While hip-hop heads have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of the undisputed classic Illmatic, giving brother Nas his just due, not too many of my own peeps have even mentioned tomorrow’s two-decade birthday of OutKast’s equally brilliant debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Of course, the recent reunion tour of André 3000 and Big Boi kicked off to mixed reviews at the massive Coachella. But it was this brilliant first aural outing where it all began.
Produced by the innovative Organized Noize posse—makers of future dopeness with Goodie Mob, TLC, Joi and Killer Mike—Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’s first single was the Curtis Mayfieldish mack-daddy song “Player’s Ball,” which started off as a throwaway Christmas song for LaFace Records in 1993 and quickly became an anthem. Six months later, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was released, an audio manifesto of the South that garnered that region attention in a way no other group had done before.
“OutKast put Southern hip-hop on the map with that album,” says professor Regina N. Bradley of Kennesaw State University. In honor of her favorite group, Bradley put together the YouTube web series Outkasted Conversations, which discusses the group culturally and academically. “People thought if you were from the South that meant you were backwards,” says Bradley. “But OutKast set different rules and continue to do so. For a national audience, they made the South more than just a place of White pride and Black paranoia.”
Joi, the beautiful left-of-center singer whose wonderful The Pendulum Vibe was also released in ’94, is currently touring with the duo that she’s known since they were teenagers. “I first met them at DARP [producer Dallas Austin’s studio] when they were working on ‘Ain’t No Thang,’ which to this day is my favorite song from that first album. They told me they used to freestyle to the instrumental side of my single, ‘Sunshine and the Rain.’
“Hip-hop wise, at the time New York City was running it, L.A. was carving out their piece,” Joi continues. “But no one was checking for the South. OutKast changed all that. When they were booed at the Source Awards in 1995, André said, ‘The South got something to say.’ And they had already started saying it on Southernplayalistic.”
Having played Coachella with them recently, Joi says, “Being on stage with them was really special, and it made me very proud. When I met them, they were these shy, quiet and innocent Southern boys in jeans and sneakers. Today, OutKast is an awesome part of hip-hop history.”
Indeed, with all the innovative music coming out of Georgia at that time, one has to wonder what was going on down South during that era. Joi laughs. “We were all young, in our late teens and early twenties, and we weren’t trying to sound like anything else. We liked what people were doing, but we wanted to our own thing.”
Hip-hop scholar, teacher and journalist Charlie R. Braxton, says, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was a great milestone in Southern hip-hop. They had the Southern soul vibe that was rooted in their culture. They spoke in their own dialects and weren’t afraid to be themselves. They were the babies of the Dungeon Family crew, and they picked-up that old school culture from Big Rube, Rico Wade, and Sleepy Brown.”
Citing “Crumblin’ Erb” as a favorite, the (non-weed smoking) Braxton says, “That song was deeper than other weed songs, because it’s a metaphor for life. To me, along with EMPD and UGK, OutKast belongs in that class of great hip-hop duos.”
L.A. Weekly music editor Ben Westhoff, who penned the must-own Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop, had no problems with OutKast’s recent show at Coachella. “I thought it was good. Hey, it’s OutKast! What are you complaining about? They did their songs and they did them well.”
Westcoff, needless to say, is also a true fan of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. “Twenty years later, that record doesn’t even sound dated,” he says. “There is a timelessness about them that has never been boring. I listened to the album recently and it is still as tough and poetic, as earthy and funky, as it was back then. OutKast felt like something that could’ve only come from where they were from. Also, the beauty of Organized Noize’s production is still amazing. They all created something that was truly original.”
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.