast" in both name and spirit. Joi Gilliam's singing on the eerie opening track only reinforces it:

"You can be sure
Some will owe to get high
You may hurt 'til you cry
You may die... (you may die)
Keep on trying (keep on trying)
Till it's summer, in the city
Till it's summer, in the city..."

Abruptly, a robotic voice spits the words "greetings, earthlings" and the album immediately becomes grounded in the funky sounds of an Organized Noise production. "Who dem boys that be havin the krunk every occasion?" OutKast, of course. The question they pose in the hook is strictly rhetorical, because 'Kast know they're the shit and with good reason. Andre is probably one of the few rappers who can get away with utterly dismissing freestyling:

"This ol sucka MC stepped up to me
Challenged Andre to a battle and I stood there patiently
As he spit and stumbled over cliches, so called freestylin
Whole purpose just to make me feel low, I guess you whylin
I say look boi, I ain't for that fuck shit; so fuck this
Let me explain on this child style so you don't miss
I grew up to myself not round no park bench
Just a nigga bustin flows off in apartments"

Meanwhile, his partner-in-rhyme Big Boi gives all leechers a little bit of Haterade:

"It goes chromes to the Fleetwoods, Coupes to the 'Villes
Hittin Girbauds and off these flows we havin the playa chill
In this atmosphere this ain't no practice here we cuttin the fool now
I'm doin ya at the house and throwin you out because I'm through now
Don't you love the way we clamin Bankhead, stankhead
Lookin around the SWATS for the herb that's never tainted
Fainted when you heard the bourbon servin on the block
And all you bitin indivuals need to check yourself and stop"

They're just "Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)," after all. And once the chrome wheels get rolling, there's no reason for them to stop - and without warning they roll right into their self-produced track with even more hip-hop bombs to be dropped on unsuspecting know-nots. Big Boi sets it off with a suave introduction of who he is, while simultaneously dismissing "keeping up with the Joneses":

"Well it's the M - I - crooked letter, ain't no one better
And when I'm on the microphone you best to wear your sweater
Cause I'm cooler than a polar bear's toenails
Oh hell, there he go again - talkin that shit
Bend, corner's like I was a curve, I struck a nerve
And now you bout to see this Southern playa serve
I heard it's not where you're from but where you pay rent
Then I heard it's not what you make but how much you spent you got me bent like elbows, amongst other things, but I'm not worried
Cause when we step up in the party, like I'm out-you-scurry
So go get your fuckin shine box, and your sack of nickles
It tickles to see you try to be like Mr. Pickles
Daddy Fat Sacks, B-I-G B-O-I
It's that same motherfucka that took them knuckles to your eye
And I try, to warn you not to test but you don't listen
Givin the shout out to my Uncle Donnel locked up in prison"

Big Boi sho' nuff does the knowledge, while Andre comes in with some freak shit - but actually, he's doing the knowledge too:

"Now, my oral illustration, be like clitoral stimulation
to the female gender, ain't nothin better
Let me know when it's wet enough to enter
If not I'll wait, because the future of the world depends on
Therefore, if not the child we raise gon' have that nigga syndrome
Or will it know to be the hard regardless of the skintone
Or will it feel that if we tune it, it just might get picked on
Or will it give a fuck about what others say and get gone
The alienators cause we different keep your hands to the sky
Like Sounds of Blackness when I practice what a preach ain't no lie
I'll be the baker and the maker of the piece of my pie
Now breaker, breaker 10-4 can I get some reply?"

It's hard to imagine after two successive tracks so fat that this album can keep getting better, yet it does. OutKast does the beats again on the old-to-new school epic "Wheelz of Steel" on which Mr. DJ provides the scratchin' to Andre and Big Boi's rappin:

"It took your momma nine months to make it
But it only took a nigga thirty minutes to take it
Cut that krunk clean up I did, but I did so not safely
Don't want no AIDS, {*clapping*} no claps, or no rabies"
-> Big Boi

"Yo, we take no shit, like arms stuffed up commodes
Gotta collect call, they done locked up my folks
Low blow, hit me in the left ventricle
We won't be able to ride out 'til two thousand fo'" -> Andre

And on the haunting Organized Noise beat of "Jazzy Belle," the duo let it be known they're looking for true intelligent women and not 10's with no brains:

"See what if you was a playa real playa not no slouch
Havin the very best of life lots of steak and Perignon
Smokin an ounce of weed yeah every single day was personal FreakNik
Freakin these hoes in Polo clothes life as you conceived it
but your conception, deception, lookin into your watch I see
you weapon and it's depressin, they're diggin up in your thighs
leavin deposits keep your closets open not your boots and drawers
Hopin to get you sprung like bell-bottoms, steadily callin me Antoine
cause you thinkin that you my lady bitch don't play me cause you're chanky
I wanted to hit that ass but me and the Goodie we got danky
So thank thee, you runnin that Southerplayalistic game
You was the only one to blame, a nigga don't even know yo' name
it's a shame, you crackin em up and fuckin a nigga like Tupac up
I'm leavin these foes to be the flowers and wake don't get me see
I gotta be feedin my daughter, teach her to be that Natural Woman
Cause you'll be +Waiting to Exhale+ while you other hoes be
+Dumb and Dumber+, yeah you know what I'm sayin?"
-> Big Boi

By this time, "ATLiens" has already served four more dope songs than you might have heard on any other album that came out in '96, and is only just reaching the lead single "Elevators (Me and You)" - just as dope as any of the rest in it's own right. In fact, the two quotes that lead this piece are from this song. Why "Elevators" though, one wonders? The answer is suprisingly simple. For two rappers, what better way to "come up" in the rap game? The catchy "me, and you, yo' momma and yo' cou-sin too" chorus undoubtedly had everybody singing along, but even without the catchy hook and smooth music the verbiage of Andre would have everybody listening:

"Got stopped at the mall the other day, heard a call from the other way
that I just came from, some nigga was sayin some'n
talkin bout 'Hey man, you remember me from school?' Naw not really
But he kept smilin like a clown, facial expression lookin silly
And he kept askin me, what kind of car you drive, I know you paid
I know y'all got beaucoup buckos from all them songs that y'all done made
And I replied that I had been goin through tha same thing that he had
True I got more fans than the average man but not enough loot to last me
to the end of the week, I live by the beat like you live check to check
If you don't move yo' feet then I don't eat, so we like neck to neck
Yes we done come a long way like them Slim ass cigarettes
from Virginia, this ain't gon stop so we just gon' continue"

At some point, you would expect this album to slack off or get weak thinking that as good as "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" was, no group could have gone this far beyond it in one album to unparalleled dope not heard anywhere else; yet they do it on the fat "Ova Da Wudz" while Big Boi drops true jewels:

"Everybody wanna get signed, but (here to tell you)
record companies act like pimps
Gettin paid off what we made when we the ones that's fly like blimps
But ain't no Goodyear, I tell it like it is so I'm like look here
Just willin to get what I deserve my kids to have a mother
and a little house, with a dog in the backyard goin 'woof-woof'
Who knows what I'ma say soon's I leave this recording booth"

And they do it again on "Babylon" when Andre spits a chillingly autobiographical verse:

"I came into this world high as a bird from secondhand cocaine powder
I know it sounds absurd, I never tooted but its in my veins
While the rest of the country bungies off bridges without no snap back
and bitches they say they need that to shake they fannies in the
ass clubs, they go the other route, turn each other out, burn each other out
Where a bonified nigga like me can't even get no back rub these days
Ain't that bleak on they part
But let me hold it down cause they shut you down when you speak from your heart
Now that's hard, wwhile we rantin and ravin bout gats, nigga they made them gats
They got some shit that'll blow out our backs, from where they stay at"

The only weak thing about "Wailin'" may be that it's only two minutes long, and it's just not enough. The only thing wrong with the all-star "Mainstream" featuring the Goodie Mob is that at five minutes, eighteen seconds it's not long enough EITHER. And "Decatur Psalm" singlehandedly put the unknown rapper Cool Breeze on the national scene with the most gangsterific verse of the entire album:

"I call da crib they say 'Breeze you ain't know?'
I say 'What?'           'Big Time got popped in his Benzo!'
I said 'Damn man, I'm riding in his Lexus
I'm bout to dump this nigga's shit in New Dimensions
Get to the crib so I can call Big Slate up
And tell em da money man done slipped and got his throat cut
And everything that we took from the warehouse
I heard somebody talkin 'bout it at the White House
Man I thought you said that this job was for me and you
I ain't know that Bill Clampett wanted some too
You tell his folks that I'm sorry bout that Lexus
I'm 'bout to dip and see my sister up in... naaah!
Can't even tell you where I put my extra playa card
Cause them Red Dog police know we homeboys
Just tell everybody who us a dime
It's the Great Hoe Round Up Yo' Money time
I got to HAVE MINE, then I'm OUTTA HERE
Take a loss, come back up just like Coco Grier
Ain't got to worry bout yo' potnah gettin caught like a lame
It won't be over til that big girl from Decatur sang'"

As overly long and quote-filled as this review is, it's still not doing justice to the dopeness of the beats and rhymes of songs like "Millenium" and "E.T. (Extraterrestrial)." When listening to this album, the best advice one could give is to lay down on your favorite bed or mattress, pull the shades, and allow yourself to be enveloped in total darkness. Then when you hear it, you'll be transported in your mind's eye to the higher plane OutKast was on when they conceived and recorded this album. By the time you reach the "13th Floor" near the album's end, you'll be ready for the words of Big Rube to bring you back down to earth:

"Conceive true deception multiplied a million fold
Visualize the yin and yang in a battle so intense that we get em confused
The resident evil specialize in misconstruing
We wanna be at a presidential level -- what are we doing?
Foolin ourself, clownin ourself, playin ourself, by not bein ourself
We can't babble no more than we can bob our head offbeat
Nimrod by the time we forty cause we can't get our meat
While we ask no reason for the misplacement of the season
look at the picture that's painted
Tainted as the mind who's blinded to the point
where Sodomites get all the rights
We fall for fights with fisticuffs
Get pissed enough to miss the bus
It disgusts me to see my folks run up on
I say stand up on deception of time all of Revelations
And recognize this mind on the reality of horror known as mankind
Jesus and his twelve disciples make thirteen
A righteous number of righteous men
Even Judas the Betrayer came true in the end
The Devil say the end is the beginning
They teach that we were the product of incest
Invest no level of self into their system of Paganomics
Stand with us and don't look back upon it
Just face this mindstate; otherwise Babylon..."

It's deep. So deep that listening to "ATLiens" you might feel like drowning, but the smooth vo-cals of Big Boi and the earthy flows of Andre always push you back up to the surface. They are players in the truest sense of the word; not just playing for ends but playing to win in the ultimate battle of life over death, good over bad, and righteousness over evil. Yet, it's not that heavy either. This album is nod your head music, shake your ass music. It makes you think and groove at the same time. If you don't want to be challenged by your hip-hop, "ATLiens" is not the album for you; matter of fact OutKast is not the group for you. They refuse to be conventional in a world of formulaic mediocrity, which may make them harder to grasp but ultimately makes them that much better to listen to.

Music Vibes: 10 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 10 of 10

Originally posted: January 28, 2003
source: www.RapReviews.com