Playing God
Outkast: Stankonia

now that the dust has settled from the Speakerboxxx / The Love Below fall-out, it seems like OutKast’s stock is at something of an all-time low. “Hey Ya!,” the song that everyone predicted would never, ever get old, officially did, overstaying its welcome by at least a month or two. “Roses” didn’t help matters much, as Dre and Big Boi somehow managed to top the awfulness of the single (easily the duo’s worst to date) with the inconceivably ridiculous OMGWTF video, and later singles “Prototype” and “Ghettomusick” sank like a stone in the post-“Roses” backwater. Only a couple of months earlier, it looked like OutKast could do no wrong, as Stankonia-appetized fans devoured Speakerboxxx / The Love Below wholesale and “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move” were at the top of the charts for months on end, but gradually the album’s flaws wormed their way to the surface and critics starving to hail the album as a total success started to own up to the fact that the album was, in actuality, a step backwards from the brilliant, flawless Stankonia.

This shouldn’t have been too much of a shock, as Stankonia was not quite as perfect as memory recalled, but in fact something of a step back from the brilliant, actually flawless Aquemini. In our article of the 101-200 greatest albums of all-time, Stylus writer Nick Southall opined that “the hype Stankonia got was partly a hangover from the hype this should have had", and though it took me a long time to realize this (and has yet to convince many of our writers, as the album’s #3 placement on our 00s poll would suggest), he is absolutely correct. That’s not to say it’s not a wonderful, masterful album, but certain aspects of it suggest the defects that would totally manifest themselves on S/TLB, whether it be OutKast’s somewhat misguided stabs at gangsta machismo and the group’s unfortunate reliance on misogynistic skits, or Dre’s equally misguided (and strangely paradoxical) desire to present himself as a pure-bred Southern Gentleman and the group’s overly precious self-referential in-jokes, both of which are charming at first (and second, third, etc…) but inevitably start to grate after long enough.

These are questionable tactics that Aquemini managed to largely sidestep, and despite its relative lack of commercial (and critical) success, today it stands as their arguable masterpiece. So I’ve decided to present Stankonia as the little brother that Aquemini would have been proud of, following in its predecessor’s footsteps with equal, if not even greater success. So that means no “Gangsta Shit” or “Snappin’ & Trappin’,” no “I’ll Call Before I Come” or “Slum Beautfiul,” definitely no “Stanklove,” and though I love singing along to it as much as the next dorky white kid, no “We Luv Deez Hoez.” And though I’ve kept a couple to not make the transition completely jarring, for the most part, no skits, either. Instead we get a flurry of inexplicably excluded soundtrack cuts and non-album singles, which cement Stankonia as one of the most innovative, genre-busting and visceral albums of this or any other decade. See if you agree.

1. “D.F. Interlude”
Far be it from me to create the first ever OutKast album not to start with at least some sort of intro. Going by my rules, this probably shouldn’t be included, as it is possibly the most in-jokey thing OutKast has ever done, but it works well as an intro and I figure one track wouldn’t hurt, especially since it goes by so quickly you couldn’t possibly mind that much anyway.

2. “Gasonline Dreams”
Usually I don’t like starting off an album edit with the same track as the original album, but there’s no way I could choose a song even close to as right as this. Burn, motherfucker, burn.

3. “The Whole Word” (from Big Boi and Dre Present…OutKast)
Far better than the standard “new track to pad the greatest hits album” usually is. The circus-located video is a perfect encapsulation of the song—silly, but a whole lot of fun. Guest rapper Killer Mike’s verse is particularly excellent, showing potential he’d fulfill on later solo singles “A.D.I.D.A.S.” and “Akshun”.

4. “So Fresh, So Clean” (Fatboy Slim Remix) (From “So Fresh, So Clean” 12”)
Not that the original version particularly needs remixing, but this drum ‘n’ bass inflected Fatboy Slim spin fits in a bit better with the more experimental, block-busting tracks on Stankonia. Plus, Dre and BB’s rapid-fire cadences sound even better at 140 bpm.

5. “Red Velvet”
“I usually turn it off after ‘Humble Mumble’” say a lot of Stankonia’s detractors. And while admittedly, the last third of the album is its weakest, it does feature a couple worthy tracks, like this, one of the most powerful tracks on the album. Here it serves a purpose similar to the title track on Aquemini, giving a necessary pause in the “Hits After Hits After Hits” style of the album’s first third.

6. “Spaghetti Junction”
One of the more old-school OutKast sounding tracks on Stankonia, the closest surviving remnants of the Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik sound. Probably for the best, but this song is still quite good.

7. “Xplosion”
The song more than lives up to the chorus and title. ‘Nuff said.

8. “Cruisin’ in the ATL” (Interlude)
Aquemini always felt like it was divided into three sections with different feels and tempos, so I’ve attempted to do the same with my Stankonia, using a couple of the album’s least intrusive skits to break it up. “Cruisin’ in the ATL” serves this purpose much better than, say, “Kim and Cookie.”

9. “Humble Mumble”
This is probably the most beloved non-single on the original abum, featuring one of the greatest choruses in rap history and some of Dre and ‘Twan’s best attempts at socially conscious lyrics on the verses. Even infamous baby mama and even more infamous bore Erykah Badu sounds great.

10. “Ms. Jackson”
Not quite as great as everyone says, it’s still a classic and totally unique love song—heartbreaking lines like “you say it’s puppy love / We say it’s full grown” and “I pray so much about it / Need some kneepads.” And for such a decidedly off-beat song to go to #1 was pretty impressive, too.

11. “Speedballin’” (from Tomb Raider soundtrack)
Possibly the best of OutKast’s dozen or so contributions to film soundtracks over the years that never ended up making an album, and one of the most exciting things the band’s ever done—it’s almost as successful an integration of the drum n’ bass sound into their formula as Stylus’ #1 single of the decade, “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad).” You really ought to hear this.

12. “?”
Not one of their more well-liked tracks, but I always found this song fairly fascinating. And here, it serves well to end the more experimental section of my Stankonia and transition into the third and final section of the disc.

13. “Neck Ov Da Woods” (from The Wood soundtrack)
When even Mystikal manages sounds good, you know it’s a quality song.

14. “Drinkin’ Again (Interlude)”
The final of the interludes included on my Stankonia. “They say…a compruter…can do my job….better than I can goddamn do it!” Word.

15. “Sole Sunday” (from Any Given Sunday soundtrack)
Technically a Goodie Mob song featuring OutKast, but it was included as a double a-side with “Mrs. Jackson,” so I guess it counts enough as an OutKast song. Like “Neck of the Woods,” a great example of OutKast at their contemplative best, cementing the more downbeat mood of the last third of my Stankonia

16. “Toilet Tisha”
OutKast at their slowest and most devastating, and ode to the suicide of a young (friend? Relative?) of theirs. If you can get over the inappropriately punny title, one of the best of Stankonia’s final tracks. And it slows down the mood to such a laconic pace that the next song…

17. “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)”
…comes from out of nowhere. It was a crime to place this song as anything but the closer on the original Stankonia, for a simple fact that this song can not be followed up. Anything listened to after this track just doesn’t cut it. And what’s more, it’s a perfect mirror to the end of Aquemini, providing the “Chonkyfire” end to “Toilet Tisha”’s “Liberation” epic.

By: Andrew Unterberger
Published on: 2005-03-14
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