OutKast’s ‘Aquemini’ Turns 25: A Look Back

Considered by many as the Atlanta duo’s best, their third LP marked a sonic transition that helped continue their greatness.

OutKast is widely considered one of, if not, the greatest duo in hip-hop history, and that’s because of the incredible attributes that drive them.

Big Boi and Andre 3000 are excellent lyrically, and they’ve always worked with producers who carry their artistic vision with precision and created a mystique throughout their careers that kept their fans coming back year after year. Part of why they’ve been so successful at the latter is their willingness to take risks sonically with each album they’ve released.

Their debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was an establishment of the duo’s southern-baked sound, with Organized Noize bringing the funk that piqued rap fans' interest during a period when the South had something to say but wasn’t getting the respect they deserved. ATLiens, which dropped two years later, had much of those same ‘Lac swangin’ country themes but started to successfully transition toward something that Atlanta had never heard before.

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And then their next LP was the one where they made the full leap into being ground-breaking trendsetters. That’s Aquemini.

Released on September 29, 1998, OutKast’s third album was presented to the hip-hop world as an experiment. Gangsta rap was still very much a thing; major labels began having their artists popping bottles in music videos, and indie labels like Rawkus began producing artists who weren’t into commercialism or emphasizing street lyrics, perhaps carrying on the backpack legacy from years before.

Aquemini was none of those. It’s Southern, but not to a Ridin’ Dirty extent. It’s got a street element, but not one that’s particularly grimy. And while it has a heavy alternative bent to it, it’s way more left-field than anything that was prevalently different in hip-hop at the time. And perhaps that was due to an openness of ideas that flooded the studio during the LP’s creation.

“It was just an open door. It was a real communal vibe,” CeeLo Green, featured on the song “Liberation” and helped produce the album, told BET during a recent interview. “People would sit in on the sessions, give their two cents, their advice or opinion on this, that, or the third.”

On “Y’All Scared,” Big Boi declares, “Even though we got two albums, this one feel like the beginning,” and perhaps nothing is more accurate. Aquemini presents an ethereal opening with “Hold On, Be Strong,” and then warms fans up with “Return of the G” and “Rosa Parks,” which almost sound like a continuation of ATLiens, but then things switch up pretty quickly.

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The title track has ‘Dre and Big digging very deep into their past traumas and the realities of growing up in East Point. Its slow instrumentals assist the duo in plunging into profound reflectiveness that has the more abstract Andre meeting at a common ground with a street-wise Big Boi. This continues into “Slump” where the latter relays tales of slanging dope on Atlanta streets to keep his head above water, while “West Savanah” plunges ‘Kast into some of the ways of their debut LP. And then there’s “Da Art of Storytellin’” (parts 1 and 2), where they get into a heavy narrative bag so vulnerable and reflective that it’s hard to even come up with anything like it in rap at the time.

“Suzy Screw” and “Sasha Thumper,” take on the roles of love interests in Andre’s world, sort of akin to Tupac’s “Brenda’s Got A Baby” from just a few years prior or what Kendrick Lamar did with “Keisha's Song (Her Pain)” over a decade later. It’s poignant, and a classic example of why 3 Stacks is considered one of the greatest ever to pick up a mic.

Aquemini was also a departure stylistically behind the boards. While Organized Noize still had a heavy hand in it, the duo also self-produced numerous tracks and had Mr. DJ take over a few, particularly “Da Art of Storytellin’.” This allowed for a sonics shift that deployed live musicians and lush instrumentals, which were not heavily present in their last two albums.

Aquemini is the pinnacle meshing of Andre and Big Boi’s styles. It relays the strengths of each of the emcees while proving that they’re better together – something that remains true to this day (no shot at Big Boi). If there was no Aquemini, there likely wouldn’t have been a Speakerboxx/The Love Below, and if that double disk didn’t exist, who knows what hip-hop would look like today? That’s a huge chunk of Aquemini’s lasting influence.

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