OutKast released Stankonia on October 31st, 2000, and yet it was a defining record of the 21st century only 10 months into its infancy.
Big Boi and André 3000 considered what a hip-hop album could do and restructured its boundaries, expanding it as they pleased. It was the follow-up to their mellow 1998 album Aquemini, and the duo indulged in an expanded palette, exploring funk, rave, psychedelia, and gospel.
It was a new millennium and OutKast upped the tempo accordingly. The tracks were more energetic, freaky, and harder-hitting.
Stankonia was turn-of-the-century America considered through Southern eyes, the words bold and confrontational. Lyrically, OutKast touched upon parenthood (‘Ms. Jackson’), sexuality, misogyny (‘Toilet Tisha’, showcasing a defter consideration of women than was usual in the hip-hop landscape) , and politics.
It’s always been the duality of OutKast, the febrile tension at their work’s heart, that has captivated. Big Boi and André 3000 had their own thing going on, their own sonic ideals. Often Big Boi would record alone in the studio, with André working from home. The latter grew weary of rapping , favouring a more melodic delivery that would define Stankonia’s style.
Somehow they made it work. The album yielded so many true masterpieces. ‘B.O.B.’ (Bombs Over Baghdad) was pure adrenaline, a guttural rap blast backed by pounding bass and threading electric guitars. Perhaps it should have been THE song from Stankonia but commercial success was not forthcoming (it did become a rallying cry during the Iraq War a few years later).
The experimental ‘Snappin’ & Trappin” introduced Killer Mike to a wider audience, and for that alone we should be grateful. The rapper would go on to form Run the Jewels with producer El-P, perhaps the finest hip-hop duo since OutKast themselves (2020’s RTJ4 is one of the great protest records of our time).
So ‘Fresh, So Clean’ was the third and final single, a victory lap for the pair. It was sample and reference-heavy, all unfolding over a slinking and smooth beat.
It was ‘Ms. Jackson’ that would be the breakout single though, arguably the duo’s most treasured track in the public lexicon (‘Hey Ya!’ overstayed its welcome through overkill by radio play). A minimal and introspective piece that could have flown under the radar suddenly became an unlikely mammoth hit, reaching the number one spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (replacing Shaggy’s interminable ‘It Wasn’t Me’, gratefully).
It was tender and contemplative, the duo reflecting upon their dalliances in love and relationships: “Me and your daughter got a special thing going on/You say it’s puppy love, we say it’s full grown/Hope that we feel this, feel this way forever/You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather, Ms. Jackson,” André memorably sang.
The likes of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork were effusive in their praise, naming Stankonia amongst the greatest albums of the 2000’s. At the Grammy Awards however, it was beaten out to Album of the Year by the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a heinous musical crime on the level of Macklemore winning Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar in 2014.
To mark the album’s 20th anniversary, a deluxe edition was released on Friday, October 30th. It features previously unreleased remixes by Cutmaster Swift, Zack de la Rocha, and Beat Bullies. Alongside the new remixes are a few a cappella tracks as well. Listen below and remember just how good it really was.