F(reakiness) M

Outkast are idealistic, but they're not stupid. For Aquemini, they anchor the cosmic headtrips of their second record, ATLiens,with the bumping Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik of their first. Nonetheless, Aqueminiis an impassioned state-of-hip-hop address. On "Rosa Parks," Dre speaks for every fan who felt burned by all the tossed-off product of late: "Went on out an bought it cause I thought it would be jammin'/but examine all the flawsky-wawsky, awfully sad and costly." Plenty of New York indie rappers have complained about "the state of the art form we used to call hip-hop," but the general reaction is a nostalgic return to the high holy days of '88 or '91-92. With no Southern equivalent to the Almighty Old School (2 Live Crew and Kriss Kross certainly don't count) hanging over their heads, Outkast are much freer to invent their own tradition--tag it the Out School. In the process, they steered hip-hop away from a looming dead end, dropping an album as surprising and sophisticated as The Low End Theory or Follow the Leader.

They produced most of Aquemini themselves, but picked up their flair for milking the powers of sound from Organized Noize (Rico Wade, Ray Murry, and Pat "Sleepy" Brown), the Atlanta production team responsible for their first two records, along with TLC's smash "Waterfalls" and the gospel-fearing Goodie Mob catalogue. Relying on mostly live instrumentation--everything from horns to calimbas to bone rattles--O.N. bring a warm, organic feel to their constructions, every conga beat in perfect place. Dre's infant son (with Badu) Seven cries and struggles to talk on Outkast's drug-slanging exegesis "Slump," like he already fears what the future might bring. Aquemini's final manifesto is the rock-rap hybrid "Chonkyfire," which bitch-slaps Canibus's tepid "Rip Rock" like he's LL and they're Naomi Campbell. "Do you know what brings rats, mice, snakes up out they hole?" they ask. "Chonkyfire, spliced with rock'n'roll." Does that count as country? Cause, as Outkast once said, "It ain't over 'til that big gal from Decatur sings."

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