For an idea of where Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s heads were at after their first album, look no further than the infamous 1995 Source Awards. The massive New York crowd booed Outkast as the duo took home the Best New Rap Group award. But they didn’t go down without a fight, with Andre giving one historical address: “The South got something to say.” Soon the two returned to the Dungeon — their home base and the meeting place of their production team Organized Noize — and got to work on their second album, ATLiens. Naturally, the reality inhabited by Big Boi and Andre in their music turns several shades darker. After such an ego-crushing rejection from New York, it’s no surprise to find the two in a much more cynical mood. While their debut had the friendly warmth of a “Welcome to Atlanta” postcard, the follow-up kept their homes locked shut to outsiders. The beats sound dim, steely and insular, like the rappers were plotting deep underground and away from the public eye. Soul samples are warped into surreal sounds, and party anthems sound disheartened: Big Boi deadpans the classic “throw your hands in the air” chant along with a robotic backing vocal on the title track. And their beloved Southern ride, the Cadillac Seville, is no longer a fixture of block parties or giddy get-togethers as it was in “Player’s Ball.” Instead it’s a vehicle to air out frustrations, often with the two driving in solitude.
While their debut had the friendly warmth of a “Welcome to Atlanta” postcard, the follow-up kept their homes locked shut to outsiders.
Big Boi and Andre’s verses reflect the cynicism in ATLiens as the two double the intricacy and density of their loose, laid-back rap style. Delivered through their thick Atlanta accents, their complex verses offer no easy gateway for casual onlookers to access. But buried in their maze-like writing lies a disillusioned perspective on life after their initial success. Not only do they struggle meeting their own dues (“And I’m sitting at the end of the month, I just made it,” Big Boi wheezes on “ATLiens”), the Atlanta heroes carry the burden of bringing home the wealth for their city. The place they once called home now seems like a grim environment: so-called supporters become leeches, friends exploit their fame, and most heavily denounced of all on ATLiens are the ones who cut the check. “Record companies act like pimps/Getting paid from what we made when we’re the ones who fly like blimps,” Andre preaches in “Ova da Wudz,” while the chorus for “Mainstream” goes “Floating face down in the mainstream.” No obvious hits are found on this album either, nor anything on trend for its time. The decision stands out as a statement: the record label had to push the music on Outkast’s terms, not the other way around. Their frustration fueled their drive to create music their enemies could not deny; “Found a way to channel my anger, now to embark,” Andre raps in “ATLiens.” In retrospect, the blowback from their debut’s success actually catalyzed the strength of its sequel: With ATLiens, Big Boi and Andre returned to the rap game with a vengeance.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.