It’s impossible to not be floored by this record. I’m willing to declare that it blurred the lines between art rock, hip-hop and R&B for good. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is the masterpiece of Outkast, perhaps the most inventive and important hip-hop group of the 2000s (barring the Roots, who I haven’t really gotten into yet).
There is as much creativity, personality and soul here as there is on any Prince, Public Enemy or Al Green LP. But it couldn’t have been made without the trailblazing that all those people did. The music of Andre 3000 and Big Boi was a glorious combination of a lot of good influences, a refusal to be predictable, and a grand sense of ambition. The Love Below is slowly ingratiating, multifaceted and audacious, but I think Speakerboxxx may surpass it. The latter is in tight competition with Paul’s Boutique as the greatest rap record I have ever heard. It is abundantly clear with nearly every track that just as much thought and complexity went into the music and production as did the lyrics. The songs change, develop and surprise with their cleverness and variety. TLB settles into a reflective, slow-burning mood toward the end, but even that never gets boring or rote. The rest is an effortless, kaleidoscopic creative endeavor that’s so smooth and confident, it almost seems simplistic until you peel back the layers.
Like most of my 2000s choices, it was one of the last few records to succeed and sell as a cohesive whole, and even won Album of the Year at the Grammys, a tremendous success in such a whitewashed cultural sphere. Its numerous hits were everywhere, and absolutely deserved it. It’s a musical touchstone, and those are getting farther and farther apart these days. Again, this is a pretty important collection of songs, but nevermind that – they’re so much fun!
Key tracks: “Bust”, “Spread”
See also: Black On Both Sides – Mos Def (1999), Stankonia – Outkast (2000)