OutKast : Big Boi And Dre Present. . . OutKast

Southern rappers hits collection.They come from another planet, baby...

They come in peace – but from where, exactly? Look once, and [a]Outkast[/a] are

psychedelic space aliens with radioactive wigs and a sexually adventurous wardrobe. Look again, and they’re playas from the Dirty South with a titty bar in their basement. Futurist freaks or retro funkers? Emissaries from the fantasy realm of ‘Stankonia’ or horny kids from Hotlanta?

When [a]Outkast[/a]’s first album, ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’, was released in

1994, both places were practically off the map of the hip-hop world. Nowadays,

the rolling southern sound they patented – all those laid-back party anthems

from [a]Ludacris[/a], [a]Bubba Sparxxx[/a] et al – dominates the genre. A fine time, then, for most of us to learn the history of this exceptional, and exceptionally odd, pair. ‘Big Boi And Dre Present. . .’ is that rarest of objects, a ‘Best Of’ compilation that’s useful and justifiable. For while the success of ‘Stankonia’ in Britain has made them the rappers it’s OK for both hardcore fans and neophytes to like, there are three previous albums (all multi-platinum successes in the States) to discover.

At the start, as ‘Ain’t No Thang’ and ‘Playa’s Ball’ prove, [a]Outkast[/a] offered a

southern twist on the usual gangsta schtick – if ‘southern’ means not just lazy,

but virtually horizontal-sounding (not for nothing is one of their Organized

Noize production team called ’Sleepy Brown’). Life consists of driving round in low-riders, packing kitchen knives and mixing [I]”Mary Jane”[/I] with [I]”chicken wangs”[/I], to a soundtrack of slow funk beats and twanging live guitars.

By 1996’s second album, however, the clumsily but aptly titled ‘ATLiens’, and [a]Outkast[/a] were heading elsewhere. ‘Elevators’ finds Dre and Big Boi dislocated from their old lifestyle, grouching about how everyone thinks they’re rich over

smoke-damaged ambient funk. And by 1998’s ‘Aquemini’, they’d arrived at the bright, blitzed and surreptitiously poppy otherworld that’s now so familiar.

Plenty of that album makes it onto this one: the title track, another terrific

slow-jam that’s part cosmic, part aquatic; ‘Spottieottiedopalicious’, like [a][/a] recording at Black Ark; and best of all, ‘Rosa Parks’, a party anthem for

the anti-segregation heroine. Who repayed them, incidentally, with a lawsuit for

unlawful appropriation of her name.

Moving swiftly past the self-evidently marvellous hits from ‘Stankonia’, there are three new tracks too, that send and [a]Outkast[/a] to even more peculiar lands. ‘Movin’ Cool’ has a kind of indolent jazzbo strut more readily associated with Dre’s ex, [a]Erykah Badu[/a]. ‘This Whole World’ appears to be the singalong finale from a slightly alarming musical, optimism in the face of global adversity sung through gritted teeth. Weirdest of all there’s ‘Funkin’ Around’, where Dre adopts the

worst Mockney accent since [a]Blur[/a] to ridicule everyone who glamourises [a]Outkast[/a] for being from either a) outer space or b) the south. Like estate agents say, location is everything. But when hip-hop’s moved en masse into your neighbourhood, it may well be time for self-styled outcasts to move on.

John Mulvey