MONM 2011 Day 2: OutKast – Stankonia
OutKast – Stankonia (Arista, 2000)
One of the things about going through a punk phase (musically, at least) in junior high is that, even once you start branching out, you’re skeptical of anything remotely mainstream. I would’ve been in Grade 12 when Stankonia came out (although I feel like it was around for more than just my last year of high school), but even though I liked the singles well enough, it didn’t occur to me that it was an album I could actually buy. Why settle for the mainstream when you can get something genuinely creative, inspired and inspiring, right?
It just goes to show, high school principles can be pretty misguided. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to listening to Stankonia in its entirety, it’s a whole lot more inspired than a good chunk of what I was listening to back then. That’s not a surprise – I know the album’s meant to be one of the grand achievements of the 21st century so far, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was one of my gateways into hip hop, even if I did spend my first few years with the album under the mistaken impression that Andre 3000’s half was the more impressive side. Even if it is unsurprising, it’s a nice reminder that cultural blinders are never a good thing, regardless of which side of the indie/mainstream divide you find yourself on.
Because Stankonia, as the millions of people who bought it already know, is really damn good. Opening with “Gasoline Dreams” gives the impression that it’s going to be a bit more aggressive than the actual product, even with the pop double-whammy of “So Fresh, So Clean” and “Ms. Jackson” to balance that out. The singles are still the obvious high points, and I doubt any of the album cuts could overshadow “B.O.B.”, which is maybe even faster than I remember it and definitely heavier. But even if tracks like “Slum Beautiful” and “Humble Mumble” can’t quite stack up to that one, it’s less because they’re lacking and more that the album’s best sets an unreasonable bar. But that doesn’t take away from the joy of hearing Big Boi and Andre 3000 stretching out on the other tracks, indulging in loose funk vamps and impossibly precise verses with the same endless enthusiasm. It’s so eclectic that it really shouldn’t hang together as well as it does, and it’ll probably take a dozen more listens to tease out the common threads, but I can already tell I’ll end up loving a lot about this album. When even most of the skits are actually endearing (the shouted “break” at the end of each one reminds me of an over-enthusiastic improv group), you know you’ve got something solid.