OutKast, 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik' at 20: Classic Track-by-Track Review
Hip Hop in 1994, for the most part, was akin to the same government that it was at war with. You had the East Coast acting as the Republican party, leaning on classical sounds and ideologies, while the West Coast promoted the more Democratic, liberal side of things. Then you had the South acting as the Green party. Sure they had a couple of faces the nation recognized (Geto Boys, Arrested Development), but when it came to votes (record sales, popularity) most people were still blindly loyal to the institutions that had been around longer.
So when two Atlanta teenagers named Antwan (Big Boi) and Andre (Andre 3000), rapping under the name OutKast, stepped up to the podium in the spring of 1994, ears were interested in what they had to say, but not quite ready to abandon the familiarity of East and West coast Hip Hop. That is until they actually listened.
Backed by production unit Organized Noize, OutKast's debut album "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" borrowed bits and pieces from the East's "lyrical" emphasis and the West's sonic identity and smothered it with Southern sensibilities. While conscious rappers were busy trying to use words to show how much better they are than you, OutKast used those same words to show they were just like you. Where gangsta rappers spent energy trying to scare you off, Outkast was trying to invite you in. But, they would remind you from time to time that just because they weren't gangsters, that didn't make them punks either.
You'd think that a new group would want the first voice on their debut album to be theirs. But instead "Peaches" features friend Dee Dee Hibbler's – who was Organized Noize co-founder Ray Murray wife at the time – slum beautiful tone greeting all of the "playas" to an album that is "phat like herringbone, tight like gnat booty."
Big Boi immediately sets the tone of the album, killing any notions of Southerners being "slow" with a verse that dares your ears to keep up. He travels time in the first bars offering: "I be thinking about that future, back in the days when we was slaves I bet we was some cool ass ni—as, but now we vultures." 'Dre follows in a slightly calmer fashion ending the introduction with a threat, "talk bad about the A-town, I'll bust you in your fucking mouth." They pretty much let you know that hometown pride will be a theme throughout the album.
"Ain't No Thang"
The hook to the song is probably the catchiest one before their "ohyeaher" moments on 1996's "ATLiens," but the song is also an exclamation point as its one of the few tracks were 'Kast resorts to violence for most of the song. Loosely influenced by the gangsta rap that was popular at the time, Big and Dre go back and forth trading barbs about bullets and the guns that shoot them. There's even mention of the use of butcher knives.
"Welcome To Atlanta"
In the early-90s when transplants and visitors flew into Atlanta, the pilot usually gave a rundown about Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King and the local sports teams. But in Outkast's reality, the racial differences weren't as harmonizing as they still saw Confederate flags flying and lived among people who had to watch their backs for the "Robbing Crew" and the notorious R.E.D. D.O.G. (Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia) police unit. However, Kast also used the skit to show that a new energy was on the horizon courtesy of them and their music home, LaFace Records.
While this wound up being the second single, for many this was the song that made most first time listeners official Outkast fans. As the title track, the song etched out Oukast's identity by way of witty lyricism ("this ain't braille but I'm bumping"), nimble flow patterns that seemed to change with every drum kick, and words that painted visuals of just how a Southernplaya walks, talks and dresses.
"Call of the Wild"
Here, one half of Goodie Mob (T-Mo and Khujo) are introduced. All four of the MCs speak on how America's education system and government have failed them and those like them, making savagery a necessary option. No one claims this track as their favorite, but it can't be called a filler either.
Originally recorded as a Christmas song for LaFace Records' 1993 holiday compilation, Big and Dre's take on Jesus' birthday crossed out tradition and instead revealed how most people in the hood spent the day. The original version came with sleigh bells in the beat, but the track was later modified when it became a spring time hit in 1994.
Gangsterism is sprinkled throughout "Southernplayalistic" but never to a level where 'Kast could ever be labeled as "gangsta rappers." But for this track the duo definitely swerves into the "reality rap" lane, rapping about everything from having to bring shanks to school for protection to finding male role models in the street because of no father figure being in the home.
"Club Donkey Ass"
Even though the fan fare wasn't as big as it is now, Atlanta was already known for it's strip clubs and the "booty-shake" music it produced way back in the early 1990s. This brief skit gave a peep at the type of conversations that usually happened in the once taboo environment.
Musical interludes were not a new concept in 1994, but one had never been produced at this level on a hip-hop album. Sounding like a song from an entirely different album, "Funky Ride" introduced the world to the stylings of Sleepy Brown and put Organized Noize's production talents on full display.
A scene that anyone living in Any Ghetto, USA has seen play out. Here a random street hustler – voiced by a young Cee-Lo Green – tries to sell a stolen gold chain that he claims to have gotten from some "white folks in Buckhead" when odds are that he really got it off somebody from that neighborhood's polar opposite, Bankhead.
"Git Up, Git Out"
A perfect segue from the previous script, "Git Up, Git Out" presents yet another dose of honesty and Southern teen philosophy as Big and 'Dre admit to their shortcomings in school, but insist that they still may have life figured out at such a young age. The track also introduces the other half of Goodie Mob, Cee-Lo and Big Gipp, who each give scene stealing performances of their own with Lo rapping a monologue to himself and Gipp vehemently speaking against city government and the Olympics that were scheduled to hit the city two years later.
Some ears caught it, others didn't, but spoken wordsmith and fellow Dungeon Family member Big Rube gave the hidden meaning behind the name OutKast: Operating Under The Krooked American System Too long. He also told you what you were if you thought the group was only about pimping hoes and slamming Cadillac doors.
Organized Noize shows their full Curtis Mayfield influence on this base and congo driven track where Big and 'Dre lament on reality with their heads in the clouds. Perhaps the easiest listen for ears that still had a problem adjusting to the heavy accents and hard-to-catch flow patterns.
Every classic album has a cult favorite track and "Hootie Hoo" is it from "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik." The simple bass riff and hard drums give 'Kast space to deliver perhaps their rawest moments on the album, exclaimed by a teenage Dre boldly hanging up the phone on a woman who is claiming to be pregnant with his child.
With the last song on the album 'Kast spits out everything from Nation of Islam teachings to Five Percenter ideologies. They also debunk myths about every young Black male owning a pair of Air Jordans, but at the same time admit that they've worn fake gold chains trying to impress the next person. Amazingly, the song also acts as a precursor to their 1996 sophomore album "ATLiens" with the "Greetings, earthlings" soundbite and "deep" content hinting that their next showing will have a lot less CadillacMuzik and more space ship sounds.
"Player's Ball (Reprise)"
So nice they had to do it twice, crooner Sleep Brown makes another solo appearance with his own rendition of the group's lead single.