Outkasts third album "Aquemini" (the name being a combination of Andre and Big Boi's star signs) played a major part in taking Outkast to mainsteam popularity (the bigger leap would be made on "Stankonia" and then the Diamond selling "Speakerbox/Love below"). One of the bigger leaps however was in content, moving from "ATLiens" image of "genies" and "pimps", "Aquemini" took a more serious approach to issues facing the US black community, morality and the state of the world. In an appropiate opener on the album "return of the 'G'" from the get-go Andre 3000 declares his thoughts on his critics:"Whats the deal with Andre/is he on coke'/is he on drugs is he gay..../im feelin better than ever whats the matter with you"". It seems even more of a suprise that he should declare his disgust with "gangsta's" in the rap game and people who claim to be "gospel rappin", in which the threat of alienating many of his peers in the business and fans of Outkasts earlier work seems likely. The lyrics are blatant enough when he states:
Return of the gangsta thanks ta'
them niggas who got them kids
who got enough to buy an ounce
but not enough to bounce them kids to the zoo
or to the park so they grow up in the dark never
seein' light so they end up being like yo' sorry ass
robbin' niggas in broad ass daylight get down
This is a large part of what stands this album apart from many other rap albums, and part of why it has survived over other comparitavely forgotten rap albums of 1998, not only in its lyrics but in its musical direction too. Outkast, having thier own band layer many of the songs with REAL instruments, guitar ("Chonkyfire","Rosa Parks") trumpet ("Spottieottiedogaliscious") and piano ("Liberation") among others. The result is an album that makes the genre feel refreshing, experimental and similarly as fun and carefree as it was with the likes of De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest and other such pioneers who weren't as constricted as they are now with ideas as to what rap "should" sound like. One of the standout tracks "Rosa Parks" which earned Outkast a grammy is a case in point. Irresistably funky with a singalong chorus and greatly textured in its production. The near entire tracklisting of the album is very consistant in quality and also range, with more of an old school approach on tracks like "Skew It On The Bar-B" featuring guest Raekewon,bizarre slow jazzy number "Aquemini" to psuedo G-funk with a southern twist of "west Savannah". Even the longer 7-8 minute tracks of "spottieottiegogaliscious" and "Liberation" don't drag on, setting a deep atmosphere and featuring solid intrumentation. Aqueminis more organic and textured sound also makes it more enjoyable with later listens, as theres plenty to get lost in. One criticism I will give is the skits in between songs at the end of each track, they slow the album down a lot and theres too many of them.
Lyrically both Andre 3000 and Big Boi stand the album in good stead, both on top form and Andre in particular blending ideas that are always relevant with complex metaphors:
It's lookin' bad need some hope
like the words maybe, if, or probably more than a hobby
when my turntables get wobbly they don't fall
I'm sorry y'all I often drift I'm talkin' gift
so when it comes you never look the horse inside it's grill
of course you know I feel like the bearer of bad news
Don't want to be it but it's needed so what have you
Its also very refreshing to see a rap group deal with issues not normally associated with the genre, criticism of Gangsta rap, global warming, poverty, and rising above what your peers think they know about you, a lot of the remarks focused on the black community. However I am not black, therefore it is never going to be something I will fully understand,nor do I intend to look down on the problems that face it in certain areas of the US as there are difficult historical reasons for it. But I can say that Outkasts handling of these issues is comendable and that they are constructive in their criticism. It is one of those few albums of mainstream of rap that achieves an almost perfect balance of content and quality tunes.Overall an excellent album!