On their brilliant fourth album, Stankonia (LaFace), Atlanta’s Outkast have knocked down the walls that were supposed to keep hip-hop pure. Extending well beyond the yin and yang of Big Boi’s articulate player pose and Andre 3000’s thoughtful spirituality, they’ve steeped the music in a heady brew of George Clinton fantasia, Sly Stone precision, and Prince pastiche. The album’s delirious constant motion eschews contemporary-groove templates for the hyperactive, bass-pounding assault of “B.O.B.” or the psychedelic simmer of “Toilet Tisha.” Electronics clash and coalesce with real instruments, lazy-drawled raps overlap with fluttering falsetto cries, and elements drop out, crash in, or just morph into something different. The duo couch their messages in lots of clever wordplay (“I’ll Call Before I Come” employs a nice double entendre); more important, they reveal the emotional intricacy of a range of everyday situations: the hit “Ms. Jackson” renders a heartfelt but unsentimental apology for a failed romance that produced a child, and “Toilet Tisha” laments the crushing circumstances that led to the suicide of a pregnant teenager carrying an unwanted baby. And just as the music alternates between different approaches, so do the lyrics, letting the listener draw his or her own conclusions about the complex scenarios. The music of Ludacris, another Atlanta original, is much simpler: on his recent debut, Back for the First Time (Def Jam South), booty-shaking bass announces desire loud and clear. “What’s Your Fantasy,” a spooky shuffle of Timbaland beat science with Kraftwerkian synth strains, imagines the infinite variety of settings in which Ludacris and female guest Shawna can “lick, lick, lick” each other from head to toe, without ever getting particularly graphic: “We can do it in the White House / Try to make ’em turn the lights out / Champagne with my campaign.” The rest of the album’s just as silly, but he’s got a way with words; in “Ho” he raps, “Why do you think you take a ho to a hotel? / Ho tell everybody, even the mayor / Reach up in the sky for the ho zone layer.” Friday’s show is sold out. Friday, March 16, and Sunday, March 18, 7:30 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence; 312-666-6667 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Lavine.