Review Summary: Have you ever been to Stankonia? It's only the place from which all funky things come. Located at the center of the earth, seven light years below sea level, it's home to Big Boi and Andre 3000. And they want to take you on one funky ass ride.
George Clinton once said, "Free your mind and your ass will follow." It seems as if Outkast took that to heart when they made Stankonia, the freshest, cleanest, and funkiest album of the 2000’s. It’s incredibly rare to find a hip-hop album with such variety in subject matter, musical genre, and even social commentary that still maintains a coherent identity throughout.
From the very beginning Stankonia establishes itself as an album that would pay homage to the psychedelic funk music of the ‘70’s. This type of acid trip music never occurred in hip hop before, and hasn’t since. Outside of songs that deal with marijuana, most of hip hop “***’s with your ears”, as Eazy-E would say, with drums and a heavy base, not with your mind with synthesizers and techno keyboard percussion.
The opening introduces us to Stankonia, the place from which all funky things come. With Indian Tablas and the spaced out, at times irrational lyrics, we are instantly spaced out and relaxed, readying ourselves for a topsy- turvy classic acid trip.
Then we hear the loud yell of “BREAK” (an occurring theme throughout the album) and we instantly go into “Gasoline Dreams”, a politically charged, heavy metal style guitar filled blast attack on the state of the “American Dream”. Coming off the Lewinski scandal of 1998 and bombings in Sudan and Yugoslavia, the American people had ample reason to be upset with incumbent President Clinton, who famously was almost the first president to be impeached.
“Don't everybody like the smell of gasoline
Well burn mother***a burn American Dream
Don't everybody like the taste of Apple Pie
We'll snap for your slice of life I'm tellin' ya why
I hear that Mother Nature’s now on birth control
The coldest pimp be looking for somebody to hold
The highway up to Heaven got a crook on the toll
Youth full of fire ain't got nowhere to go nowhere to go”
I interpret the chorus as an attack on America’s constant invasion of foreign matters (“Don’t everybody like the taste of apple pie?”) while here at home we haven’t put enough attention on the youth of America, and have left them fewer options to succeed. It is one of several Political tracks, the most famous of which was the hit single “B.O.B” (bombs over Baghdad). With one of the fastest flows you will ever here, the high tempo attack on the music industry only uses the 1998 four day campaign against Iraq as a metaphor for going all in, yet it is still quite a powerful one that inspires very interesting imagery. Just hearing the choir chime in with “Bomb’s over Baghdad!” today makes us think of all that has happened in Iraq since the 2000 release of Stankonia, which is why the song makes Outkast look as though they are modern day oracles.
Yet what makes Stankonia great is that it is not purely a political album. It still has the meat and potatoes of hip-hop: money, hoes, cars and clothes. Big Boi primarily chimes in with the hard hitting stuff (such as on “So Fresh, So Clean” and “Gangsta ***”) while Andre uses songs such as the closing “Stanklove” to spike the raw sexual energy for the listener. It is songs like “Stanklove” that really utilize the funk style sound that exists on most every track on the album. The variance in volume, spacing, and synthesizing of the sounds on the majority of tracks maintains the albums stance as paying homage to classic funk groups (the album art is similar to that of Sly & the Family Stone's "There's a Riot Goin' On".)
When it comes to experimental albums, Stankonia takes the cake. Never before nor since has there been a hip hop album so bold in trying to branch out into several genres while maintaining a uniform identity throughout. When Little Wayne tried rock with “Rebirth”, it was an utter disaster. And Kanye West’s “pop debut” with "808’s and Heartbreak" was, in layman’s terms, a piece of ***. But Stankonia wasn’t. In fact, it is possibly the best hip hop album of the last fifteen years, and even more so possibly one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. George Clinton once said “We almost caved the roof in.” Outkast did the same thing, except with the entire hip hop industry. Thanks, Big Boi and Andre 3000, for putting the “stank” back on earth’s surface.