Outkast : Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

137 minutes of synapse-popping, gut-reorganising, breathtakingly adventurous music.

OK, let's take this slowly. 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' is OutKast's fifth album. Two CDs. 39 songs. 137 minutes of synapse-popping, gut-reorganising, breathtakingly adventurous music. As you've probably heard by now, OutKast's two members - Big Boi and Andre 3000 - take a CD apiece. It's a neat way to assert their differences, especially since Big Boi remains a major player in Atlanta's rap scene, while Dre is given to announcing "hip-hop is dead". But those nagging rumours of a complete split may be a little premature.
For a start, Dre produces a handful of tracks on Big Boi's half, 'Speakerboxxx' and, as the Boi repeatedly stresses, "Ain't no uno, we're a duo". It's easy to portray the two as opposing stereotypes: Big Boi the geezerish poledancing aficionado who calls his company "Boom Boom Room Productions", a rap traditionalist; Dre the effete hippy who styles himself as "Cupid Valentino", a psychedelic free spirit.
But as 'Speakerboxxx' proves, nothing is quite so straightforward. Take 'GhettoMusick', a dizzying varispeed trip through old-school rave, lascivious soul and Lord knows what else, or the uproarious Cotton Club swing of 'Bowtie', or the intricate, twanging electro of 'Flip Flop Rock' (featuring, delightfully, the sage Jay-Z's thoughts on footwear). By hip-hop standards - even those of The Neptunes and Timbaland - Big Boi is anything but conservative.

He's also a lot more thoughtful than his image might suggest. It's Big Boi who packs the political conscience in OutKast, so 'War' sees his lucid hyperbabble turned on the Bush Junta and its misadventures, neatly summarised as, "Basically, America you got fucked". The outstanding 'The Rooster', meanwhile, sets his problems as a single parent to supercharged P-funk, and is almost certainly the first rap song to touch on Princess Diana and nappy-changing.
Andre 3000 is not averse to filth, either. "Roses really smell like poo-poo," he coos on 'Roses', a singalong duet with Big Boi and one of the saner moments of 'The Love Below’. For here's the gilded and ludicrous album that Prince never got round to making, full of sex, schmaltz, idealism, self-indulgence, and the requisite guest spot from God ("Damn. . . you're a girl," approves Dre). Norah Jones and Kelis also turn up to this bizarre love-in, along with Aaliyah samples, Aphex Twin beats, jangly guitar pop and a jazz'n'drill'n'bass version of 'My Favourite Things' from The Sound Of Music. Honestly, it's amazing.
Big Boi, we may conclude, is something of a realist, while Andre 3000 is away with the fairies. Together and apart, though, it's clear they drive each other to new extremes. "We never relaxin', OutKast is everlastin'," claims Big Boi during 'The Way You Move'. And whatever their future, a place in posterity for 'Speakerboxxx'/'The Love Below' is assured: two Technicolor explosions of creativity that people will be exploring, analysing and partying to for years.

John Mulvey

Get 'Speakerboxx / The Love Below' at the NME Shop

8 / 10

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