Outkast’s ATLiens was more than just an album, it was an invasion.
Since its release on Aug. 27, 1996, the set has become one of the hip-hop’s most celebrated opuses. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and featured three Hot 100 charting singles (“ATLiens,” “Elevators (Me & You)” and “Jazzy Belle”), but perhaps more importantly, it embodied Andre 3000’s famous mission statement: “The South got somethin’ to say.”
Straight out of the Peach State, these Two Dope Boyz were a breath of fresh air. Their 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was a powerful introduction but 1996’s sophomore effort, ATLiens, proved they were here to stay. Two decades later, it’s an otherworldly encounter worth revisiting.
Here are some facts about the album that some earthlings might not know.
1. Andre was sober, vegan and celibate: ATLiens was a turning point for Dre, who found sobriety and veganism while crafting the album. “That’s when he went through the transition of really trying to find himself,” CeeLo Green said in VH1’s Driven special on Outkast. “He grew his hair. He got into books and spiritualism. Even went as far as to practice celibacy.”
Dre addressed these changes during an interview with the Los Angeles Times in ’96. “When you’re 17 and 18, you think you can smoke and drink all day and sleep around. You feel invincible,” he explained. “Then there comes a time where you have to raise up and do something else with yourself. On our first album, we were determined to smoke herb until the world ended. Now, I’ve stopped smoking and drinking, and I’m trying to live up to my abilities, and take life much more seriously.”
2. Dre earned his GED: Among the changes, Dre also refocused on school. After dropping out his senior year, he went to night school between ATLiens sessions and eventually earned his GED. “If the music were to ever end,” he told Spin at the time, “I don’t want to be useless.” Big didn’t join Dre in this quest because he’d finished high school with a 3.68 GPA.
3. Big Boi also changed: On March 31, 1995, Big Boi welcomed his first child, Jordan, into the world. Fatherhood shifted his focus. “It made me more responsible,” he told Spin. “My daughter became my number-one priority.” Dre encouraged Big’s new role. “I love how you just buckled down,” he’d tell him. “You’re serious about that daddy shit.” Today, Jordan’s in her senior year at Auburn University where she’s majoring in psychology.
4. Tragedy struck: Big Boi suffered a major loss going into the album when his aunt Renee died of pneumonia. “His aunt was almost like his mom,” Shanti Das, a former VP of marketing at La Face, shared on Driven. “Dre absolutely stood by him.” Big rhymes about this tragedy on the reflective “Babylon.” “People don’t know the stress I’m dealing with day to day,” he rapped. “Speaking about the feelings I’m possessing for Renee.”
5. The title has different meanings: ATLiens was a powerful title because it represented the duo so well. “The ATL for Atlanta,” Dre told the Los Angeles Times that year. “The aliens for our status in the hip-hop game.” Alien was also much more. “Being an alien is just being yourself when people don’t understand you,” Dre told said that same year. “We just trying to let everybody know there’s a place for everybody in this world. You just gotta find yourself, and be true to yourself.”
But in 2010, 3 Stacks had a different answer. “We were for real. I wasn’t talking about myself,” he told Creative Loafing. “We knew somebody had to be out here in the universe other than just us. So when I talked about IFOs ‘landing in Decatur,’ I knew some folks had already seen that shit: identified flying objects.”
6. 20 Songs were scrapped: In 1995, Big and Dre started working on ATLiens. Teaming with the Dungeon Family, the twosome recorded 35 songs for the album, according to Daddy Fat Sax. “We picked the best ones,” he told VIBE at the time. Dre agreed, saying that it featured only their “tightest rhymes and beats” out of the bunch, leaving 20 on the cutting room floor.
7. Outkast started producing: Andre and Big are mostly known for rhymes, but ATLiens allowed them to shine on the boards too. “We learned from being under [Organized Noize] for so long,” Big told Spin. “What better way to paint a picture than being able to create the soundscape for your words? We were maturing and coming of age then.” The duo produced five of the 15 cuts, including “ATLiens” and “Elevators (Me & You).”
8. La Face Records didn’t like “Elevators (Me & You)”: Dre and Big weren’t “worried” about perception, but “the label was,” Big told Spin. “They didn’t even like ‘Elevators.’ They were like, ‘Y’all crazy!’ We said, ‘F–k that shit,’ and took it to the radio station against everybody’s wishes and it blew up. From that point on, L.A. Reid let us pick all our singles.” The track became their highest-charting song at the time, peaking at No. 12 on the Hot 100.
9. The “Elevators” video was symbolic: Outkast is known for elaborate videos and “Elevators (Me & You)” was an early standout. Directed by Michael Martin, it was more than just a visual marvel. “It was all about symbolism,” Dre told Yo! MTV Raps. “The scenes where we’re going through the jungle, that represents that we’re on a journey. The scenes where we’re meditating, that’s like we’re trying to get our inner spirit right.” Given the song’s title, Big added that the video also symbolized their growth into “a higher level.”
10. The iconic cover was almost nixed: It’s hard to imagine ATLiens’ cover being anything other than the comic book-inspired artwork but it almost had an entirely different look. First, legendary artist Todd McFarlane turned it down. Next, Frank Gomez (then at DC, now at Marvel) turned in a draft that featured an unrecognizable Big Boi.
Thankfully, a solution came in the form of an Atlanta Braves cap, which was added to cover Big’s face. “That was a whim,” illustrator Vince Robinson told The Undefeated. “It was like, ‘Hey, let me add something, let’s cover his face a little bit … He always wears his hat like that anyways.’” Problem solved.
11. The Source Awards impacted ATLiens: Outkast won the trophy for new artist of the year for a group at the 1995 Source Awards, but it was bittersweet. Boiling tension from the Death Row/Bad Boy feud filled the room and Outkast was in the crossfire, booed by the New York crowd while trying to accept their award. His voice nearly trembling with passion, Dre took the mic. “The South got somethin’ to say,” he commanded. “That’s all I got to say.”
Working on ATLiens, Big and Dre remembered that night. “They ain’t really give a f–k about what we was doing,” Big said in ’96. “If you wasn’t from New York, they was like, ‘F–k it.’ But we put all our goddamn time and effort in doing our albums and it really don’t make no sense for them acting like that there.”
Andre offered another perspective, highlighting what made ATLiens so refreshing. “It’s just from another part of the globe,” he said. “Everybody’s going through the same thing, just about. Only thing that’ll really change is just where you from. Because [hip-hop] music is all the same; ours just reflects the southern lifestyle.”