Today, September 23rd, 2013 marks the 10-year anniversary of Outkast’s landmark album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. When I realized this, the first thing that went through my mind was “Damn, time flies.” It seems like it was yesterday that I was listening to “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move” on 102.7 KIIS FM while my mom was driving me to school. I remember “Hey Ya!” being played at those awkward-ass middle school dances. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below also has personal importance to me because, along with The Black Album, it’s the first hip-hop record that I actually went out and bought (it’s hard to imagine a time before iTunes, but buying CDs was actually a thing 10 years ago). Now, some might be asking why, of all the hip-hop albums released around this time, am I writing about this particular one. Well, quite simply, Outkast raised the bar with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as far as hip-hop goes, and that bar has yet to be matched.
Normally, I don’t give a fuck about a hip-hop album’s commercial success because most people will buy anything with a catchy hook and a wack beat. That being said, the commercial success of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below should not be overlooked. It topped the Billboard 200 at number one for a combined 7 weeks and was certified diamond. The album sold over 11 million copies and is the best-selling hip-hop album of all time. “Hey Ya!” was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine straight weeks only to be supplanted by “The Way You Move.” It was also the first song to go platinum on iTunes. Outkast received six Grammy nominations in 2004 for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and won three of them, joining Lauryn Hill as only the second hip-hop artists to win Album of the Year, something no rapper has done since.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was pretty much two solo albums that were released under the Outkast umbrella, with Speakerboxxx being Big Boi’s pet project while The Love Below belonged to Andre 3000. Had Speakerboxxx been released as a record on its own, there's no doubt in my mind that it would’ve been hailed as one of the greatest southern hip-hop albums ever. For me, Big Boi is such an underrated and underappreciated MC. Now, he's not gonna give you intellectually charged bars as, say, a Nas, or a Black Thought, or a Common. But, what he can do is give complex rhymes that are more tangible to casual listeners than so called conscious rappers, and that’s exactly what he does on Speakerboxxx, which produced “The Way You Move,” probably the smoothest track on the entire album.
But as great as Speakerboxxx was, The Love Below is what made this record as special as it was. On its own Speakerboxxx would’ve just been another great Outkast album. It wasn’t too different from anything they had done before, which isn’t a bad thing considering they had released three classic albums in a row, something that hadn’t been done since A Tribe Called Quest. However, The Love Below was a musical revelation. You almost can’t really call it hip-hop. It had R&B, soul, funk, and jazz. Andre 3000 did it all: from talking about how hard relationships can be, to singing about a girl who thinks her shit don’t stink, to even recreating John Coltrane’s legendary rendition of “My Favorite Things.” He was a one-man band, playing multiple instruments on the same track and choosing to sing more than actually rap. I can’t name another rapper with that kind of talent.
For me, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was the last time a hip-hop album was truly revolutionary. There’ve been plenty of good ones since. College Dropout, Madvillainy, Late Registration, and The Black Album are just few. But I can’t say that those records were revolutionary. They were each different and original in their own way, but they didn’t change the game like Outkast did. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below broke down constructs of genres and blurred musical lines. The only thing I regret about it was that it marked the beginning of the end of Outkast, as they would only record one more album together. Now, I can sit here and wax poetic about how great this album is, but the only way for you to understand is to just sit down and listen to it.
“Bowtie” | “The Way You Move” | “Flip Flop Rock (Feat. Killer Mike & Jay-Z)” | “Love Hater” | “Hey Ya!” | “Roses” | “My Favorite Things”