OutKast’s “ATLiens” changed my life

Photo by Brenda Lin

I regard OutKast’s “ATLiens” (1996) as the quality standard for all hip-hop albums.

To me, no album to date has ever matched this masterpiece by André “André 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, and while I would greatly welcome another as flawless as ATLiens, there is serious doubt in my mind that such a peak will ever be reached in the near future.

From the first moment of audible string plucks on “You May Die” to the final chorus fade out of Organized Noize’s “86 Mix”  the album is nothing short of an entrancing experience.

André and Big Boi’s buttery-smooth voices combine with their immaculate flows to match perfectly with the top-notch production provided by Organized Noize and Earthtone III.

Development of the album began shortly after OutKast’s first full-length offering, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994).

It was a stark departure, both thematically and sonically, for the duo, and although initially well received critically, it would not be until many years later upon revisitation that ATLiens would be regarded as a classic. For the most part, Big Boi keeps his style.

“You May Die,” the album’s intro, begins with a Portuguese prayer with the poignant message that life will always go on (or at least that’s how I interpret it). We are then greeted by a sample from “D.E.E.P.” off of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The electronic voice greets earthlings, a fitting salutation coming from a couple of self-proclaimed aliens. The song that follows, “Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac),” features some of the tightest rhyming on the record.

Following a literal bomb blast, OutKast moves into “ATLiens,” the title track and my contender for the catchiest hook on any song, period. Even more amazing live.

“Wheelz of Steel” is next, and the production is (fittingly) out of this world. Scratching on the hook has never reached the apex it did here, with André’s vocals interspersed mesmerizingly. “Jazzy Belle” sees André and Big Boi on the storytelling tip, describing how modern promiscuity will not be a boon for children to come.

Hit single “Elevators (Me & You)” peaked at #12 on the Billboard singles charts, afforded OutKast more than a few new fans. Appropriately, the duo describes how they are “moving on up in the world like elevators.” “Ova Da Wudz” directly follows, its aggressive content and beat sharply contrasting with the relaxed flavor of the previous three tracks.

My favorite track is also the final cut of the album. “13th Floor/Growing Old” would cement the classic status of this album, if that hadn’t been accomplished with every track already. The song examines time and its continued flow, a major theme is that nothing can persist forever.

You owe it to yourself to give this masterful album its due listen.