Outkast – ATLiens (August 27, 1996)

I’ll start this post off by wishing ATLiens a happy 26th birthday, which it celebrated this past Saturday. I hope you enjoy the read!

If you’re a regular reader of TimeIsIllmatic, then you already know how much of a Stan I am of A Tribe Called Quest. Through thick or thin, rain or snow, classic album, or mediocre project, (hell, I even have a whole segment on this blog dedicated to them) I will always be a loyal (but honest) ride or die chick for my forever favorite hip-hop group of all time. But as ATCQ was about to begin their descent from the top of hip-hop’s mountain, there was a duo out of the south positioning themselves to take the baton and start their journey up that mountain.

The Atlanta based duo, OutKast (comprised of Andre 3000 aka 3 Stacks and Big Boi aka Daddy Fat Sax) made quite the first impression with their debut album, Southernplayalusticadilacmuzik (that I’ll admit, I was late to the party on). Backed by the heavily live instrumentation production style of the three-man production team, Organized Noize, SPCM would render two hit singles, one of which would earn OutKast a gold plaque (“Player’s Ball”) and a year after its release, the album would become certified platinum. OutKast wouldn’t rush to come back with a follow-up, but two years and change later, they would resurface with their sophomore effort, ATLiens.

The title, ATLiens, is a combination of OutKast’s home base (Atlanta) and a reference to their alien status, which is kind of a synonym for the group’s name. The album cover for ATLiens is a dope comic book illustration and the CD jacket is an elaborate twenty-six page booklet, which is mostly a comic book with a detailed storyline (credited to longtime OutKast collaborator and poet, Big Rube) that stars “Bin-Hahmin” and “Dad-Efat-Sax” as super heroes at war with their arch nemesis, Nosamulli and his Dark Horde, whose mission is “to control all music that will be made from here on out.” And what would become OutKast tradition, the physical CD itself features eye candy in the form of an animated naked curvaceous soul sista that I’m assuming you didn’t get on the cassette version of ATLiens. Wait. Now I’m curious how bangin’ the cartooned caramel goddess’ body looks on the larger vinyl platter. Am I a pervert for thinking about that?

Like SPCM, OutKast would call on Organized Noize to produce the bulk of ATLiens, but Andre and Big Boi would also be credited with producing five of the albums’ tracks with help from a host of musicians. ATLiens would be an even bigger commercial success than its predecessor, becoming OutKast’s first double platinum selling album. It would also receive great reviews from the critics and is considered by most a classic and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time.

And they were just getting started.

You May Die (Intro)ATLiens opens with somber music and a woman saying a Catholic Portuguese prayer. Then Joi, Whild Peach and Trina (I’m pretty sure it’s not “da baddest bitch” from Miami) join in singing melancholic words of encouragement, allowing the ear and heart that needs to hear their message a moment to weep before getting back up and continuing this journey called life. If you cried (or teared up) while listening to this beautifully sorrowful intro, don’t feel bad. You won’t be the first person or the last to do so.

Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac) – After a stereotypical alien voice (that was also used on the intro to “D.E.E.P.” on SPCM) gives his salutations to all of us lowly earthlings, Organized Noize drops a tough drumbeat coupled with a dark piano loop that finds Big Boi and 3 Stacks sounding refreshed but a bit disgruntled. The fellas voice their frustration with copycats, sucka emcees and groupie chicks, all while representing for the “south coast slums” aka Atlanta. This is a dope record (no pun intended) that will get your head nodding after the emotional rollercoaster that the intro took you on.

ATLiens – This title track was also the second single released from ATLiens. OutKast gets their first of a handful of production credits on the evening, hooking up rolling drums, a sturdy bass line and what sounds like an alien gospel choir singing in between the verses. Big Boi stays “cooler than a polar bears toenails” as he talks his southern player shit and Andre begins his transformation to alien status emcee, getting off two stellar thought-provoking verses (Dre’s second verse might be the best verse spat in ‘96 and its definitely one of his top ten verses of all time). This monster record is a bonafide classic that has aged very well.

Wheelz Of Steel – Lyrically, Boi and Dre clash to perfection on this one, as Boi spits hood shit in his Daddy Fat Sax persona, while Stacks continues to scorch the phenomenal production that ATLiens has begun with, spewing fire verses full of substance. OutKast is credited with producing this one, but Chanz is responsible for the anxious organ chords and Craig Love for the face-scrunch inducing guitar riffs that are the meat and potatoes of this production. The Premo like high-pitched squealing cuts (i.e., “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?” and “Code Of The Streets”) at the end of the song are the cherry on top of this musical masterwork.

Jazzy Belle – This was the third and final single released from ATLiens. The song opens with somber angelic female voices (Debra Killings and the Jazzyphatnastees) harmonizing, then pulsating drums drop, accompanied by grey melodic tones that our hosts use to rebuke sistas for being scandalous and promiscuous (hence the song title which is a play-off of the name of the wicked biblical Queen, Jezebel). In today’s cancel culture, I don’t think Kast would have gotten away with releasing this one, but I’m also sure that OutKast’s (or at least Andre’s) stance on the subject has changed since this was recorded. There’s also the “Swift C’s Remix” that doubled as the single version for this song. It’s pretty much the same, just with jazzed up drums and male vocalists singing over the voices of OutKast’s angels, giving it a crossover R&B feel. I prefer the original, and shoutout to Trends of Culture.

Elevators (Me & You) – This was the lead single from ATLiens. Kast creates a cool atmosphere with warm and grumpy keyboard notes, a hypnotic bass line that sounds like its sneaking through your window to burglarize your home while you sleep, drums that aren’t needed but add to the track’s mystique, all brought together by a super catchy nonsensical hook. Both Boi and Dre sound locked in, but of course Dre outshines his partner in rhyme with yet another alien performance during his second verse, where he recalls a bump in with an old classmate from high school. Yet another undeniable classic that has held up well through the years.

Ova Da Wudz – Andre spits one sharp verse about shady record companies and the struggle some brothers go through to feed their family, sandwiched in between two Big Boi verses about pussy, weed, and a bunch of randomness, while their homie, EJ Tha Witch Doctor, chants on the hook. I have no idea what the song title means, but the ill drums on this one immediately conjured up visions of Shaka Zulu dancing around his South African kingdom in celebration of another successful battle.

Babylon – The instrumentation on this one sounds like imminent doom is approaching, while faint wah-wah guitar licks and even more faint drums try to give the track some semblance of hope. Dre and Big Boi spit compelling verses and Andrea Martin’s (rip) chilling vocals on the hook keep this record interesting.

Wailin – The instrumentation on this one sounds like it’s the little brother to “Wheelz Of Steel,” and I had no idea that the wailing voice in between verses was that of Cee-Lo‘s (I blame that on ATLiens’ convoluted liner notes). While I’d much rather hear a meaty sixteen from Mr. Green, I enjoyed his gritty soulful moaning over Organized Noize’s southern fried production work.

Mainstream – Goodie Mob’s Khujo and T-Mo join Dre and Big Boi on this weary ON produced backdrop, as they all take turns discussing how one’s naivety and bad choices can lead to their demise. Per usual, Andre turns in a dope verse, but Khujo’s abstract verse delivered in his signature angry vocal tone was impressive as well.

Decatur Psalm – Big Boi is joined by Big Gipp and Cool Breeze to discuss some of the drama and illegal business that goes down in dem Decatur streets. I wasn’t crazy about Big Boi and his guests’ content or subject matter (which is probably why 3 Stacks sat this one out), but I did enjoy the soothing vocals of Joi, Whild Peach and Trina on the hook and the gloomy instrumental sounds better today than it did back in ‘96.

Millennium – Organized Noize orchestrates a dark layered mid-tempo bop that’s finds a depressed Andre rapping about his struggles to mentally maintain, while Boi is just looking for some unity in his community (I love his “they don’t feel like marching ‘cause they shoes is overrun” line). Dre’s humming on the hook is borderline annoying and the guest female (ShaJuanna Edghill) who rambles on about “planets, stars, clothes, hoes, cars, etc.” sounds like she high on heroin. Yet in still, I enjoyed this one.

E.T. (Extraterrestrial) – OutKast says “the hell with drums” and decides to spit over dark mysterious chords, eerie otherworldly sounds, and a faint war chant in the background, while EJ Tha Witch Doctor stops by again to sing the hook, celebrating are hosts’ extraterrestrialness. Dre and Boi do a solid job on this one and the uniquely quirky production is truly…out of this world.

13th Floor/Growing Old – This one begins with solemn piano notes and Big Rube sharing a conscious poem (which would become tradition on OutKast’s albums) that explains the meaning and importance of the number thirteen. The second half of this record incorporates the same piano chords, along with simple drums and Debra Killings comes back to sing the sad hook, while Stacks and Boi rap about change, maturity and death. Dre’s poetic closing bars sum things up best: “Fat titties turn to teardrops as fat ass turns to flab, sores that was open wounds eventually turn to scab, tress bright and green turn yellow-brown, autumn caught ‘em, see all them leaves must fall down growing old.” Those laws of nature even apply to the bosom and bottomed blessed naked Afro queen that graces the CD surface of ATLiens. Laugh to keep from crying.

Elevators (ONP 86 Mix) – The final record on ATLiens finds Organized Noize tampering with a masterpiece. The biggest difference in the two mixes is the absence of the sneaky bass line on this version, which makes all the difference in the world.

ATLiens will forever be remembered as the album that Andre 3000 made his metamorphosis from decent rapper to alien emcee (if you look close enough at the ATLiens’ album cover you’ll notice Dre’s Martian antennas peeking through his turban). On “Growing Old” 3 Stacks proclaims that he “takes this rap shit serious while others entertain,” and while he doesn’t waste a bar on ATLiens, each of his meaty sage like verses are wildly entertaining (we might have to partially credit Erykah Badu’s vagina for that). Big Boi, who is clearly not as lyrical as his partner, still manages to be an interesting B mic, and the contrast in the duo’s content provides a healthy balance of ratchetness and righteousness. Along with Dre’s lyrical maturation, Organized Noize and OutKast’s production would also continue to blossom, as they collectively construct an amazing soundscape of inconspicuously dark layered instrumentals for the Atlantis duo to comfortably maneuver through.

I can’t say that Andre and Big Boi were able to save the rest of hip-hop from the evil clutches of Nosamullii and his band of goons, but they definitely issued them an L with ATLiens. From top to bottom, ATLiens is an undeniable classic that still mesmerizes twenty-six years after its birth.


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1 Response to Outkast – ATLiens (August 27, 1996)

  1. tonyw1122 says:

    I might be the only one, but I love the humming on Millennium. I still nod my head when it starts. Sounds just as good if not better than ’96. A classic album indeed!!

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