Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below
Dre or Big Boi?
In the OutKast double-album brouhaha, wherein the Atlanta duo splits the artistic difference in two individually created discs, this is the million-dollar question: Are ya gonna side with Dre (The Love Below), or Big Boi (Speakerboxxx)? It's not really that simple. For one thing, it seems too sad to take sides; by all accounts, this is probably the end of the duo that brought us genius records like Aquemini and Stankonia. On Speakerboxxx, Big Boi travels on the familiar OutKast planet of bass, and bassy hiphop (though Andre helped write or produce a couple tracks). Judging from The Love Below, you can assume it was Dre that fostered the fissure because, of course, that disc's where shit gets truly freaky.
But first, some history. About a month ago, my record-store-employee friend got an advance promo of "Hey Ya," one of Andre 3000's songs from OutKast's then-unreleased new record. It was poppy; Dre was singing in a breathless, manic twang. It had handclaps. It instructed us to "shake it like a Polaroid picture"--easily one of the best lyrics in recent memory, upstaged only by another line from "Hey Ya": "Don't wanna meet your daddy/just want you in my Caddy/Don't wanna meet your momma/just wanna make you comma." Dre told Entertainment Weekly he wrote the song while listening exclusively to the Ramones, Buzzcocks, and his favorite new band, THE HIVES.
More importantly, the liner notes to the single included a 5000-word diatribe about how hiphop has always been about reinvention, that writing a song so divergent from expectations was THE most hiphop thing Dre could have done. Basically, it's the same argument all hiphop artists use when they're about to drop a record that's either really weirdÉ or really shitty.
But the OutKast hype preceded them. (Question: can you call it "hype" when it's about two of the most genuinely innovative minds in any genre of music?) They were on the cover of Vibe, The Urb, Fader, talking all about their split, their divergent artistic interests. (If you must have the analogy, Dre's the Lennon, Big Boi's the McCartney.)
But rare is the collaborative vision that grows apart, yet still ends up producing so much quality trackage. To a certain extent, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below actually makes good on the whole "taking it to another level" camp--perhaps unsurprisingly, given its creators, yet it's still a pleasant unsurprise. You knew it would happen, as it has so many times before--which makes the double-disc good, but not mind-blowing.
The album's about two concepts, loosely: Social Commentary, and Fucking. Big Boi's on the former; Speakerboxx is a slab of booty-booty beats blowing up subwoofers; it's party music with some serious lyrics about the ghetto, poverty, prison, our fucked-up government. And, of course, more prurient raps are included, exploring such topics as "hot ladies" and OutKast's own hype steez. "GhettoMusick," the Dre-produced lowrider banger, sets the tone for Speaker by presenting a brilliant chorus: "Find a way to get out/without a hit out!É In the place to be/and not to be at the same time." Five or so other potential singles (including the spectacular "Flip Flip Rock"--with Killer Mike and Jay-Z-- and the laidback anthem "Last Call"--with the Kings of Crunk, Lil' Jon & the Eastside Boyz) make Speakerboxx a solid entry into bass-centric hiphop. When Big Boi rhymes the velvety lyric, "But I know y'all wanted that 808/Can you feel that B-A-S-S, bass," you can almost see the new booty revolution being galvanized. However, while heads will dig Speakerboxx, it's not forging any new paths.
But then there's The Love Below--Dre's cinematic, freaky, internal concept record. Blessed with some of the funniest skits ever--"Where Are My Panties?," "God"--Love puts humor up front and is all the better for it. And maybe it's easy or obvious to take hiphop to another level by making hiphop that isn't even hiphop. But Dre makes his case for the aforementioned liner-note diatribe by replacing most of his raps with his fabulously sexy, D'Angelo/Prince croon and 15 funky soul numbers. Hot, humpy tracks like "Spread" ("I don't want to move too fast but/can't resist your sexy ass/just spread for me!") and "She Lives in My Lap" (which positively sweats with slow-jam vox) illustrate the disc's theme of "love vs. staying hard." In one respect, at least, Dre employs visionary tactics by making hybrid-genre music--the clear and obvious destination for pop music in the next few years.
On Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, each disc is immense, yet neither works perfectly. However, while OutKast's vision may be split, the sheer artistic scope of Dre and Big Boi as individuals obliterates all the back-alley bets in the ATL.