Outkast, Stankonia

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 08.26.12 in Reviews



The approach toward the year 2000 was an ominous one: the techno-paranoia and doomsday millenarianism of Y2K, that mythic string of zeroes finally upon us. Whether it was this forward-looking urgency or not, it was a truly profound moment for pop music. In early October 2000, Radiohead released Kid A, a paradigm-shifting reset of arena rock. And on Halloween, Atlanta’s Outkast released Stankonia, still one of the strangest and most ambitious hip-hop albums ever made. The Outkast duo of Big Boi and Andre had already prepared us for artful contradictions, most notably on their masterpiece Aquemini. But the Stankonia moment was announced by “Bombs Over Baghdad,” a triumphant, jungle-influenced oddball of a single that was nearly twice as fast as anything else on the radio. By the time Stankonia arrived, it was clear that the always-improving duo had crafted a true masterpiece. The album was like a history of the future in about an hour, and with all due respect to Aquemini it is probably the greatest distillation of the Outkast vision. There were hits that sounded instantly familiar, like the ice-water swagger of “So Fresh, So Clean” and the complex, grown folks earnestness of “Ms. Jackson.” There were moments of nasty, reckless abandon, like “Gangsta Shit” or the coquettish “I’ll Call Before I Come.” And there were songs that yearned for or described a better world, like the post-Hendrix wail of “Gasoline Dreams” or the skyward, Erykah Badu-assisted “Humble Mumble.” That Stankonia could accommodate such a range of images attests to its power. It is swampy and thick and earthy and funky; it is sleek and cold and futuristic. It is as complicated as everyday life.