I spent the summer and fall of 1998 as a college intern at a research facility in Columbus, Ohio. I was at a real crossroads – my grades from the fall of 1997 and the spring of ’98 were not good1. I was focused on all the wrong things, and I was hoping my natural ability would allow me to get by.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, so I made the hard decision to take a semester (Fall 1998) off from school.
Looking back, it was one of the best decisions in my life. I was away from school and away from friends. I was expected to show up to work on time and to be prepared when I showed up. I had to pay my bills on time and budget.
I was able to align my priorities. I started taking better care of myself.
That’s one of the reasons I love Aquemini. It was the soundtrack to that season in my life. I loved jams, I loved the beats, I loved the lyrics. Dre and Big Boi were maturing from Southernplayalistic… and ATLiens. I was maturing, too.
Aquemeni is the hybrid of two parallel yet disparate personalities – the poet Andre 3000 and the player Big Boi. The mix is pure genius2. The album doesn’t come across shallow nor is it preachy… it just sounds real. Whether it’s Big talking about the responsibilities of raising a family or Dre kicking off a party jam, every track is worthy of repeated listening.
You know from the get-go that we’re on some next-level stuff when you get the The Four Phonics and Dre on a kalimba telling us to “Hold On…. Be Strong.” From there you roll into Dre’s monologue on the state of “peace” in “Return of the G”.
Dre and Big take a break from the overtly deep lyrics in the next two tracks. “Rosa Parks” got the shine as the party jam, however I’m more partial to “Skew It On The Bar B”. Not only are Dre and Big at their best, you get a great verse by Raekwon the Chef 3.
This is a southern rap album, so you know there has to be a track for chillin’ the ‘lac. OutKast doesn’t disappoint, delivering the title track, “Aquemeni”.
From there, you get a number of solid tracks (such as Big Boi’s biography in “West Savannah”) before you get to what I believe is one of the most underrated songs in hip-hop – “Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt 1”. Usually songs like “…Storytellin’ Pt 1” come off as pretentious, yet OutKast succeeds where others4 fail. Plus it’s a touching song, as most of us have known or some across a “Sasha Thumper”. Check the lyrics:
Talkin’ bout what we gonna be when we grow up
I said what you wanna be, she said, “Alive”
It made me think for a minute, then looked in her eyes
I coulda died, time went on, I got grown
Rhyme got strong, mind got blown, I came back home
to find lil Sasha was gone
Her mamma said she with a n—- that be treatin’ her wrong
I kept on singin’ my song and hopin’ at a show
that I would one day see her standin’ in the front row
But two weeks later she got found in the back of a school
With a needle in her arm, baby two months due, Sasha Thumper
And here’s what Dre says about his verse5 :
Andre 3000: Every story that I’ve ever told is either triggered by something that I’ve been through or something that someone I know has experienced. So a lot of times, it’s based on something real.
When me and Erykah [Badu] were still together, one of Erykah’s friends in Dallas had a young daughter who was real intelligent. She was in school one day and the teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, and the answer she gave was, “alive.” I always thought that was so cool so I wove it into the story I was telling.
From there, you get more dope cuts (like the apocalyptic “Da Art Of Storytellin’ Part II”) before getting another classic – the hard to pronounce “SpottieOttieDopalicious”. “Spottie…” is smoothed out and funny at the same time. You’ve got some great horns with Dre and Big doing more “talking” than rapping. Big’s lyrics crack me up:
When I first met my SpottieOttieDopalicious Angel
I can remember that damn thing like yesterday
The way she moved reminded me of a Brown Stallion horse with skates on, you know,
smooth like a hot comb on nappy a–hair
I walked up on her & was almost paralyzed
her neck was smelling sweeter than a plate of yams with extra syrup
Finally, the album crescendos with what has to be the greatest OutKast song ever made – “Liberation”6 . Big and Dre sing, you get guest spots by Erykah Badu and Cee-Lo, and Big Rube brings it home with a great spoken word poem. Cee-Lo KILLS it on his verse:
No, no, no
I’m so tired, it’s been so long – struggling, hopelessly
Seven and forty days.. hey
Oh, I sacrifice every breath I breathe
To make you believe, I’d give my life away
Oh lord, I’m so tired, I’m so tired
My feet feel like I walked most of the road on my own
All on my own, wee..
We alive or we ain’t living, that’s why I’m giving until it’s gone
Cause I don’t wanna be alone (I don’t wanna be alone)
I don’t wanna be alone.. yeah
If there’s anything I can say, to help you find your way
Touch your soul, make it whole, the same for you and I..
There’s not a minute that goes by that I don’t believe
that you die.. but I can feel it in the wind
The beginning or the end
But people keep your head to the sky
- Go figure – I also joined my fraternity in the Fall of 1997.
- The album art is dope as hell, too. I LOVE that cover. Ranking of OutKast covers: 1) Aquemeni 2) ATLiens 3) Stankonia (the drawn version)
- Speaking of Raekwon, someone needs to put his verse from “C.R.E.A.M.” in the Smithsonian or Library of Congress.
- see Tupac – “Keep Ya Head Up”
- A must read for any ‘Kast fan- Creative Loafing’s The Making of OutKast’s Aquemini, where this quote is taken from.
- Another must read: Zettler Clay’s essay on the meaning of “Liberation”.