Review Summary: One of rap/hip-hops most timeless classics..still sounding as fresh today as it did 14 years ago..
Aquemini was released in 1998. The late 90's were a very transitional year for rap/hip-hop. It was eerily similar to revolution in rock in the early 90's. The parallels were uncanny. The huge artists started selling less and less and a bunch of new fresh faces began to take the limelight and changed every from their image to the music. Outkast didn't quite instigate the changes as much as they delivered rap's "Nevermind" so to speak.
The album they put out spoke volumes as to where rap would be heading into the new millennium yet created a game-changing album so prolific that it has never been matched, except possibly by themselves with their follow-up Stankonia. There is much debate about which album is better, with Stankonia usually topping Aquemini. However, from a historical perspective, this album truly creates a turning point within the genre.
The music missing here is as is important as the music on here. The same tedious drum loops employed by such seminal artists as Cypress Hill, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, are almost non-existent. The repetitive samples and lackluster bass-lines are gone. Here we a complete re-imagining of what rap COULD be with some honest lyrics, some real musicians mixed with the synthetic, and the colorful southern characters created by Andre 3000 and Big Boi.
This album is 16 tracks deep and I am not going to dissect each one, however, it would be pertinent to at least point out what they accomplished within these songs. 'Rosa Parks' plays to the more commercial side of the hat, with an incredibly catchy hook, embellished by a soft groove on the drums and a funky guitar riff. They immediately follow-up that song with the harder 'Skew It on the Bar-B' employing a more driving drum beat with spit-fire rapping. In terms of music, the rest of the album takes this approach, with them rarely repeating themselves musically from one song to the next.
Lyrically almost every single song on here has something to offer, whether it is the off-beat insights in 'Synthesizer' to the almost depressing narrative offered up in 'Da Art of Storytellin' Part 1'. They really let loose with the final cut, 'Chonkyfire', which has a driving synth mixed with a meandering wah guitar playing through the entire track. The lyrics are almost nonsensical but show Outkast's capabilities of creating an almost anthem type atmosphere within a rap song.
Having two extremely talented rappers, each with their own unique vocal style and lyrical perspective definitely helps keep the music fresh with a wide variety of vocal stylings throughout the songs. They wear their southern culture on their sleeve, but it never gets tedious and at the time, was actually refreshing compared to the tired musings of Compton, LA, and New York that seemed to dominate most rappers vocabulary. The talent that the duo share also never let the guest artists outshine them, if anything, they leave you ready for them to come back in on the next verse or chorus.
Listening to this album from beginning to end, one cannot help but appreciate the thought and effort put into each song. It is truly a remarkable feat that the songs don't being to start sounding repetitive or stale half-way through. This may be the albums only downfall. There is so much to soak in, musically speaking, that there may be something that doesn't sit right with you in one song, but thankfully, you move onto the next and you are treated to something entirely different.
The biggest factor in all of this is the use of employing live musicians in the music along with the standard DJ-styling of rap at the time. It feels like you are listening to a band and not simply a rap album with one common denominator, 'xyz' artist. There is nothing quite like this album in the history of rap music and no will there ever be. Even Outkast themselves have been searching for that quality that set this apart in their future albums but never have quite been able to recapture the magic that they put forth on Aquemini.