Friday, June 11, 2021

Flashback Friday OutKast Edition Volume 4: Stankonia

 Intro

OutKast entered the year 2000 with a new LP. It featured Andre now going by Andre 3000, he and Big Boi actively being involved in every step of the tracks being created, and it was named, "Stankonia," after the name of the studio OutKast had purchased together to make this latest album. It was--as Wikipedia tells it with some reliable sources, "A word created by André 3000 as a portmanteau of the words 'stank', a slang synonym for, 'funky,' and, 'Plutonia,' the title of a poster in his bedroom depicting a futuristic city. He explained, 'Stankonia is this place I imagined where you can open yourself up and be free to express anything.'"

Stankonia

"Stankonia," has some of my favorite OutKast albums ever. It is also my least favorite album by OutKast overall. This leads to some complex feelings about the album and I won't be doing my usual track-by-track examination so much going in-depth with the highlights and lowlights. It is an album with a lot to unpack after all. Without, "Stankonia," we probably would not have gotten the masterpiece, "Speakerboxx/The Love Below." I say that as this features the first hints of Andre moving away from rapping and instead doing more singing or sonic experimentation. It has more instances than in the past of he and Big Boi both doing some tracks solo. Plus, while the earlier OutKast albums don't, "Feel," exactly like they come from a specific time period, "Stankonia," undoubtedly sounds like a 2000-era LP in one big aspect of how it is overloaded with skits.

Skits on albums seemed to be extremely huge in the late 90s and hit an apex of sorts in the 2000s. Rock albums, rap albums, they were there a lot. They've evolved/mostly faded away in terms of being comedy-focused and OutKast even had them somewhat on their earlier albums, but they were more sporadic and less comedic--they often just were used to introduce or segue into songs. The skits on, "Stankonia," range from some potty humor, to jokes about sex, drugs, nothing awful but little to amaze your ears. There are some tracks that utterly astound listeners, however.

I said, "Stankonia," has some of my favorite tracks ever made by OutKast, and when I say some of those songs you understand why. "So Fresh, So Clean," "B.O.B." AKA, "Bombs over Baghdad," and of course, "Ms. Jackson." These tracks are just masterpieces. "So Fresh, So Clean," is a little raunchy without outright being filthy and has the best little beat. "B.O.B." is a kind of rap-meets-rock combo that was about the futility of war and became all too topical when America invaded Iraq a second time some years later. Then, "Ms. Jackson," what else can be said about that track that others besides me haven't said better? It's vulnerable and a bit angry. It was a very real song as Andre came up with it as a ballad to the mother of Erykah Badu. He had a child with Badu and wanted the mother to know he felt he was doing his best as a father (for those curious, Badu's mother loved the song). I won't spend this whole post just talking about that one song, but know that I could.

Those are some amazing songs, but I said that, "Stankonia," was my least favorite OutKast album, and the lack of much that outright astounds me the rest of the LP is why. Other stuff is perfectly good, but with OutKast you normally expect everything to be more than good, generally. We've got the political, "Gasoline Dreams," the trippy, "Humble Mumble," an early appearance by Killer Mike on, "Snappin' & Trappin," but some tracks really drag. "We Luv Deez Hoez," sound more like a rejected, "2 Live Crew," track than something OutKast would have made. "Gangsta Shit," is dull, "Spaghetti Junction," lacks oomph too. I just find myself alternating between amazement at my favorite tracks and being horrifically underwhelmed with many other songs. The fantastic songs are some of the group's best, however, as I keep saying.

Conclusion

It's an odd experience, listening to Stankonia more than 20 years after its release and finding my first impression of when I heard it (a bit after it came out) is basically the same. There is cream that rises to the top and a lot of tracks I consider to be okay, but a bit skippable. Following, "Stankonia," was something that wasn't quite a, "Greatest Hits," album or a brand-new LP, it was, "Big Boi and Dre Present...OutKast." I'll cover it next week.

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