These days, the word “classic” is thrown around as loosely as a Nerf ball at a picnic. However, we at TRU consider classics to be something which stand the test of time and have a resounding influence on their respective fields. But how do albums considered classics sound to the ears of TRU’s young blood? Aaron J. McKrell was born in 1990 and we’ve convinced him to turn his scope on a classic from the rich history of hip-hop to view it through a contemporary lens in a weekly series we call…
Within the confines of this series, 1996 has proven to be a great year in hip-hop. Next up is another dope album, Outkast’s ATLiens. Strap yourselves in as we take a ride with “Two Dope Boyz in a Cadillac.”
Where Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik found Dre and Big Boi spending a good amount of time filling their bodies with coke, rum and endo, the duo’s sophomore album is wiser and more mature. Dre kicks knowledge about fast girls (“Jazzy Belle”), the potential evils of the pursuit of profit (“Mainstream”) and the changes fame brings (“Elevators”). Sometimes, Dre comes off as agitated and even jaded beyond his years. Fortunately, Big Boi balances the mood out with funky songs like “Wailin’” and the title track.
This is ’96, and Dre and Big Boi are fighting for respect as southern rappers. However, instead of conforming to East Coast or West Coast styles, they stand their ground and are unapologetically southern. They let their lyrical skills and good ear for chilled-out and spacy beats do the talking on “Two Dope Boyz in a Cadillac” and “ATLiens.” Even when they pay tribute to old school hip-hop on the scratch-happy “Wheelz of Steel,” they do so in southern fashion.
While Dre is the superior lyricist, Big Boi comes with true charisma. The result is a strong duo, which doesn’t hide from its differences, but rather melds them into a quality musical showcase. The best example of their duality is “Ova Da Woods,” on which Big Boi spits pimp-style rhymes while Dre kicks a warning about record label pimps.
The production here is less colorful than on Outkast’s debut, which is fitting given the more reserved topics on ATLiens. The album shows that Outkast is unafraid to experiment, and the result is a mix of a southern twang and futuristic funk. For traditional ATL heads, they included “Decatur Psalm,” a cooled-out crime joint.
The album’s opus is “13th Floor/Growing Old,” on which Big Rube speaks deep on life. His words, “Stand with us or don’t look back upon it. Just face this mind-state. Otherwise Babylon (babble on),” are a precursor to Dre’s and Big Boi’s call for rappers to be true to themselves and not sell out for cash. The hook is sad and beautiful, and the piano keys are mature and elegantly melancholy. The song is an absolute masterpiece.
There are few missteps on this album, and they hardly matter. While I wasn’t blown away by ATLiens, it is a strong and focused effort by two of the south’s finest. In today’s southern rap culture, where candy-painted and half-naked video dancers are the main focus, the science of ATLiens is needed more than ever. As it’s needed, it remains relevant. Andre 3000 and Big Boi may never record an album together again, but this album remains proof of their remarkable chemistry.
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