OutKast’s forte has always been the creativity and complementary styles of Big Boi and Andre 3000. Each of OutKast’s last four albums (not counting the greatest hits LP from 2001) is a recipe that takes the ingredients and enhances them with just the right mixture. Their latest release, The Love Below/Speakerboxxx, is essentially two solo albums, effectively taking out one major part of the recipe: collaboration. Nonetheless, the double album shows that Big Boi’s and Andre’s individual musical tastes are much like their individual wardrobes: different, but each pulls it off well.
Andre 3000 opens his album, The Love Below, by singing a jazz track. It should come as no surprise to OutKast fans that Andre, who grows more eccentric with every appearance, moves to hip-hop’s fringes with this release. He sings the lead throughout the album, plays acoustic guitar and tenor sax, and only flows on certain tracks. His skills and lyrics are the same quality as always, but he focuses much more on his vocals than his freestyle this time around. Dre can sing decently and his production (he did his entire album) is solid. Though some of the hooks are annoying, I struggled to get them out of my head. TLB gives you jazzy-R&B-hip-hop-folk-rock feeling with Andre’s vibe running through it.
Speakerboxxx is Big Boi’s effort and is closer to what you’re used to hearing from OutKast. Like Andre, he integrates other genres well with Dirty South flavor. Another commonality is the variation they add to their beats, breaking them down, building them up and switching them up completely in the middle of a track. Most of the time this is done well, but in a couple instances, like on “War,” I was left wanting more once they did flip it.
There are plenty of dope tracks on Speakerboxxx, including “Knowing,” “Flip Flop Rock” with Jay-Z and Killer Mike, and “Reset” featuring Khujo Goodie and Cee-Lo. Big Boi produced the majority of the tracks, with a couple gems from Mr. DJ. His beats are active and match his rolling rhyme style and Big Boi touches on issues from abortion to Afghanistan.
Though The Love Below and Speakerboxxx offer a good glimpse into the pair’s diverse interests and talents, the main problem is that the discs do not showcase the amazing chemistry that emerges when Big Boi and Andre are in the studio and on the mike together. Longtime OutKast fans are deprived of that laid-back, blunted Southern sound that comes from the melding of this duo’s efforts. After speaking with others who have heard the albums, the main question they had was, Why did they go solo? The question is a valid one, especially since the album was packaged as OutKast, and not Big Boi and Andre 3000, respectively. While I might not listen to these albums with the same frequency and enthusiasm as Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens and Aquemini, OutKast has not lost the musical talent and personal qualities that have made them one of the best groups in music. They just separated them.