Those two dope boys in that Cadillac tho.

As they travelled through space and time, boldly going where no man had gone before, we were gifted with the opportunity to ride shotgun. On October 31st 2000 the latest stop was Stankonia. Having followed countless musicians on their artistic journeys, Outkast is one of the few that left me feeling well travelled. The journey being the human experience itself, these two spent their careers bobbing and weaving through it effortlessly.

The nerve of Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and  André “André 3000” Benjamin, I swear. There are events in life that inspired feelings I can literally only imagine because I missed the boat. What did the hush sound like seeing Neil Armstrong take that first step on the moon in real time? The moment the curtains came down, what did it feel like laying eyes on something as monumentally gorgeous as The Sistine Chapel? The instant the world watched something as awe-inspiringly catastrophic as the atom bomb dropping, what kind of sensation washed over us? There are those moments in history that I imagine made one realize, if only for a second, just how small we are and how little we know of this thing we’re all strapped in for. There are those moments that make us question what we’re even looking at.  Every time Outkast drop an album, I’d imagine the feeling is comparable.

Change is a natural part of life. Everything grows. Everything moves. Flowers bloom, planets spin, and people evolve. Who knows why, it just is what it is. And instead of letting growing creative differences curb their journey, Big Boi and Andre had the nerve to flip those differences into their most valuable attribute. These two high school friends came into the game at the tender age of 17 and from then on, through their art, put the ebbs and flows of their individual growths on full display.

They started on Earth. The first album was pimping, Cadillacs and a more traditional down south funk. It was a lot harder to tell the difference between the two friends. They started very much on the same page; as many childhood friendships do. The way Andre describes it, what happened from there was art imitating life. Big Boi knew himself from the get-go. Musically, he was the man with the plan, concocting the overall vision. But outside of that, he graduated high school with honors, got married and had children, and maintained a certain level of confidence in what it is he wanted to be. On the flip side, Andre seemed much less comfortable with who he was and set off to find himself. That dynamic became their story.

Their next couple of albums marked their duality. The second one saw a complete departure from the overtly layered musicality of their first joint and an exploration of a more sparse, spacy sound. Big Boi was more street than ever, telling tales out of hardship, pride, and hustle, with a gold-coated gruffness likely sponsored by Stone Mountain. He kept them grounded. Andre took off talking about more abstract, less tangible ideas like spirituality, religion, love, and meaning. Then on their third round, they left the solar system entirely. Hip Hop started falling back on pre-established conventions, veering in a direction of jigginess, flash, and peak commercialization. Outkast made a conscious decision to obliterate those conventions. That album contained traditional Hip Hop, funk, hard rock, spoken word, singing on part of Andre and the album title alone articulated both their divide and their bond by combining the names Aquarius and Gemini; their differing astrological signs.

Then came Stankonia.

They already destroyed every rule the genre had in place and evidently had no plans of slowing down. I mean, what was Bombs Over Baghdad? What was Ms. Jackson? What was Snappin’ and Trappin’? We Luv Deez Hoez? What genre were they anymore? Who could we compare them to? What were we looking at? At that point, it wasn’t even worth questioning. Outkast was just Outkast. They stayed true (plug) to themselves. At that point they weren’t on Earth with all of these earthly rappers bound by earthly rules. They told us where they were right there in the album title. It’s a strange statement to make, but these days it’s cool to be different. It’s popular to be weird. And Outkast was the act that had the nerve to take it to the level first. Stankonia was a marker in time, a midpoint before they damn near left the genre entirely. It was documentation of how far in the rabbit hole they got; where no one went before.

And just about anywhere these new artists go, they are likely to run into Big Boi and Andre 3000’s tire marks.

Happy 17th birthday, Stankonia!

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