Two separate musical offerings, but one album? The idea behind Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was hard to reason with at first.
But seeing Andre 3000 and Big Boi share a long embrace onstage at the Grammys in 2004, as winners of Album Of The Year, was both a heart-warming moment and a unifying ribbon to tie around this double record.
"We play a lot off of each other. But that record right there [Speakerboxxx/The Love Below] was, 'OK, this is Big's train of thought and this is Dre's train of thought.' Two sides to the same coin, but tell it in different ways." Antwan Patton aka Big Boi’s explained to Rolling Stone in 2013.
The record is still so unique for its demarcated physical format. But over its 39 tracks, it exuded an integrated Outkast energy and pushed hip hop’s sound and themes into new terrain.
Andre produced and co-wrote songs on Big Boi’s disc Speakerboxxx. Like the propulsive ‘Ghetto Musick’, the gritty neighbourhood jam ‘Knowing’ and the Southern spiritual joy of ‘Church’.
'We never relaxin', OutKast is everlastin'' is Big Boi’s testimony during the silky smooth 'The Way You Move'.
Elsewhere tracks like 'War' and 'The Rooster' take on military misadventures and parental struggles. They show a broadening of social concerns and but also a groundedness that came with age and maturity.
Whilst Southern hip hop is the foundation for Speakerboxxx, Andre’s The Love Below is distinct for its funk, pop, psychedelic and jazz influences. The spacey schmaltz of ‘Prototype’ is a clear nod to Prince. And then there’s the plain wackiness of nuptials to flowers that don’t smell so floral. 'Roses really smell like poo-poo-oo,' he sings without the slightest hint of irony on 'Roses'.
We imitate their music and funk it up! It’s all one cycle. Jimi learned from Bob Dylan. It really ain’t no black and white thing – it’s in the music.Andre 3000 — The Guardian
Then there’s the electrifying and inescapably infectious ‘Hey Ya!’, one of the songs that defined the decade. The Beatles were a big influence behind that song.
“I mean, white people, they been imitatin’ black music for so long because they like it so they want to do it," Andre 3000 told The Guardian. "But flip it around! We imitate their music and funk it up! It’s all one cycle. Jimi learned from Bob Dylan. It really ain’t no black and white thing – it’s in the music.”
It’s not surprising the two creative minds wanted to move toward their own individual styles 11 years into their career. But there was a special creative spark that they generated from each other’s music.
"That competition brings the best out of each other," rapper Killer Mike, who appears on two tracks on Speakerboxxx, told MTV in 2013. "That's the beautiful thing about being in a group. It's almost like being brothers.
"It was beautiful to see them getting energy from one another.”
A decade on from their last release, we could all well do with more beautiful and buoyant Outkast music.