Well, this should be interesting: the guy once voted his home town's whitest white guy - a town in which I shared my time at school with precisely three non-Caucasian families, no less - trying to write about the prelude to the era of Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, two releases which even I paid attention to.
Fuck it. Let's just ask Kanye to step in, shall we?
|Yes, I heard about something a black person said once.|
Ah. Actually, that was less help than I'd hoped.
This can't come as a surprise to anyone who's read this blog, or met me for more than five minutes, but I'm not really a fan of hip hop. It's an aesthetic thing: I like my lyrics sung. It's not a simple a formulation as singing > rapping, of course. It's just that for me, you get more emotional punch to a song when you can underscore the words with a tune. This is almost certainly why I adore music, and have so little interest in poetry. Set a poem to music, and I'm all over that shit.
Whatever advantages in delivery rapping presents over singing are lost on me, I suppose, which means whenever I listen to an album like this, my focus is on the quality of the lyrics themselves, along with the degree to which the backing catches my attention. This is all by way of saying this review is at best a curious look at how out of touch white guys might view hip hop, and in no way of any use as a commentary on the strengths of the disc itself.
So, with all that said...
There's a lot I like about Aquemini (pronounced a-QUEH-min-iy, if you were wondering). It starts particularly well with a quick intro ("Hold On, Be Strong") and the disc's statement of intent, "Return of the 'G", a track which treads the fine line between slamming "gangstas" for their attitude and lamentable choices in rap topics, but insisting that disliking confrontation is not the same thing as fearing it. This is done by giving the former job to Andre 3000, and the latter to Big Boi. Sitting here in my white enclave in deepest Warwickshire, I'm not qualified to and have no intention of discussing whether this combination of attitudes is wise or even possible, but points have to be awarded for tackling the bifurcation of Outkast head-on here (that said, I'm not sure the subject matter of the rest of the disc is nearly so unique and "mind-unravellin'" as its creators would have you believe).
The other advantage of sharing rapping duties within the tracks is that it gives the illusion of development in each song, which is where in general the album ultimately comes a cropper. Almost without exception, the tracks here do not build; they spring fully-formed from Zeus' cranium, and with an average song length of around minutes, even the best cuts here - "Rosa Parks" and the bonkers "Synthesizer" being the finest - tend to end at least a little time after you want them to; only the breezy attack of "Skew it on the Bar-B", the slow rolling "West Savannah", and the jittery apocalypse-warning of "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 2)" feel completely free of flab. The situation is hardly helped by the skits; I'm sure I'm not their intended audience, but that makes no difference to the fact that they take an already overlong album and pushes it into a serious endurance test.
Perhaps Aquemini is best considered as three separate suites. Certainly, the first six tracks hang together very well, showcasing plenty of Outkast's undoubted range without stretching the point. The second third, say from "Slump" (unfortunately though not inaccurately titled) through to the somewhat unlovely "Mamacita", can be bypassed without too much being lost, only the aforementioned "DAoS(P2)" standing out. The final sashay towards the finish line picks up again, the five-way rap of "Y'All Scared" and the fuzz-guitar-laced "Chonkyfire" bringing things to a satisfying close, ebullient and sinister by turns, plus somewhat silly, which is always welcome.
Brilliant though the song is, however, it stumbles into a slow-motion death march for its final minute, and segues into another skit. It's just one more reminder of Outkast's refusal to tidy up the place after the party's over. You can take almost any four or five tracks on here, listen to them together, and thoroughly enjoy the experience. Try grinding through the whole thing and, assuming you're not doped up from toe to tongue, the sprawl just collapses under its own weight.