OutKast Pushes Boundaries on Speakerboxx/ The Love Below

John Hult

John Hult

OutKast is like the Radiohead of the Hip-Hop world: an inventive, virtuosic outfit that releases virtuosic, inventive material that pushes genre boundaries that still outsells half of the directly commercial acts on the rack. Compared to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” Outkast’s “The Whole World” may as well be “Knives Out.”

OutKast is still an anomaly. The Atlanta duo’s fifth album of all original material, The Love Below/Speakerboxx could be the last straw. Southern pimp archetype Big Boi and freaksack genius Andre 3000 each offer full-length discs-Speakerboxx and The Love Below, respectively-that stray further from explicable Hip-Hop than the group ever has, with The Love Below straining to fit the moniker at all.This is the point, actually. Artists of any genre rely on people with the talent and balls of an OutKast or a Frank Zappa or a John Coltrane to open up the creative floodgates for them. The Love Below, in particular, busts the gates wide open.

Much of Dre’s disc merely resembles Hip-Hop. Dre does more singing than rapping as he searches his soul by way of his loins for some Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder without the catchy hooks or limber vocal chords. He overproduces himself to make up the difference with splotchy results. “Dracula’s Wedding,” “Hey Ya!” and “Happy Valentine’s Day” are incredible and accessible at once. “Vibrate” and the Mrs. Robinson story “Pink & Blue” are interesting, but they won’t get any party started.

Big Boi fares offers up Speakerboxx as an extension of 2000’s Stankonia without the teeth. “Church,” “Ghettomusik” and “Bowtie” are the standouts here. Killer Mike, Jay-Z and Konkrete help out on several tracks, as well.

OutKast is still an anomaly, sure.

But they’re also so much better than most of their contemporaries that even the irregularity of Love Below/Speakerboxx won’t stop it from being one of the best albums you’ll hear this year.

3 1/2 Stars out of 5