The Love Below / Speakerboxxx
our score: 4.0 out of 5.0
Poet and the Player Make Their Big Fat Glorious Messes
you feel about this double-solo-album project from André
Benjamin and Antwan Patton will have a lot to do with how you
feel about messes. Some people like a nice tidy world, with everything
in its place, all the tools hung up in the right place, never
miss the flashlight when the power goes out, etc. Those people
should just start running from The Love Below/Speakerboxxx
now, and never ever look back.
yeah, this is a mess, 39 tracks (sorry, traxxx) and almost 146
minutes of music, hugely self-indulgent and strange, unfocused
and undisciplined, all over the board. Both try too hard, both
take too-obvious shots at "conventional" hip-hop wisdom,
and both seem to be feeling their way tentatively at times, as
opposed to the boldly confident critic's darling Stankonia.
This release is the anti-Stankonia: shambling, rambling,
dripping all over with excess and showoffery and MESS.
I like mess. I got bored with Stankonia after
a few months because I thought it TOO confident in its formula,
so much so that the typical OutKast internal tension (Dré
as the spacey lover man, Boi as the hardcore realist) turned into
contradiction in an unnecessary and pandering way—how sensitive
to "Ms. Jackson"'s daughter are you really when you're
talking about your dick being in her friend's mouth? Even a prime
avant-banger like "Bombs Over Baghdad" seemed too nice,
too clean for me.
there's no way this qualifies as that. The Love Below,
André 3000's disc, is the big offender on this score; it
worships the P.Funk and the Prince funk and the indie rock and
the drum'n'bass and the Broadway ballad, no two tracks sound anywhere
like each other in the least. The other disc, Big Boi's Speakerboxxx,
runs more than 20 minutes shorter, but manages to essay straight-up
hip-hop, smooth soul with rapping, rock with rapping, gospel with
rapping, songs with horns and strings and hella guest appearances,
wild, out of control, messy like a two-year-old.
And, at times, it's brilliant, like a picture
fingerpainted by the two-year-old Basquiat. I love the first two
singles, which couldn’t really be more different: 3000's
"Hey Ya" has been compared to Frank Black, rightly,
but is actually a lot more like Cody ChesnuTT with some serious
production values happening—it's fun and light and horny
and bouncy, a nice frothy summer song with tossed-off asides like
"Don't want to meet your daddy / Just want you in my Caddy"
and lyrics celebrating the ephemeralities of the pompatus of love.
Big Boi's entry, which is on MTVJams every six minutes, is the
smoothed-out "I Love the Way You Move," a delicious
r&b hip-hop song, celebrating the beat of the 808 and the
way it makes big women dance, horn section icing on the top like
the hand of God. If each of them had made their albums exactly
like these songs, everyone would be happy.
those of us who like messy things, which, I think, also includes
OutKast. The Love Below marks André Benjamin forever
as one of the great overreachers of our time. He takes on every
kind of music he loves and is able to produce at least an inspired
pastiche of each of them: jazzy ballads, slow jams, nerdy jams,
the aforementioned drum'n'bass (a very Coltranean take on "My
Favorite Things"), ripping off three different periods of
Prince Rogers Nelson, etc. Lyrically, too, it's all about the
extreme: hyper-romanticism ("I hope that you're the one /
If not, you are the prototype"), hyper-sincerity ("She's
Alive," which tells the story of how his mother sacrificed
for him by using her own recorded words as verses), hyper-meanness
("Caroline" is the most misogynistic song on either
album, with its repeated hissing of "Bitch"), hyper-drama
("Dracula's Wedding" with Kelis). He's hyper-everything!
that hyper-osity works against him somewhat, on slightly failed
tracks like "Roses" and "She Lives in My Lap,"
and flameouts like the achingly autobiographical closer "A
Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete)," where
he draws us into his life and his world and then drops us flat
before even explaining what's happened to him post-Badu. But who
cares? Don't hate on a brother for being a bit hyper. And don't
hate Big Boi for doing what everyone thought he'd do: bring the
hip-hop hard but with some switchups. Speakerboxxx is
by far the most consistent of the two. When he wants to aim at
the current status quo, he does it real with songs like the pimpy
"Bowtie" and the Dirty bounce "Last Call."
But when he wants to expand his parameters, he can bust complex
uptempo techno stuff like the Killer Mike/Jay-Z collab "Flip-Flop
Rock" or the inspirational jam "Church."
I find Boi's flow much less anti-woman
now that he's not being put up against all André's "modern
guy/freak" thing—in fact, his whole lyrical attack
is very much on point. There is nothing wrong with "War"
and its hardcore social protests: "Politicians, modern day
magicians, physicians of death / More healthcare for poor health
/ Who makin' us ill?", and absolutely nothing wrong with
the way his voice slides inbetween the syncopated horns and organs
and weird chicken samples of "The Rooster." He sounds,
if anything, freer than his compatriot; no longer does he have
to represent the interests of all "players" in the band
as opposed to André's "poet" persona. This makes
his own (quite poetic) rapping style even more confident, and
drives home his lyrics like never before.
But yeah, it's messy and kinda hit-and-miss
sometimes, and not all the tracks are going to grab you at once.
But that, you see, is exactly what they wanted. OutKast has always
been about busting out of pre-determined roles, and has taken
pride in their iconoclasticism. This seems like the ultimate expression
of those impulses, and it sounds great and ridiculous at the same
time, and it's fascinating to learn so much about two very different
but very similar men all at once.
So take your time with this one. Don't
try to absorb the whole thing at once or it'll get all over you.
Just listen, and then keep listening. It won't be a chore, believe
me. And bring extra napkins to clean up all that mess, will ya?
liked Speakerboxxx / The Love Below...
2. Ghetto Musick
4. Bowtie - (featuring Sleepy Brown/Jazze Pha)
5. Way You Move, The - (featuring Sleepy Brown)
6. Rooster, The
7. Bust - (featuring Killer Mike)
11. Tomb Of The Boom - (featuring Konkrete/Big
14. Flip Flop Rock - (featuring Killer Mike/Jay-Z)
16. Reset - (featuring Khujo Goodie/Cee-Lo)
18. Last Call - (featuring Slimm Calhoun/Lil'
Jon & The Eastside Boyz/Mello)
DISC 2: THE LOVE BELOW:
1. Love Below, The
2. Love Hater
4. Happy Valentine's Day
6. Where Are My Panties
8. She Lives In My Lap - (featuring Rosario
9. Hey Ya!
11. Good Day, Good Sir
12. Behold A Lady
13. Pink & Blue
14. Love In War
15. She's Alive
16. Dracula's Wedding - (featuring Kelis)
17. My Favorite Things
18. Take Off Your Cool - (featuring Norah Jones)
20. Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre