For the Greatest American Band debate today, I'm nominating Outkast.
Outkast is probably my second favorite rap group, behind A Tribe Called Quest. For those of you out there complaining that two people don't make a group, two or more is the definition of a group. You need at least two people to form a group, and Outkast found two of the coolest, most innovative rappers and musicians. Outkast started in 1992 in Atlanta, Georgia. Andre 3000 and Big Boi met each other at a mall, and their connection was immediate. They both like the same kind of music, and had grown up in the same type of households. Little did they, or any of us for that matter, know that their music would cross generations, have tons of hits, win a shitload of awards and become classic. They were just two young dudes that liked to rap.
As I said before, they formed Outkast in 1992, but they didn't put out their first album until 1994. In 1994 they put out "Southernplayalisticaddilacmuzik". Say that three times fast. This is a phenomenal debut. The songs on this record allowed both Andre 3000 and Big Boi to shine. You could hear, early on, that they both had very unique, almost unheard of styles of rapping. Take a song like "Players Ball" off this album. In this song, you can hear Andre 3000's love for funk come through not only in his rapping, but also in the music put to the verses. "Players Ball" also gave us the hard, almost gangster style of rap from Big Boi. He had a much gruffer flow, but paired together with Andre 3000's smooth delivery, it was perfect. Another great song on this album is the self titled "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik". This song is an homage to funky, dirty rap music. The chorus is awesome and both members are outstanding rapping on this song. "Southernplayalisticadilacmuzik" is the gateway to how groovy, funky and nasty, in a good way, that Outkast would eventually become. The song "Hootie Hoo" off this record is Big Boi at his absolute best. This is a straight forward rap song, none of the funkiness is needed from Andre 3000, and Big Boi demolishes this song. I feel that Big Boi was at his absolute best on this album. That's not to take anything away from him on subsequent records, he's great all the way through, but he's best on "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik".
In 1996 Outkast released their second album, "ATLiens" to critical acclaim. The fans love this album too. One of their biggest hits is on this album, "Elevators (Me and You)". This song is absolutely incredible. Big Boi and Andre 3000 each do their own thing to perfection, and the chorus "me and you, your momma and your cousin too, rolling down the strip on fours, coming back with the Cadillac doors" is so cool and so memorable. This song was my jam in middle school. You also get "Jazzy Belles" and "Wheelz of Steel" on this record. "Jazzy Belles" is when Andre 3000 kind of took a step forward and became the "leader" of Outkast. This song is all him, written and mostly performed by only him and it's fantastic. "Wheelz of Steel" is more in Big Boi's wheelhouse. It's another straight ahead rap song that Big Boi crushed. You could see early on that each had their own style, but they knew how to blend together really well.
In 1998 we got, what I consider, to be the first truly great Outkast album, "Aquemini". The songs are great on this record, but I want to take a second to talk about the album artwork. This is one of the coolest covers to an album that I've ever seen. It's like they painted a picture of the two of them in the gaudiest, most ridiculous outfits, but only a band like Outkast could've pulled it off. Andre 3000 is shirtless, wearing a turban on his head, and Big Boi is literally dressed like a pimp, in a green three piece suit, top offed with a feather in his hat. Now the songs. On "Aquemini", we got the classic, "Rosa Parks". This song is so awesome. The video was cuckoo bananas, but the song is great and the chorus is wonderful. Say what you will about Outkast, those guys can write a catchy hook. You all know it, "ah nah, hush that fuss, everybody move to the back of the bus". It's so, so cool on so many levels. Rosa Parks was so offended by the language in this song that she sued Outkast, but they settled out of court because they explained to her that the song was an homage to her courage. We also got a song more in Big Boi's tone with "Skew It on the Bar B". It's another run of the mill rap song made ten thousand times better by Outkast. This song also has another great chorus. The song "Spottieopiedopealicious" off this record is where my love for Outkast became real to me. This is the funkiest rap song I've ever heard. It's got great, funky backing music and it's a story, not a song. This song showed me a completely new style of rap that I didn't think existed. I love this song and any time it comes on my iPod, I turn the radio up.
Outkast next album is the greatest album of their illustrious career. In 2000 they put out "Stankonia". This was my jam in high school. When this record came out, it was all I listened to on my way to and from school for almost a year straight. Every song on this record is a classic. We all know the hits, "So Fresh, So Clean", "B.O.B" and "Ms. Jackson". These songs are great. "So Fresh, So Clean" became the anthem for me and the entire football team. Another great chorus, that I still sing to this day, and both Big Boi and Andre 3000 do their thing on this track. The guy that sings the chorus sounds like a 21st century Barry White. This song is incredible. "B.O.B" is like a great rock song. There's heavy guitar and both members are rapping so fast, I had to look up what they were saying. This is a great song to listen to while working out, or if you need to be pumped up for something. "Ms. Jackson" may be Outkast's most recognizable single. Everybody knows the chorus and when Andre says, "wooooooo, I AM FOR REAL", everyone sings along with him. This song has their best chorus of any song they've ever written. While all three of these are classics, I really enjoy the first track on the album, "Gasoline". This is another rap song that has the heavy guitar and faster rapping on it. It's like a rock and roll song, but better because of the way Outkast performs it. "Stankonia" is on the Mount Rushmore of albums for me.
With rumors swirling after the release of "Stankonia" that the band was breaking up, they put out a double album in 2003 that allowed the two of them to put out solo records, but release it under the name Outkast. "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" was an excellent experiment by Outkast. I will admit, I've only listened to "Speakerboxxx", Big Boi's "solo" album, maybe three times all the way through. It isn't that good in my opinion, and I feel like Big Boi only did it as a favor to Andre 3000. But, "The Love Below" is an absolute masterpiece. Songs like "Prototype", "Vibrate", "Roses" and the mega hit, "Hey Ya" are classics. "Prototype" has Andre 3000 playing an electric guitar and singing a love song. "Vibrate" is an experimental hip hop song that I guarantee inspired Flying Lotus to do music. "Roses" is a collaboration with Andre and Big Boi. Very good chorus and very good vocals. The video for this song is cool too. And of course we got "Hey Ya" off this record. If you don't know this song, you've been living under a rock for the past decade. "The Love Below" proved to me and the rest of the world that Andre 3000 was the genius that Big Boi needed when Outkast started and that Andre 3000 is extremely talented.
After this record, each member went their own way. Big Boi acted a bit, but he has kept to himself for the most part. Andre 3000 is a bona fide star now. They did make another album, the soundtrack to their movie "Idlewild". This soundtrack is fine, but it's nothing compared to their previous work. The movie is okay as well, but not great. Outkast has won several grammys and many, many other awards. They each are able to do their own things now and do them successfully. They had a great run as a band and released some of the best rap music to date. For these and many other reasons, Outkast belongs in this conversation. I will be forever indebted to them for introducing me to funky rap music and "dirty south" rap music. I love Outkast and I hope the rumors of a reunion tour are true. They got back together in 2014 and performed some shows, but I want then to do a new album and tour the country. One can only hope.
Thanks Outkast, thank you for all the great music.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the othert host of the X Millennial Man podcast. He has many other rap artists to nominate, but is curious about your Greatest American Band. Join the debate, then follow Ty on twitter @tykulik.