|Studio album by OutKast|
|Released||September 29, 1998|
1993 (West Savannah)
|Producer||Babyface (exec.), Mr. DJ, Organized Noize, Outkast|
|Singles from Aquemini|
Aquemini is the third studio album by American hip hop duo Outkast, released on September 29, 1998 through LaFace Records. The title is a portmanteau of the two performers' Zodiac signs: Aquarius (Big Boi) and Gemini (André 3000).
The album was certified platinum in November 1998, only two months after its release, and was certified double platinum on July 2, 1999 by the Recording Industry Association of America. Aquemini peaked at number two on both the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Four of the album's tracks had already or would later become singles, although some were limited (promotional) releases and not available commercially. It was ranked as number 500 in the book version of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Background and recording
In 1994, the American hip hop duo OutKast released their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, which was recorded when members Big Boi and André 3000 were eighteen years old. Bolstered by the success of the single "Player's Ball", the record established OutKast as prominent figures in the Southern hip hop scene. After the album was certified platinum, LaFace Records gave OutKast more creative control and advanced money for their 1996 follow-up album ATLiens. On ATLiens, André 3000 and Big Boi abandoned the "hard-partying playa characters" of their debut album in favor of more spacey, futuristic personas, and produced many of the songs on their own for the first time. Critics praised the group's maturing musical style on the record, which debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and sold nearly 350,000 copies in its first two weeks of release. The single "Elevators (Me & You)" reached number 12 and spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The group originally planned to create a film in conjunction with Aquemini, completing a script three months before the release of the record. Outkast met with MTV for the project, who, despite liking the idea for the film, hoped to instead buy the project and cast Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes instead, feeling the latter two had more "star power." Although the duo recalls being "heartbroken" at the time, André 3000 and Big Boi continued to work on ideas for a collaborative film, eventually resulting in the 2006 musical Idlewild starring the group. David Browne of The New York Times viewed the album art as an homage to blaxploitation films of the 1970s.
Due to Outkast's newfound commercial success and higher budget for the album, the group enjoyed a more relaxed schedule and "could really just live" at the studio. The duo and studio musicians "camped out" in the studio for weeks straight, with Big Boi noting, "It usually takes us two to three years to make a record because we take our time; we ain’t giving you that fast food, trying to meet a deadline. It ain’t done until it’s done sonically." For Aquemini, the duo utilized live instrumentation and improvisation, bringing a baby grand piano into the studio and hiring musicians who played "everything from stoner funk to prog rock". Producer Neal H. Pogue recalled, "That was the beauty of making all those records - having musicians come in and out. It was almost like a Motown, that's what we had. Or like a Stax Records thing. That's what I loved about it. It brought back that whole feeling of making records. It was organic." For the record, Big Boi undertook the responsibility of crafting the songs' hooks, while André 3000 involved himself with the album's production. André 3000 and producer Mr. DJ learned about beat creation through observing the members of Organized Noize at work, with Mr. DJ observing that despite André 3000's normally frugal lifestyle, his enthusiasm for production led him to splurge on costly recording equipment. At one point, André 3000 attempted singing and modifying his voice with pitch-correction equipment, but Big Boi warned him that this would alienate the group's urban audience.
The album is vaguely futuristic, synthesizer-drenched and punctuated with anthemic choruses and bluesy beats. Lyrically, much of Aquemini features introspection about the desolation of the human condition. Overarching themes addressed on the record include drug addiction, precarious relationships, and freedom from self-inflicted struggles. In contrast to much of hip hop music in the late 1990s, OutKast did not tone down the regional qualities, like the harmonica break on "Rosa Parks" and distinctive Atlanta slang and diction throughout.
The duo experimented with several delivery styles on the record, utilizing "relaxed, hyper, distorted, speedy and conversational presentations." Aquemini also features live instrumentation and poetic lyricism, such as the reggae horns on the seven-minute long "SpottieOttieDopaliscious," which included the observant narration of their Atlanta upbringing - referencing the Charles Disco and Hollywood Courts; while also including a wah-wah guitar on the closing track "Chonkyfire". The album also included "West Savannah," which was an outtake from Outkast's debut album "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik." The track was also featured as an intro to the "Benz Or Beamer" video, but was held off "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" and not used on the duo's follow-up album "ATLiens," finally to surface on this album. The song is the original version and was not re-recorded for the album. A small intro to the song begins at the end of "Slump," with Big Boi referring to the song's history.
Delivered with rhythmic vocal styles and distinctive Southern rapping, the main focus of the album seemed to be on morality. With complex metaphors and dirty South slang, Andre addresses his critics in the album opener, "Return of the G." "It's the return of the gangsta/Thanks ta' them niggas that think you soft/And say, "Y'all be gospel rappin'" /But they be steady clappin'/When you talk about bitches and switches/And hoes and clothes and weed..." Aquemini's catchy lyrics are a mix of street-wise and common sense. RapReviews.com noted that "Aquemini is full of small moments that make you nod your head and look forward to hearing them again." "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" featured a soulful hook by Sleepy Brown and introspective lyricism by Big Boi and Andre, reciting it in spoken word style.
The intro to the album, "Hold On, Be Strong," was written by session guitarist Donny Mathis and was originally a full song with verses, but the group preferred to only use the hook. André 3000 played a kalimba on the song after purchasing the instrument at a flea market, drawing inspiration from Earth, Wind & Fire. "Return of the G" addresses concerns from fans who felt that the group's style had changed too drastically since the release of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, as well as those who make poor decisions in order to keep their street credibility. When discussing the lyrical content of the song, André 3000 explained, "I was young and wilder and some of my fashion choices people didn't accept at the time. I started getting flak from some people, so they were like, 'Either he's gay or on drugs'...'Return of the Gangsta' was trying to give them a sense of, 'Hey, I'm still a regular person.'" "Rosa Parks" contains blues-influenced guitar work and folksy harmonies that "announce OutKast's distinctive style of Southern boogie. The groove goes into overdrive during a clapping, foot-stomping breakdown funkified by a fierce harmonica as the kick drum pounds incessantly." The song led to much controversy with Rosa Parks filing a defamation suit against OutKast. The next track, "Skew It On the Bar-B" features rapper Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan and discusses the disappointment of the group's debut album not achieving the coveted "five-mic" rating from The Source: "I gotta hit the Source / I need my other half mic / because that Southernplayalisticadillacmusik was a classic right?". "Skew It On the Bar-B" is followed by the title track, which has been compared to the music of soul singer Isaac Hayes. Pogue experimented with delays and echos in his production to make the song "dimensional, like you could actually put your hands through the song."
"Synthesizer" contains elements of electrofunk and features funk musician George Clinton. Emma Warren of The Guardian called the track "raw and woozy", dubbing it the "weirdest moment of the record". On "West Savannah", Big Boi discusses his Southern roots, and references individuals who grew up outside of the South who fail to recognize different regional Southern identities by stating "You might call us country, but we's only Southern". "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)" tells the story of a self-destructive childhood friend named Sasha Thumper who dies of a drug overdose. Commenting on the song's lyrical content, author Mickey Hess remarks that André 3000 "manages to walk the fine line between emotionalism and masculinity by articulating this highly emotional narrative with an almost emotionless tone." The next track, "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 2)", is an apocalyptic song that represents the group's vision of "the last song recorded in the world", with André 3000 commenting, "I do remember thinking, 'What if it was the end of the world and we had to get to the Dungeon on some X-Men superhero shit. I think I was vibing on some end-of-the-world, last-recorded-song shit'". "SpottieOttieDopalicious" relates a story of ill-fated romance, with André 3000 describing the infatuation during an encounter with a woman at a club and Big Boi noting the hopelessness of the relationship as the song progresses. The eight minute-long "Liberation" combines a variety of musical styles, including gospel, jazz, blues, and world music. The song is notable for not including rapped vocals and instead features vocal alternations between singing and spoken word styles. Lyrically, the track utilizes images of slavery to symbolize artistic freedom and not being concerned with the opinions of the public and record labels.
|Los Angeles Times|||
Aquemini received general acclaim from music critics upon its release. AllMusic's Steve Huey called it "a stroke of brilliance". He praised the record for avoiding the "hardcore clichés" and summed up his review by saying that Aquemini is "a virtuosic masterpiece, and a landmark hip-hop album of the late '90s". Robert Christgau also commented positively on the album, stating that the record "evolved G-funk with denser instrumental crosstalk." Los Angeles Times writer Soren Baker complimented OutKast's "intelligent hip-hop" and commented that "musically, the collection supplies some of the lushest tracks ever included on a hip-hop record", noting that the music will "stimulate the mind, touch the soul and pack the dance floor." Q named it the group's "third best offering" and called it "breathtaking in its ambition makes most rappers seem drab and doltish in comparison." Sia Michel of The Village Voice called it "an impassioned state-of-hip-hop address". In a brief review for "Entertainment Weekly," Cheo Tyehimba qualified Aquemini as the hip-hop album of the year.
Fernando Jr. of Rolling Stone wrote "OutKast prove that you don't have to sell out to sell records. Sporting plenty of live chops and soulful harmonies, Aquemini's fresh, original feel defies rap's coastal clichés." Steve Jones of USA Today commented that the duo's "molasses-smooth raps speak to the stark realities of urban streets. And with the hard-driving, Southern-fried grooves provided by live studio musicians, these songs not only make you dance, they make you sweat". Tony Green of Spin said that although they are not as spiritual as Goodie Mob, Outkast's "streetcorner signifying" offers listeners more than simple musical pleasure and that they "have crafted some of the most seductive and dramadelic textures." Giving it a five out of five "mic"-rating, Charlie Braxton of The Source praised the duo's "submersion into the baptismal waters of the African American musical continuum" and "their superb use of the urban narrative." Braxton called Aquemini "a brilliant record" and commented that it "possesses an uncanny blend of sonic beauty, poignant lyricism and spirituality that compels without commanding".
In a retrospective review, Tim Stelloh from PopMatters described the album as "loud, unpretentious, eclectic kick in the ass". He praised it for being "full of both fear and curiosity, and those emotions were channeled through its production." Dave Hughes, writing in Slant Magazine, stated: "Ten years on, Aquemini is the single strongest aspect of one of the art form's deepest benches. Snappier and more experimental than the pair's early work, and focused enough to feel comfortable in a sprawl, it's the moment when OutKast came fully into itself."
Aquemini has been included in several publications' best album lists. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it number 500 on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The staff explained the inclusion by stating: "OutKast unleashed an explosive hip-hop that deployed live musicians, social commentary and a heavy dose of deep funk". The album was placed at number 11 on the list of the "100 Best Albums of the Nineties" made by the same magazine.
Paste named the album "the best Atlanta hip-hop album of all time". Pitchfork Media ranked the record at #50 on their "Top 100 Albums of the 1990s", describing it as "smooth and well-conceived". Spin included it on three of their lists. They ranked it number 35 on the "90 Greatest Albums of the '90s" and number three on the "Top 20 Albums of '98". The magazine also ranked it 76th on their 2010 list of "The 125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years". In 2004, Stylus ranked it 185th on their "Top 101-200 Favourite Albums Ever" list. In 2013, Vibe named it the 20th greatest album since 1993. ego trip ranked it the second greatest hip hop album from 1980 to 98, while Hip-Hop Connection ranked it the 11th greatest rap album from 1995 to 2005. New Nation named it the 80th best album by black artists.
The album was included in Blender's "500 CDs You Must Own Before You Die" (2003), Tom Moon's 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (2008), Continuum Books' 33⅓: A Series of Books about Critically Acclaimed Albums, and Q's "The Ultimate Music Collection" (2005) The lead single "Rosa Parks" was nominated in the category Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the 1999 Grammy Awards. The album's twelfth track "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" was ranked at number 16 on Pitchfork Media's list of the top 200 tracks of the 90s.
Critics hailed the recording as OutKast's most fully realized up to that time and one of the best of the 1990s. Steve Huey wrote: "Aquemini fulfills all its ambitions, covering more than enough territory to qualify it as a virtuosic masterpiece, and a landmark hip-hop album of the late '90s". Ebony observed that Aquemini is "perhaps Outkast's best effort" and "a huge commercial and artistic success". Matt Wink concluded that Outkast with this album "carved their place in the game and grabbed the world’s attention. No two people with a similar background could be more different and no two artists could have made this masterpiece."
Los Angeles Times labeled the album "OutKast's third brilliant slice of hip-hop". Rolling Stone wrote that "Atlanta's reputation as hip-hop's most avant-garde area code — the Long Island of the Nineties — was cemented" with this effort. In a column for Jazz Times, Tony Green wrote that "Outkast's Aquemini dispels any notion that hip-hop is out of sonic ideas. If anything, it shows that the genre's appetite for new sounds is as ravenous as ever." According to Emma Warren from The Guardian, this album is "a high point of 90s hip-hop" and a prove that "the old push and pull between the east and west coast of American hip-hop was over". Tim Stelloh of PopMatters felt that "Aquemini far surpassed OutKast’s previous release A-tliens [sic], and made the group one of those rare commercial anomalies—kind of like Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, or Public Enemy".
Track listing and samples compiled from album liner notes.
|1.||"Hold On, Be Strong" (featuring The Four Phonics)||Donny Mathis, OutKast||1:11|
|2.||"Return of the 'G'"||Organized Noize||4:49|
|4.||"Skew It on the Bar-B" (featuring Raekwon)||Organized Noize||3:15|
|6.||"Synthesizer" (featuring George Clinton)||OutKast||5:11|
|7.||"Slump" (featuring BackBone and Cool Breeze)||OutKast||5:09|
|8.||"West Savannah"||Organized Noize||4:03|
|9.||"Da Art of Storytellin' (Pt. 1)"||Mr. DJ||3:43|
|10.||"Da Art of Storytellin' (Pt. 2)"||Mr. DJ||2:48|
|11.||"Mamacita" (featuring Masada and Witchdoctor)||Organized Noize||5:52|
|12.||"SpottieOttieDopaliscious" (featuring Pat Brown)||OutKast||7:07|
|13.||"Y'All Scared" (featuring T-Mo, Big Gipp and Khujo)||Mr. DJ||4:50|
|15.||"Liberation" (featuring Cee-Lo, Erykah Badu and Big Rube)||OutKast||8:46|
- Sample credits
- "Return of the 'G'" contains interpolations from "Superfly" by Curtis Mayfield
- "Rosa Parks" contains interpolations from "Cancion De Amor" by The Sandpipers
- "Skew It on the Bar-B" contains an interpolation of "Police Woman" by Henry Mancini
- "Synthesizer" contains an interpolation of "Rock Dirge" by Sly Stone
- "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" contains excerpts from "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight" by Genesis
- "Y'All Scared" contains interpolations from "Air Born" by Camel
The clean version of the album has all of the skits in between the songs removed. The interlude "Nathaniel" was omitted, as was verse five of "Liberation".
|Canadian Albums Chart||17|
|German Albums Chart||66|
|Norwegian Albums Chart||39|
|U.S. Billboard 200||2|
|U.S. Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums||2|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Gold||50,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||2× Platinum||2,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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