Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is an audio proclamation for Big Boi and Andre 3000 as individual artists that redefines what duoship means. While they each contributed to the other’s album, this collection represents two independent efforts. Accordingly, I will look at each album separately then consider how and why they belong together.
Big Boi’s album comes first and is mostly characterized by a Southern hip-hop sound, similar to Outkast’s previous albums. The Intro’s tone is set with a great mix by Cutmaster Swift interjected with the name album throughout. To maintain the vibe of the album, that same, spoken title is used as a transition between a few of the disc’s tracks.
It’s easy to miss the lyrical depth of Big Boi’s stylized flow, but diggin into the tracks reveals touches on a lot of great topics, like family issues (Unhappy, The Rooster), luxury (Bowtie), social justice (War), and introspection (Church, Reset).
The lyrical roller coaster, mind-bender
‘Stead of watchin these sucker MC’s
I’m seein just how they lyin to the general population
– Big Boi, War
Big Boi collaborated almost exclusively with rappers and producers from Atlanta. Tomb of the Bomb is a dope cypher track featuring Konkrete, Big Gripp, and Ludacris that illustrates this very point, with production from Big Boi, Andre 3000, Mr. DJ, and Carl Mo. Brooklyn based rapper Jay-Z is one of few exceptions to the Southern-heavy influence and makes an appearance on Flip Flop Rock.
As you can see on his Twitter, Big Boi continues to preach the importance of community collaboration to this day.
The Love Below
Andre 3000’s project, a story of love, leaps beyond Southern hip-hop and showcases his personal artistry and wide-reaching influences. I was immediately surprised by how much more singing there was than rapping on the album, which reminds me of one of my favorite albums, Janelle Monae’s 2010 debut The ArchAndroid (which coincidentally features Big Boi). Both albums have their foundation in R&B and are inclusive of many other genres. As an artist who claims Atlanta as her musical home, I’m sure Janelle Monae was heavily influenced by The Love Below.
As mentioned, the album’s R&B is accompanied by blurred genres. I am impressed that the whole project was produced by Andre 3000 alone, particulars when listening to the string arrangement on Pink & Blue. The last track, A Life In The Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete), is a masterpiece, both lyrically and narraritively:
Are you starting to gather what I’m getting at?
Now if I’m losing you, tell me then I’ll double back
But keep in mind, at the time ‘keep it real’ was the phrase
Silly once said now, but those were the days
– Andre 3000, A Life In The Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete)
Separate and Together
They say, “Big Boi, can you pull it off without your nigga Dre?”
I say, “People, stop the madness cause me and Dre, we okay”
– Big Boi, Tomb of the Boom
This album’s division was unexpected. Before listening to the full project, I thought it was a two-disk set exploring different themes as performed by Outkast, not two solo projects marketed under the group’s name. Despite this division, the split albums helped me appreciate each member’s artistic work separately and better understand their totally different personalities. With some hip-hop duos, it can be hard to separate out their individuality, especially when they have similar flows (like Cookie Crew). While their differences in fashion were obvious and prevalent since the Aquemini era, in terms of sound, Outkast music always felt like Outkast music.
The duo did executively produced each other’s albums. Andre also produced, played keyboards, and co-wrote some of the songs on Speakerboxxx. The Love Below, however, had less contribution from Big Boi, and only included some background vocals in the skit Where Are My Panties? and a verse in Roses. I have a feeling the idea for two solo projects was Andre 3000’s, as his project diverges so far from anything Outkast had created before.
If it don’t stank like they stank then they can’t swallow that down
– Andre 3000, GhettoMusick
After this dual-disc project, Outkast acted in and created the soundtrack and for the film Idlewild. Outside of a couple concerts here and there, they’ve only worked on individual projects. Big Boi has gone on to create multiple solo albums, including a collaboration with the band Phantogram on the EP Big Grams in 2015. Andre 3000 seems to be more lauded in the music industry because of his artistic independence and his reclusion, having only released (or been featured on) a track or two each year, including a 2-track “EP” entitled Look Ma No Hands less than a month ago. Any time Andre 3000 comes out with a verse, whether it’s on Beyonce’s Party or Erykah Badu’s Hello, there is always hype. Less music seems to create more anticipation.
I distinctly remember the singles from when this album released. As an avid R&B listener, I knew Prototype by heart, though the video weirded me out when I was younger. The Way You Move, Roses, and Hey Ya were all over the radio and their videos were shown heavily on TRL and 106 & Park. Shout out to Bryan Barber! I really miss the early 2000s and the diversity of Top 40 play which included songs from genres like Hip-Hop, R&B, Rock, and Pop. In 2004, the Hot 100 was dominated by R&B, but starting around 2008, there was a shift to Rhythmic Pop and Hip-Hop/R&B designed for Pop listeners. The only time R&B crosses over onto to the Top 40 anymore is when Bruno Mars releases a song.
Outkast took a huge risk deviating from what their fans and hip-hop fans in general, were used to. Nevertheless, the projects stays true to their artistry, honesty, and courage, which may be what makes this album so pioneering. From its singles alone, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has longevity; they are well know and have been covered across the genres. Hey Ya alone has been covered over 30 times (and that’s not including Youtube artists)! For those interested, I’ve included a few stand-out covers at the end of this review.