Southernplaylisticadillacmuzik will always be regarded as a stellar debut album, a left-field nuclear bomb that landed smack dab in the era of rap purists laud endlessly. The Illmatic, Ready to Die, The Chronic era, in which no rap or pop music critic was quite ready for the drawl-heavy, genre-blending series of cherry bombs Outkast dropped on the industry. The interesting part of it all, however, was that nobody could find real fault in it. Notoriously, a Village Voice critic trashed Southernplayalistic, then went on to be Andre 3000 and Big Boi‘s biggest critics over the next decade, and it fell just a half-mic short of being labeled a classic album in The Source. Still, as is the case with many things, people often reject what they don’t understand, and with guys like Dr. Dre, Nas and Biggie Smalls riding high in the lofty clouds of Hip-Hop’s hierarchy, when Dre and Benjamin took the podium at the 1995 Source Awards to accept their award for “Best Newcomer,” they were met with boos. Boos that would, just 9 years later, turn into massive cheers when these same two gentlemen accepted their Album of the Year award at the 2004 Grammy Awards.
Still, it all began right here. This is what a young Source writer, Rob Marriott, had to say about the album that, in hindsight, helped to define an entire generation of Hip-Hop culture.
The South’s got something to say. -Andre 3000
Production: Organized Noize
The South has always posed a problem for most hip-hoppers. No matter what they accomplish, we’re hard-pressed to give the South its due. Maybe it’s because the all-out assfest that has become southern hip-hop’s defining image is as repelling as it is compelling. As a result, we find reasons not to like the South. If it ain’t afro-pretentious Arrested Development, it’s Kris Kross. If it ain’t Kris Kross, it’s all them country pork-chop eatin’ n****s havin’ fun with their big-legged women. But if you are a victim of this rural/urban southern/northern schizophrenia, then Outkast may be the antidote you seek.
Their music is straight-edged-clanky, like a well-produced street band. With their hands elbow-deep into the funk pot, Outkast successfully combines city-ish rhyme flow with cleaned-up countryisms (imagine young Malcolm X just up from Lansing in his first zoot suit). Opting not to just make hyped-up rhyme lies, they coat their lyrics with that strange Southern phenomenon–honesty. And while their rhyme style may swing a little too close to Hiero for my comfort, what really makes this album so listenable is that, even with all the player/pimp talk, truthfulness reigns. Jousting to see who can write the best rhyme about not graduating (Dre: I never smelled the aroma of a diploma. C-Low: I don’t recall/Ever graduating at all/I guess I’m just a disappointment to y’all), Outkast stay real. From SAT scores (“D.E.E.P.”) to the lure of leaving school (“Call of the Wild”) Dre, Big Boi and crew deal strictly with those pre-adult crossroads that are at once timely and timeless. In “Git Up, Git Out” (the rap even your mama would love), C-Low swings his voice smackdab between momma and manchild, gracefully playing both sides of that mythic conversation.
The jewel of the album is the slit-eyed cynic’s sigh, “Crumblin’ Erb,” a slanky cathartic groove (naw, fuck it, anthem) for anyone who has ever had that hapless feeling while watching your peoples try extinction on for size. Intro’d by Big Red who warns n****s to wake up to the reality of a cracker-spawned apocalypse (“take back your existence or die like a punk”), the intensely poetic chorus says it all: There’s only so much time left in this crazy world/I’m just crumblin’ erb/Niggas killin’ n****s, they don’t understand (it’s the master plan), I’m just crumblin’ erb. Justified hedonism? Whatever it is, the shit’s lovely. Never in a rush, the album creeps up on you, lets you lay off the analysis and lyrical niggling just long enough foryou to maybe, y’know, chill for a half-a-sec.
Showin’ up all the bastard children of P-funk, the Parliamaent/Outkast relation is far more organic. With songs like “Player’s Ball,” “Claimin’ True” and the rhymeless, six-and-a-half minute “Funky Ride,” CAddilacmuzik reveals a deeper understanding of the funk. The Outkast sound doesn’t just ride atop the funk, it aspires to it.