MUCH HAS BEEN written lately about hip hop's Southern renaissance. But if you pile up the mass of product coming out of the locales that serve as focal points for the sound of the Dirty South--Houston, New Orleans, Memphis--you'll find the new style is little more than West Coast gangsta hand-me-downs married to Miami's big bass beat. Atlanta, home of Newt Gingrich and Freaknik, is different. Unofficial capital of the Dirty South and America's most vibrant Chocolate City, it may be home to some of the most vital hip hop (maybe even pop) today. This summer, Atlanta's Goodie Mob released the year's most impassioned hip-hop record, Still Standing, and now, the original Atlanta rap duo, Outkast (Andre Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton), have dropped their best record yet.
On "Y'all Scared," Big Boi says, "Even though we got two albums, this one feels like the beginning." The feeling is the same from a consumer standpoint, as well. The third 'Kast record, Aquemini, features live instrumentation ripe with horns on nearly every cut, and, at its best, it sounds like P-Funk gone ragamuffin on the chitlins circuit. With live acoustic guitar and harmonica (provided by the group's minister, Pastor Robert Hodo) laying a foundation for turntable acrobatics and Benjamin and Big Boi's Dixie-fried rhymes, the lead single, "Rosa Parks," is the earthy Southern hip hop of Arrested Development's dreams.
Big Boi and Dre are both distinctive MCs, and complement each other well. Big Boi (a.k.a. "Daddy Fat Sax, the nigga who likes those Cadillacs") is a chronicler of the commonplace, speaking live and direct whether breaking down his West Savannah roots or hooking up with some honey he meets at the mall. Andre, with his taste for platinum-blond wigs and Sgt. Pepper-esque suits, is freakier and obviously the group's visionary. "My mind warps and bends, floats the wind," he raps on the title track. "Sin all depends on what you believing in/Faith is what you make it, that's the hardest thing since MC Ren."
But his Southernness keeps Andre grounded. On the future shock "Synthesizer" (featuring Uncle Jam himself, George Clinton, on backup vocals) he includes instant grits with cloning, virtual reality, and plastic surgery in his litany of unwanted technological advances. As elliptical as that may be, it's smarter than a bucket full of No Limit goons, and more political than a bag of Eightballs.
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