OutKast

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Nearly a decade ago, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik announced OutKast as one of hip hop's most inspired acts, and over subsequent albums the duo has created one of the most unusual catalogs in the genre, beefing up double-barreled Southern bounce with acid rock, drum 'n' bass, and gospelly G-funk. The rappers' dovetailing vocal interplay, not to mention their divergent public personas -- Big Boi as a jewels-and-jersey thug, André 3000 as a flamboyant stowaway on P-Funk's Mothership -- has always been at the heart of their success, which makes this double CD a radical departure. While the record's full of collaborations, the two rappers never actually worked together on it. Speakerboxxx, one disc in the set, is all Big Boi and his boys; the other, The Love Below, is all André and friends. Reportedly, neither heard the other's half until after the final mix-down. The whole is less a double album than a game of "telephone" in which both participants took the phrase "hip hop" and set off running in opposite directions.

Big Boi's is the more conventional disc here, relying on dirty electro rhythms, tightly rhymed verses, and guest spots from the likes of Killer Mike and Jay-Z. Still, it's hardly rote. From the mariachi horn flourishes on "The Rooster" to the rave stabs on "Ghettomusick" to Big Boi posing as an anti-war gangster who attends PTA meetings, Speakerboxxxwould easily stand on its own as one of the year's most astounding hip hop albums, as catchy as it is iconoclastic.

That it's one-upped by The Love Below is, in part, because the latter's hardly a rap record at all. A concept album based on André 3000's newfound domestic bliss, the record runs from big-band jazz on "Love Hater" to lilting R&B on "She Lives in My Lap" to, most unexpectedly, fuzzy psychedelic rock on the single "Hey Ya!" While Big Boi is channeling the Doobie Brothers, André's been digging into Coltrane, which might explain the cover of "My Favorite Things." He rhymes on a few tracks, but elsewhere André's gravelly growl and sexed-up falsetto take cues mainly from Prince, as do his restless, unconventional arrangements. In the end, though, The Love Below is far more than the sum of its parts; it's a luscious, loving ode to all that's sweet in the world. The same can be said for the package as a whole. For a trial separation, the recording process produced one remarkable pair of fraternal twins: They may not resemble each other, but both are so feisty, funny, and freaky that they could only have come from the same source.

 
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