There are many reasons why the fourth long-player offering from our favourite Atlanta duo is a true classic of our time. The fact that ‘Stankonia’ is probably not actually as good as the less-lauded and in some quarters under-appreciated predecessor ‘Aquemini’ is an argument for another time. And let’s not even get into ‘ATLiens’. But in a way this is splitting the finest of hairs, as all are pretty damn incredible offerings from the mighty Outkast. But ‘Stankonia’, released in 2000 to almost universal acclaim, is the album that took the group’s fame way beyond the status of merely being rap’s favourite underground dynamic duo, and into the upper reaches of the commercial charts, and thus into widespread awareness and appreciation.
It is the album with more recognisably catchy hooks, where the outrageous visions of the futuristically funky nether world that they partly reside in, dripping in psychedelic dreamscapes and lyrical and musical innovation, couple’s itself to slightly more accessible ingredients. No less ambitious than ‘Aquemini’, no less startling in its invention, but just slightly more commercial. It still wallows in southern soulfulness, providing wording to the manifesto of “stank”, that southern inflection of the term “stink” which none other than George Clinton proclaimed as the original meaning of the word “funk”.
It speaks of the carnal, slightly debauched, orgiastic assault on the senses that the music suggests. The record is built on the shifting sands of a remarkable selection of musical styles and genres, with influences from G-Funk to bhangra, rock metal to salsa, but all tied down by incredible production values less from the normal stable of Organized Noize, and more on this occasion from the duo themselves and keyboardist Earthtone III. Due in part to this rich musical tapestry, the album simply never gets tired, and rather it reveals new layers of brilliance on each listen, and is also that rarest of things a rap album that stands up to a fuss-free listen all the way through, skits included.
Highlights are manifold, but if I were to choose a song that perhaps sums up everything that is great about it I would turn to the mighty ‘So Fresh, So Clean’, sitting at Track 5 on our ‘Fresh playlist. Built around an interpolation of Joe Simon’s amazing ‘Before The Night is Over’, featuring incredible rapping (possibly Big Boi and Dre’s finest verses in one single song?), a mixture of southern slang and downright ridiculous instrumentation, the song bristles with the freshness of its title. From the opening skittering drums with the heavy snare and kick drums, to the languid melody that introduces itself with a warped out organ squelch, and of course the afore-mentioned lyrical flow which is cooler than Freddie Jackson sippin a milkshake in a snowstorm. If you are able to find the instrumental version only it is well worth a listen as it is only then that you get a real sense of the wonderfully lugubrious interplay of funky soul patterns. The coolest motherfunkers on the planet? Probably.