Think of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, the two-hours-and-counting new double-discer from OutKast cutups Big Boi and André 3000, as a long, booty-shaking party followed by an even longer, anything-goesand I do mean anythingafterparty. You know how those nights work: At first, you just want to get loose at a club. Then the vibe shifts, and you just want to get laid at that getting-weirder group-house gathering. And then, right around sunrise, you’re somehow trying to get your pants back from that androgynous dwarf in the fright wig. Yep, it’s that good.
Just don’t try to tackle this epically outrageous effort from the Hotlanta duo as you would a regular album. ‘Cause it’s notnot even close. You need to pace yourself, or the whole thing’s just gonna make you dizzy. Split into two long “solo” projects that work as one mutha of a listening experience, this fusion of rap, rock, jazz, swing, New Wave, and surfplus some faaar-out-there spoken-word interludes and an acid-trance instrumental of “My Favorite Things”makes Stankonia, the greezy, funky 2000 disc many consider one of hiphop’s all-time grooviest, sound positively P. Diddy.
There’s been significant hullabaloo about why Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and André “3000” Benjamin decided to make their own albums. Are they angry at each other? Are they splitting? They sure looked chummyand damn stylish in their bowler hats and ghetto-fab plaid dudsat the MTV Video Music Awards last month, and whatever the reason really was, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below doesn’t let on. The only thing that listening to this curious and curiouser collection makes clear is the roles each OutKaster has played within the group. Big Boi, it turns out, is the streetwise Sly Stoned, a beat maniac who only wants to make you move with his bottomless satchel of funky tricks. And Dre, well, he’s the soul-jazz lunatic, a blend of Maurice Chevalier and Morris Day whose fave fantasy apparently involves Ric Ocasek, Prince, and Elvis getting sudsy in a champagne-glass hot tub.
It’s a wonder these guys have stayed together for this long. Even the liner notes show them as severely night and day. On the Speakerboxxx pages, check out the snaps of Big Boi: in a leather jacket gumming a blunt, in a tracksuit sprawled out in front of his infamous living-room stripper’s pole. He even has an ad for a pit-bull breeder. On The Love Below flip side, there’s Dre: posing Sunday-picnic-style with a dimpled make-believe family, thengood lordmade up as a high-‘Fro’d centaur surrounded by nekkid celestial bodies. He has an ad for his psychedelic artwork. (A “limited edition” of Lady Lava is a bargain at $65.)
Although Big Boi and Dre occasionally pop up on each other’s discswriting, singing, or producingthese are most definitely individual efforts. And I hate to say it, but the Dirty Southerners are just as inventive on their own. Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx, which clocks in at 56:26, will no doubt get more spins on the radio, if only for the massive buffet of ass-in-motion beats and dreamy hooks he cooks up. He’s more down-to-earth than his pal, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less encyclopedic.
First single “Ghetto Musick” (“You ought to be detained by the hiphop sheriff/Locked up, no possibility of getting out”) is a technotic blur of tongue-twisted bragging rights that offers random stop-everything samples of Patti LaBelle’s “Love, Need & Want You.” The pimp-stroll “Bowtie” (“Crocodile on my feet/Fox fur on my back/Bowtie ’round my neck/That’s why they call me the gangsta mack”) gets its sidewalkin’ momentum from slinky horn charts and a P-Funk strut. And “The Way You Move” is a lovey-dovey bit of hiphopped Earth, Wind & Firealthough I’m fairly certain Philip Bailey would never describe a woman’s “trunk” as “two midgets in the backseat wrestlin’.”
As opposed to Dre, who calls on such oddballs as actress Rosario Dawson to assist with his mad mélange, Big Boi hosts an A-list of rap star power, most notably Jay-Z (flowing the killer hook on the sinister “Flip Flop Rock”) and Ludacris (on the swaggering rhyme-off “Tomb of the Boom”). He can also get pretty damn angry: With the exception of “Reset”a gentle, hiphop promise that he’ll be a good father if not the best romantic companionthe second half of Speakerboxxx becomes increasingly violent, the beats turned down and the inventive bad-boy boasting turned way up. It’s a rather jarring, if still captivating, switch from the upbeat stuff that precedes itbut it’s not nearly as jarring as that pull-ya-pants-down freakfest of The Love Below, which, at a robust 78:33, features such boot-knockin’ numbers as “Spread,” “She Lives in My Lap,” and “Take Off Your Cool.” Dre, who comes across like a cross between Frank Sinatra and Pepé Le Pewor is it Terence Trent D’arby and Ron Jeremy?doesn’t have time for violence; he’s too busy pitching woo.
“Everybody needs someone to rub their shoulders, scratch their dandruff/And everybody needs to quit actin’ hard and shit,” he scats on the cocktail-smarmy opener, “Love Hater,” which sounds like a bar brawl between Dave Brubeck and Dean Martin. “Happy Valentine’s Day” (where “Every day the 14th!”) is a lot easier to describe: Sign ‘O’ the Times-era Prince on peyote. Over a classic-R&B guitar riff, a grunt-and-grind beat, and the requisite hand claps, the self-styled Cupid Valentino and his flock of angels harmonize, “Ya won’t believe in me but you would fancy leprechauns or ground hogs/No thank you, Easter Bunny!” For the manically macho “Spread””We’ll do things backwardly, forwardly, horizontally”Dre brings back Stankonia’s “B.O.B.” marching-band beat, but that’s one of the few times he comes even close to sounding remotely OutKast-y.
Wackjob or not, Dre is to thank for this two-headed endeavor’s two best tunes. “Roses,” which slams a snooty someone who won’t give it up to Mr. 3000, pays homage to Cameo with its ’80s keyboard sound and “Word Up” vocal delivery, and has a groovin’ catch-ya chorus that doesn’t make a lick of sense but is fun to sing regardless: “I know you’d like to think your shit don’t stank/But lean a little bit closer/See that roses really smell like boo-boo.” And “Hey Ya!”possibly the most inspired bit of mix-and-match either of these guys has ever musteredhas a nerdy Candy-O synth, a silly Clambake beat, and Prince-ly Dre, in a delirious call-and-response finish, entreating “all you Beyoncés and Lucy Lius” to “shake it like a Polaroid picture.”
If there’s a problem with Speakerboxxx/A Love Below, it’s not that it’s too longremarkably, the quality ranges from great to goodbut that it’s too damn funny. Check that long list of Big Boi and Dre’s influences and you’ll no doubt find Eddie Murphy right there between the Ramones and Nat King Cole. There are jokes galore, both in and out of songs. Before the crotch-grabbing thug anthem “Last Call,” Big Boi brings his toddler son to the mike, where the li’l guy warbles a bit from the OutKast hit “The Whole World”and then punctuates it with a so-cute “mudderfucker.” Yeah, it’s questionable parenting, but you’ll laugh anyway. Dre’s best skit involves a harp-fluttery conversation with a female God whom he’s hitting up for love help (“At this point, I’m not being picky. She doesn’t even have to have a big ol’ ass. Just something well-proportioned to her body”). That said, even the best comedy albums get tired after a while, and you gotta wonder how these all of these gags are going to hold up.
But that’s just a quibble. When all is said and done29 songs, 135 minutes, nary a dead spot in the mixyou’ll be a little winded from shaking ya tailfeather and a lot dizzy from all those delirious genre shifts. But you and your new dwarf friend will have to admit that Speakerboxxx/A Love Below makes for one night you’ll never regret. CP