Since I am working through these albums from 500 to 1, there was a little concern about how the first few albums would be. Sure, these are the “Greatest” albums of all time, but #500 is still (according to the Rolling Stones) the worst album on the list. In all honesty, I was pretty sure that the first hundred albums or so would be absolute garbage (no, not the 90’s band, Garbage). As entry #500, OutKast’s Aquemini exceeded my expectations.
It should be noted from the very beginning that, while this is the same group that brought us “Hey-Ya,” this album is not the same type of album that SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below was. This is very clear as soon as the first song (track 2), “Return of the G” starts out. The occasional sound of gunshots and the hook singing “gangsta-aahh oooooooooo” provides an almost humorous contrast to some of OutKast’s later works. I think it has a lot to do with Andre 3000 and Big Boi having a defined voice as OutKast in 1998’s Aquemini, but by 2003’s SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below they had lost a lot of that cohesive, singular voice as OutKast.
Though perhaps not their greatest work (spoiler alert: that would be Stankonia), this is far better than their 2 final albums. And it really is because they are actually working to have a singular voice as a group. Andre 3K and Big Boi both have their own styles that can be heard throughout this album, but they also work together to try and define their collective style. There are moments when their style feels a bit weak, almost like it is still a work in progress. The title track, “Aquemini,” has one of the weakest hooks on the album, mostly because it doesn’t feel like it “fits”. There is also the contrast of the aforementioned “Return of the G” or “Mama-Cita” to tracks like “Synthesizer,” with special guest George Clinton (Yes, THE George Clinton). Throughout the album there is a constant balancing act of traditional 90’s hip-hop themes, funkiness, science fiction, and political commentary. Most of the album balances these well, but there are moments that are stronger than others.
Musically there is also a little bit of everything, which works really well on some of the tracks. There is everything from catchy beats on tracks like “Skew it on the Bar-B” to a horn riff that you can’t get unstuck from your head on “SpottieOttieDopalicious.” The musical diversity, with a lot of live musicians, really lent itself to the album’s success.
But the real question is: “Is it GREAT?”
I think that it is. It is understandably difficult to quantify if it is one of the “greatest” albums of all time, but it has definitely worked its way into my regular rotation. I love the music, and there is a lot of great social commentary throughout (Edit: I really wanted to talk more about the social commentary on this album, but had a hard time figuring out how to do so without just giving you a bunch of quotes. It really would be better for you to just give it a listen.). If you want the Cliffsnotes version, my top track picks are:
- “Rosa Parks”
- “Skew it on the Bar-B” -OR- “Synthesizer” (It’s a tie between two quality-albeit very different stylistically- tracks)
- “West Savanna”
If you only read the Cliffsnotes you are missing out on some solid tunes, but you do you. There’s a good chance these will just whet your appetite for the rest of the album. Or you have crappy music tastes.
One final note: Take a good look at the album cover…
Okay, now look a little closer…
Yeah, that is a UFO behind Big Boi’s throne.