On a single studio album, two artists split their musical talents to create a sonically pleasing, precise work of art. Two entirely different stories are portrayed in this album by Georgia’s Andre Lauren Benjamin (Andre 3000) and Antwan Andre Patton (Big Boi). Together they make up the South’s one-and-only Outkast.
In 2003, after years of success together with five previous studio albums, these musical geniuses released Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below with Arista Records. The album woke its audience and demanded attention; it was an honest, respectful voice from the South—pure hip-hop. According to Big Boi, radio host and Dallas, TX native DJ Greg Street (original article deleted by host site) was the mastermind who proposed Outkast release a double feature, “…actually one album, two CDs basically.” The first CD, Speakerboxxx features Big Boy, and The Love Below is the work of Andre 3000.
Before the 2000’s, Outkast was already shaking the music/rap game across the nation. They were named Source Magazine’s best new Rap Group in ‘95, just a year after releasing their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The two originally met in high school between classes and in the cafeteria, where singing and freestyling would take place. Big and 3k stood out from their peers at Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Georgia. They were true entertainers who recognized each other’s skills and knew they could flourish together. Their lyrics were streetwise and flamboyant, amicable and confrontational, mindful, flowing, and unfiltered, coming from a place of sure vulnerability and deep, forthright feeling. It’s no surprise Andre and Antwan became world-renowned artists and culture influencers.
From their start in 1993, Outkast created everything from freestyles, to singles, mixtapes, and albums, and these southernplayalistic-microphone-conductors had a goal of taking their talents on the road. Prior to high school graduation, Big and Dre’ were already pushing hard for their dreams. Before long, they received a chance to rap for some influencers who were established in the industry. One day in the Atlanta area during their senior year, the boys came across a producer at a beauty supply store who happened to have access to professional studio equipment: Rico Wade, head producer of Organized Noize. For those who don’t know, Organized Noize is a production team based in Atlanta led by Rico, Sleepy Brown(singer/songwriter/producer), and Ray Murray (producer/artist). For ten minutes, 2 Shades Deep (Outkast’s old group name) layed down their signature melodic wordplay. A thoroughly impressed Wade invited the two to his makeshift basement/home-studio, The Dungeon. This studio was a haven for artists where the Organized Noize trio produced hits like TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
Breaking from their high school personas, Outkast released new music at an incredible pace. 1994 saw the release of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, followed by ATLiens in 1996, Aquemini in 1998, and Stankonia in the 2000. The group’s unique combination of hip-hop, rap, funk, and soul was something fantastically unordinary and definitely Outkast.
Enough of history though; let’s jump into the 40 track, 2-part masterpiece that is Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. In order to give this project a fair review after personally enjoying it countless times, I’ve broken each album into three parts, each containing six or seven songs. If I hadn’t done this, I’d probably get stuck telling stories about each individual song and lose myself in the creative perspective of these sometimes explicit, always excellent artists.
The top half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is from Big Boi and his content plays out like a literal speaker box. A few interludes that almost feel like commercials are spread throughout his 19 tracks with a lot of fun fact-rapping features packed in along the way. Tuning into the first seven tracks of Speakerboxxx gives us the intro and the meat. The intro announces its intentions and sets the feel of a true headbanger, repeatedly saying “Speaker-box” as if the dial was searching for a clearer signal, a foreshadowing of the varied hip-hop styles we’re in store for. It then fades smoothly into the next track, Ghettomusick which comes with an awesome music video, motivational hooks, and catchy verses from both Andre and Big Boi on a multi-sectional instrumental produced by 3000 himself.
Going down the line to the next few tracks gets us a range of topics, like personal relationships and emotions; there’s even promotion of family life and keeping it real. Sleepy Brown, a key player in the Organized Noize, is featured twice, back-to-back, on tracks 4 and 5. ‘Bowtie’ is an ode to the gangsta lifestyle and living your best life with all the accessories, style, and swagger you can pack. Track 5 differs and provides a flashy and flirtatious vibe accompanied by stunning visuals, including a safari scene with an elephant and giraffe cameo, and homage to beautiful women all over the world and The Way They Move. The next tracks, ‘Rooster,’ and ‘Bust’ are Big Boi’s profession of love for music and his passion for street life, despite how hard those are to balance with work and family life.
‘War’ starts the next sub-set of songs on Speakerboxxx, and it’s a deep track that forces us to think about the world as it is and how we perceive it to be. As someone who comes to the album with an American understanding, one of my favorite verses on this track goes:
Politicians, modern day magicians
Physicians of death, more health care for poor health
Who makin us ill, they makin us kill
That’s makin me spill my guts (chill Big, lay in the cut)
For what? I refuse to sit in the backseat and get handled
Like I do nuttin all day but sit around watch the Cartoon Channel
I rap about, the Presidential election and the scandal
That followed, and we all watched the nation, as it swallowed
And chalked it up, basically America you got fucjed
The media shucked and jived now we stuck – damn!
Big really puts what people think into words, while simultaneously opening our eyes to the reality at hand. From War, we move to ‘Church’, a track that’s also built to enlighten, with remarks like, “Man, have you ever really wondered, like why are we here? What the meanin to all of this?” That question prepares us for the uplifting verses that follow. Truthfully, track 10 is one of my top tracks from the whole double-disc. It’s an interlude that features Bamboo, Big Boi’s son, and uses the same beat from the follow track, ‘Tomb of the Boom’ feat. fellow Dungeon family and Atlanta artists Konkrete, Big Gipp, and Ludacris. All three bring heavy energy and strong Southern demeanors.
The last set of songs at the end of Big Boi’s disc offer knowledge, great vibes, dance-worthy instrumentals, and a ton of creative juice. Outkast really does have all the sauce and ingredients needed to move a crowd and the spirit. ‘Flip Flop Rock’ features Killer Mike from Atlanta and Roc-a-Fella’s own Jay-Z, one of the only features on the tape that isn’t from the South. At ten years strong, Big Boi and Dre presented themselves as Outkast with the meanest 808’s and lyrics possible and the simply titled ‘Interlude’ tells this very story before breaking us into the last four hits on Speakerboxxx. ‘Reset’ featuring Khujo Goodie and Cee-Lo holds so much meaning for me, with mindful phrases including “Everything happens for a reason.” Big Boi endorses focus and cares enough to raise up our impressionable youth. ‘D-Boi (Interlude)’ is as raw as it gets, and explains the rough and rugged cycle of reality that is life as a street hustler striving to get by. ‘Last Call’ produced by Andre and ‘Bowtie (Postlude)’ produced by Big Boi himself are a strong musical end to the album, a modest flexing of talent that proves he did the top half of this project justice.
The pace of the project gets altered dramatically when Andre 3000 takes the reins from Big Boi. This next half of the double feature we’re diving into is more thoughtful and heartfelt in terms of romance and love than Big Boi’s consideration of street life and hood antics, though the experiences of the two come from a similar places. Andre warmly welcomes us to his portion with a cool and calm, minute-and-a-half orchestrated epic full of instruments and a few short words about The Love Below, before turning to his usual energetic self and releasing track 2, ‘Love Hater’. This song provides clarity to the intentions of this half of the masterpiece. Dre seems to be one of the first Southern rap artists who speaks on the topic of love and relationships and comes with a lot fewer features, meaning he’s probably drawing on personal experience. Even Big Boi only makes two appearances on this disc.
‘God (Interlude)’ is a prayer between 3000 and God, who turns out to be a girl. This interesting conversation layered over smooth guitar riffs was produced by Andre himself and it’s an in-depth exploration of his desire for a woman’s sweet love. Moving on, love’s supreme reign is announced on ‘Happy Valentine’s Day.’ Andre’s feelings and the unfortunately uncommon ideas of love, peace, and unity are delivered here with the kindest energy. I especially appreciate his patience and ability to elaborate his inner-self clearly on such a dynamic beat. ‘Spread’ offers another example of this and re-emphasises his talent as a freethinking, creative instrumentalist/singer/songwriter/rapper/rhythm-fluent-musician.
From love, we move to a “morning after” scene between Andre 3000 and the mysterious beauty he’s woken up next to in.
The follow-up to the first section of his album is ‘Prototype’, the first song on his half of the project with an official music video. Direction and originality for the video are… not lacking, and it’s a must-see mini-movie with more than six-million views. Tracks 9 and 10 on The Love Below are fan favorites to this day. Both tracks (Hey Ya! and Roses (feat. Big Boi)) have distinctive vibes and breakdowns, along with companion videos. And just like that, the album moves back to an interlude, this time a theatrical conversation, styled hilariously, between Andre 3000 and Fonzworth Bentley, a fashion icon and friend of Andre’s since middle school that gets cut short in order to ‘Behold a Lady. Here, 3000 urges all gentleman and lovely ladies to clean up all their acts and find the good within.
The intro scratching to ‘Pink & Blue’, the next song on the album, almost feels reminiscent of Speakerboxxx, but quickly gives way to Andre’s eclectic styling. “Age ain’t nothing but a number” and 3k describes for us how his baby (an older woman sporting a couple of gray hairs) got him talking like a baby. ‘Love In War,’ the 14th track of Andre’s 21 total compositions, makes me feel good simply because of its well-balanced lyricism and production. If only more people would take Andre’s advice: make love not war ladies and gents, and remember, “No one is promised another day.”
Hit after hit, we finally arrive at the last seven tracks of The Love Below. There’s ‘She’s Alive’ and ‘Dracula’s Wedding (Feat. Kelis)’, and both tracks ask us to think about the deeper bonds between a man and woman, bonds like bearing children and being a parent, alone or with someone else. ‘Dracula’s Wedding’ sounds so very bittersweet and has Dre getting everything he’s ever wanted only to find out he’s actually terrified of it.
‘My Favorite Things’ sounds like Andre’s personality and his creative control of music, especially those Southern jazzy jams,come straight through. Immediately following this artful, upscaled instrumental is a more relaxed, self-produced guitar track called ‘Take Off Your Cool’ featuring Norah Jones. The collaborators ask whoever’s listening to drop the ego and show themselves without feeling like they have to cater to any expectations of being cool.
After looking at Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as a whole and dissecting the 40 tracks on it, ‘A Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete)’ is a fitting end. It’s a fantastic recap of Andre’s legacy as it stood in 03’, a direct, bona fide testimony from the authentic Mr. Andre 3000. Unfortunately, the song is “Incomplete” but after almost 5 minutes of free-flowing lyrics and memories of the road he took to get to where he is, it’s hard to know what more he could say. Even if the song is unpolished and cut short, the story’s context and the way he puts it all out there is remarkable.
Overall, I know a few of these tracks will stand out as classics that shifted the musical era they were released in. This project has something for everyone and far more for those willing to dig deep. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, ladies and gentlemen.