OutKast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Album Review)

OutKast season returns as we return to 2003's interesting double album 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below'. Instead of a duo album, both rappers decided this time to release 2 solo albums together - and while you may reflect on it now as the beginning of the end, it was an interesting approach at the time and it's fair to say they pulled it off.

The production on Big Boi's half of the album overall is pretty good - it's kind of what you'd come to expect with it's guitar bass', drum patterns, cool synth lines and groovy style and while it's nothing too crazy - it's still very enjoyable. 'GhettoMusick' begins with these rally fast paced claps and kicks with a strong electronic influence before switching to a slowed down and soulful instrumental for the post chorus which sounds great as Big Boi talks on being back, and not liking the state of rap. André features on the track as well giving us a silly but catchy hook and it's a punchy, fast paced and great sounding introduction to the project. The production on 'Unhappy' is great as well with the soft sounding guitar bass and wet synths as Big Boi talks on happiness being the most important thing in life. The verses are packed with powerful and thoughtful bars and the hook sounds so smooth, groovy and uplifting. Big Boi's flow is fire on this - he delivers his point in such an engaging way. One beat I'm not a fan of comes from 'Church', with its fast paced keys which just sound very animated and silly as the track speaks on being homeless and sinning due to it and the key theme is religion and evilness. The singers on this track really create a mood here and Big Boi's flow is good as well as him having some good punchlines and powerful lines - the animated beat stops this track from being top tier though.

As for Big Boi's performance, he was lyrically strong - providing us some great verses, with hard bars full of ego and confidence behind them as well as a solid punchline and bit of wordplay here and there. He isn't full of complex lines or mind blowing verses - he just provides consistency with great bars throughout. On 'The Rooster' he has some good imagery of a broken home and metaphors throughout, "K-O, knocked out by technicality // The love has kissed the canvas, now the whole family is mad at me // My daughter don't want me at her PTA meetings And then my son, he can't talk, when I change him he's peeing", as he talks on a breakup with his baby momma and how the family relationship is damaged due to it. The hard piano, electric guitar and trumpets all give off a head bobbing beat as Big Boi's great flow again makes a catchy song. I don't care for the hook too much but it's not exactly bad and only acts as a short interlude. 'Reset' has some pretty powerful lines as Big Boi talks on the issues with prison and conception, "Cell therapists beware of this lugie that I spit // Incarceration without rehabilitation really don't mean shit // Little Ricky's home, he gotta serve probation for six months // But Uncle Darnell and Ol' Dirty Bastard still in the joint". The singing on the hook wasn't gripping but the eeriness was fine, while Khujo Goodie's verse on racism was held back by his stuttery flow while CeeLo Green had the best verse with his smooth delivery and flow - it wasn't enough to save the track however. The fall off on the album continues here with the uninteresting beat and the whole thing just being very slow moving and meh. His flow is really nice, smooth and constantly changing tempo and pace while his mean delivery sounds good as well.

There's a lot of features on here from those you come to expect - but every single one does well until the second half and I'm pleasantly surprised by that. On 'Bust' we get a Killer Mike feature who gives us some great bars, slick wordplay and an incredible amount of energy in his delivery, "I serve whipped, out of whips, whip out cash // Usually keep a G-pack on the dash", as the song talks on be better than the competition over this rock influenced, aggressive beat which allows for the hook to be laid so nicely. Big Boi has some solid wordplay on this track, "But my hunger is the thunder, no wonder it can't be smothered // Or buttered up, buttercup, melt your sauce // You a Chuck E. Cheese bouncer chumpin' off the boss", and his delivery as well made this track once again great and full of energy. Killer Mike is back on 'Flip Flop Rock' to give us a great verse with some great metaphors and hard bars, "You can have 'The Whole World' // Or be satisfied with the boulevard, overstand!" (talking on the difference between making it in rap or continuing on as a drug dealer), while JAY-Z has a surprise feature and steals the flow which a catchy bridge, great flow, solid wordplay and such confidence and swagger in his delivery. The tracks main focus is how their music is superior and it's laid over this fast tempo'd beat which is great. The verses while good are nothing to really shout about, and again it's a great track just not as impressive as some of the songs in the opening half of this. The finale to Big Boi's half, 'Last Call', features Mello who's animated delivery sounds good and is a nice edition, Lil Jon who only chants on the hook but the energy and charisma makes his presence felt, and finally Slimm Calhoun had a presence here despite not saying much interesting. The track is a party track which works well over the wet synths and screeching effect giving it a good groove as it's a fun and great ending to Big Boi's side.

Content wise Big Boi's half is mainly focused on being a successful rapper, being better than the rest, flexing and that ghetto lifestyle. This is kind of shown on 'Tomb of the Boom' which is all about rap, guns, the streets, weed and girls. The features on here from C-Bone, Big Gipps, Supa Nate, Lil Brotha & Ludacris overall perform well individually, but together don't do anything to stand out over this also non-standout bouncy beat. Overall this track is incredibly average - I don't like the hook at all either. I can't pin down what it is, but there's something about this track which means I just ain't feeling it and I can't work out what it is. He does take a more conscious tone at some points during the album such as on the track 'War', as he talks about the corruption of the American government, especially the military operations involving Al-Queda. The verses are very powerful, "Operation Anaconda - ask yourself // Was it full of bleeps and blunders, did they ever find Osama? // And why in the fuck did Daniel Pearl have to pay the price // For his life and his wife plead twice?", and the beat is groovy and simplistic before bursting into life with more oomf during the 2nd verse. The hook is nice, the content is well thought out and it's a great song - it could've maybe covered a few more topics however. Another topic that is common is his relationships - whether that be with his baby momma (seen on the track 'The Rooster'), his children or even André. He focuses on his relationship with André on 'The Way You Move', claiming OutKast are ever lasting over this seductive club type beat and jazz influence as Big Boi delivers his verses with smooth and seductive vocals to match the track as he glides over the beat effortlessly. The track also hypes up the new album and talks on being able to get with girls. Sleepy Brown's smooth and catchy vocals are typical at this point, as once again the hook sounds good. Another great track from Big Boi's side.

Other tracks to look at include 'Bowtie' which speaks on wearing stylish clothes and getting girls over these jazzy trumpets and catchy, upbeat vibe. Big Boi's metaphors are vivid on this as he provides great verses. Jazze Pha and Sleepy Brown's hook is so infectious and the track is just really catchy and funky. 'Knowing' tells the story of a girl who's desperate for money - so she strips and robs people she has sex with (which backfires for her), as well as spending money on designer items rather than basic needs. Big Boi has some slick storytelling and powerful lines over this deep guitar bass and pretty standard beat and André is back to give us a nice hook and a great song.

To conclude, Big Boi's section worked well for turn up music and party bangers. I wasn't sure how a Big Boi solo album would fare (as I haven't heard one of his), but it was great overall it just fell off drastically in the second half. The skits were good, entertaining but not always adding something and overall I'd say Big Boi's album is a solid 8/10 - the first half was a 10/10 however it just massively dropped in quality.

Firstly, the production on André's side of the project is great and full of catchy drum patterns, piano's and nice guitar melodies. At times it's very electronic/techno inspired with heavy synth use, such as on the track 'Prototype' which has these sticky synths, heavenly guitar strings which create that heavenly mood. It's all about finding the one - and if it's not the one, it being a valuable life lesson in relationships. It has a really floaty and heavenly vibe and vocals as you can just sit back and vibe with this track - it's a great song. Other moments are more jazzy and take a focus on brass instruments such as on the first actual track 'Love Hater', as the message of the song is everybody needs someone to love. I like the idea of the track and it is decent - but it's not overly entertaining. 'Pink & Blue' has these very futuristic shooting synths and hollow drums that do a good job at setting the tempo as André fantasises about an older woman. It's not awful, it's decent but the vocals aren't too captivating and it's just very slow moving - at least the hook grew on me. The violin outro sounds absolutely beautiful however.

André's song writing ability is on show here with some catchy melodies, clear and coherent themes and slightly poetic lyrics with deep meanings or metaphoric edges, such as on the smash single 'Hey Ya!' which is a great example of song writing and has an infectious hook as he talks on fearing relationships and forcing yourself to stay with your partner due to being scared of loneliness or even tradition. The upbeat, glossy beat with a catchy guitar makes the whole song so irresistible - there's a reason it got so big and being fast moving and one of the shortest tracks on here it will forever be replayable and compelling. 'Roses' is full of vivid and great metaphors such as when André says "She needs a golden calculator to divide (to divide) // The time it takes to look inside and realize // That real guys go for real down to Mars girls, yeah" as he makes an anti-gold digger song stating looks can only get you so far. Big Boi is on this track with André and has a very strong verse with an incredible flow as well as funny and clever lines, "She said, "Pardon me, are you balling?" // I said "Darling, you sound like a prostitute pausing" // Oh, so you're one them freaks // Get geeked at the sight of an ATM receipt". It's another upbeat instrumental which a deep synth bass and groovy drum pattern as well as a really catchy hook, strong message and a Big Boi verse which topped this off to be an elite OutKast song. The finale to the album 'A Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete)' see's André provide us some great storytelling and a long verse packed with slick wordplay and great metaphors, ""Now are these n***** in this house up to something // Selling crack sack by sacks so they could function?" // W-W-W-Well, yes and no // Yes, we were selling it, but no, it wasn't blow // Cook it in the basement then move it at a show // Then grab the microphone and everybody yelled, "Ho!"", as he takes us on a trip down memory lane to before 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik' was released up until this point talking on meeting his baby mama, changing styles for his new album and even meeting Big Boi. He's actually rapping on this track, and it keeps you gripped with his story and his flow which glides effortlessly over these catchy clicks and kicks to give us a great finish to the album. André, as he made more of a pop record, was singing on this album and while he isn't Michael Jackson levels of good when it comes to singing, he used his voice well and the multi-layering effects worked to provide us entertaining vocals throughout.

The features are limited but all do a good job providing us with a vocal performance that settles down nicely with André's style. Rosario Dawson has a small feature on 'She Lives in My Lap' and slots in well doing what was required with a great vocal performance to clash with André's as the song talks on a relationship which possibly could be taken further over this psychedelic, spacey beat with a hard guitar adding the grooviness edge to it. The strained vocals from André actually sound really good to create the psychedelic vibe and it's a key highlight on this entire project. Kelis drops an enjoyable verse with great wordplay and references throughout, "So much at stake, oh, bad choice of words", as well as a really vibey vocal performance as she gives us the female perspective on 'Dracula's Wedding' as the track talks on wanting to find the one - but when you do being scared of heart break as André drops Dracula and vampire metaphors all throughout. The beat has the same spiraling keyboard similar to in the Dracula movies with deep trumpets acting as a bass as this is a really bouncy and lively track as well as being easy to get into. Norah Jones drops nice, naked vocals over this stripped back acoustic guitar as the track just repeats "Take off your cool" to reference that you should stop hiding behind whatever makes you act different around your lover on the track 'Take Off Your Cool'. This is a small song, and while not the most impactful it's very raw production makes it a nice song.

André's side is a concept album focusing around the concept of love. It tackles many themes related to love such as the importance of it, finding the one, fears of relationships, sex and pretty much any other topic you can think of related to love. He covers a broad range of topics excellently. 'Happy Valentine's Day' see's André take the persona of Cupid and tells us the importance of love and how great is is over these catchy, plucking guitar strings and groovy instrumental. The hook is great and infectious, it's a really good pop song and André's laid back almost whispering delivery actually works well. The 4th verse absolutely steals the show here with some slick wordplay and metaphors. 'Love in War' has the key message which is make love not war, and the message is layed over these quick tempo'd claps and pretty stripped back beat with heavenly synths. His raw vocals do help at making his point as it comes across honest - it's a good song but again not close to the highest highs on here. 'Vibrate' is about making your own choices (mainly referencing masturbation) - regardless of religion or what your parents say. The reversed drums sounds really nice as André gives us some vivid metaphors and wordplay, "And yes, God is watching you // But no need to be embarrassed // For the future is in your hands // No, the future is in your hand // Play with your own score sheet", and the whole tracks vibey and atmospheric sound would slot right in on 'ATLiens'. I like the song, but it's a bit slow at progressing into something and goes on for too long - it has a good hook however.

Other tracks to look at include 'Spread' which talks on meeting a girl and wanting to sleep with her with some descriptive and vivid lines over these fast paced African drums, organ and jazzy brass elements. It's a good track, but the fact it's the same hook repeated over and over again wouldn't bother me if it was exceptional - but it's only good which stops this track being track. 'Behold a Lady' talks on how hard it is to find a great woman with some poetic and great songwriting over this electro, funky beat with a catchy melody to it. It's another track here that's good but doesn't exactly push further than that. The hook is nice, but not exactly catchy and other tracks on here are just better than it.

To conclude, André's vocal performance and the way he used his voice kept us engaged for the most part. The mix of different genres made this just great sounding music and catchy - basic, but basic as it should be. It's a shame we don't really get to see more of this André, but some moments with his vocals aren't as good or a hook isn't as interesting as others and it slightly lets the album down. The interludes on here help push the narrative being told and are also pretty enjoyable, and personally I think it's slightly better than Big Boi's album, both are pretty even and it's probably a light 8.5/10.

FAVOURITE TRACKS: GhettoMusick, Unhappy, Bowtie, The Way You Move, The Rooster, Bust, War, Flip Flop Rock, Last Call, Happy Valentine's Day, Prototype, She Live's in My Lap, Hey Ya!, Roses, She's Alive, Dracula's Wedding, A Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete) LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: Reset OVERALL RATING: Light 8.5/10

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