6,648 out of 10,000
I had a conversation with Outkasts Stankonia CD the other night. Stankonia, I said, What is it about you that bugs me? Youve got some really good songs and some genuinely funky shit going on, but I cant seem to like you. What is up?
The Stankonia CD said nothing. CDs are inanimate objects.
So I picked the disc up out of its jewel box and popped it into the player one more time. Realization quickly dawned with the Intro. The vocoder voice spells out the name of the band. Really all the introduction you need, but then theres some blatant P-Funk jabbering about being seven light years below the Earth and its funky and such. Then a young lady starts cooing as Andre 'Dre' Benjamin and Antoine 'Big Boi' Patton announce that its Bouncing BOUNCing BouncingBouncing, building to what should be the first song. Then instead of the first song, some other inaudible voice starts mumbling. Then it happens.
The guys shout, and the opening segment is over. We will hear this BREAK! more than nine times over the course of this album. Each time it puts my mind on reset. With seventeen songs and an endless succession of skits, its nearly impossible to keep the necessary momentum to maintain interest. If only theyd
Gasoline Dreams finally starts the album proper, assuredly belting out a scorching chorus, asking the question Dont everybody like the smell of gasoline? The beat kicks and the gasoline hisses, the Ps pop deliciously, asking, Dont everybody like the taste of Apple Pie? Everybody does, and everybody should like this track.
So Fresh, So Clean showcases the duos principal weapon, the P-Funky falsetto chorus. They half-whisper these little hooks, which carry several songs on this record. The hook certainly carries this jaunty little number. An even stronger hook helps Ms. Jackson escape its own earnestness.
Sorry, Ms. Jackson. This number fairly catchily enumerates the gentlemans case to his exs mother that he is a good man and a good father. What is it about hip-hop that makes wholesome songs about being a good guy so skeeving? The same thing that makes any song about being a good guy crap. Hell, Ricky Nelson didnt sing about what a nice boy he was, but about having a girl in every port. You want to list the nice things about yourself? Write a resume. You want to write a song, youd better have dark fantasies of violence and sex. Youre upset that Rap is so potty-mouthed, violent, and negative? Well youre racist, elitist, or a pussy. Rap isnt nasty enough. Pop music still hasnt come anywhere near painting or prose when it comes to exposing the evil and the Id. Were just getting serious now. Dont try to pass off positivity as truth.
Likewise Ill Call Before I Come. Theres a fine falsetto chorus, but the message of proper bedroom politics makes this number a sexual public service announcement. Theyre such good guys, theyre even good in the sack. How unsexy. They pretend to respect women, but Ill bet the condescension on We Luv Deez Hoes is the real story. Like Ill Call Before I Come, this number pretends to be stupidly raunchy. It does have much funny sexual silliness, but theres a sly message of black positivity, or as usual, negativity, calling black women fake, From the weaves to the fake eyes to the fake nose down to the toes / HaHaHaHaHaHa We luv deez hoes. No they dont.
Snappin and Trappin is straight up Rap, and this reveals another problem. The guys raps make me space. I dont think theyre that good at rapping. Outkast reminds me of The Roots. Probably the overemphasized intelligence and the live instruments, but also, the way the raps just dont grab. I know the lyrics arent always supposed to be Dylan in Rap; its the final James Brown inversion of rhythm over melody - the singing as drums. Still, if youre rapping and its not that interesting, theres a real problem on a hip-hop record. These guys make up for it with their Funk moves and inventive production by Outkast, Organized Noize, and Earthtone III, but
B.O.B. is truly something new and something very good. The incremental speeding up of the chorus of Bombs over Baghdad adds an excitement thats impossible to deny. Throw in some fierce guitar soloing and three different parts to the song, heres the track that makes the whole album worth it. Written overseas during the dawning of another war, its very difficult to discern what this song has to do with Baghdad. There are references to being on tour and to the ghetto (as well as a troubling reference to ragtops but check the paragraph on the evil and the Id), but I dont get the connection. Maybe it fixes a time in history, or maybe it just sounds cool. A great number.
There are some other good numbers, including Xplosion which is the best straight-up rap, and ? which combines the sound of booze pouring (you can hear the alcohol) with squishy synthesizer noises. On the other hand, Toilet Tisha doesnt work. Its a well-meaning number sympathizing with a young pregnant girl on the brink of infanticide or suicide. A fine subject, but it just drags, and drips with the album-poisoning earnestness heard elsewhere. An interlude with a spoken passage by Big Boi, as opposed to a rapped passage, shows how far from hip-hops groove Outkast has gotten.
The P-Funky falsettos dominate the long second half of the album, and they wear thin. I heard Snoop Doggy Doggs "Who Am I (What's My Name)" on the radio the other day, and it still sounds great. Of course, its just a blatant rip-off of George Clintons Atomic Dog. All those Dr. Dre productions of the time ripped P-Funk unashamedly, while Outkast are trying to write their own hooks. So why do I like Snoops song better? It has to do with Lionel Trillings truth that "Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal."
I know Im penalizing a cool hip-hop act for making an overlong album, and for an unfortunate choice
and I know that CDs are programmable, but damn it, I need to enjoy a record through and through. It can be done. Look at Old Dirty Bastards Nigga Please. Not a bad track there. Theres no corny stuff. There are some things to enjoy on Stankonia, but this thing is getting raves its too bloated and broken-up to merit.
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