OutKast Drop ‘ATLiens’ Album: Today in Hip-Hop
On this day, Aug. 27, in hip-hop history...
1996: A little over two years removed from the introduction of their highly successful debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzic, an eccentric, southern-rooted rap duo from East Point, Atlanta, unveiled their definitive sophomore effort, ATLiens, invading the atmosphere of hip-hop with an otherworldly, and historically unexplored style, that would forever modify the infrastructure of urban music and the progressive culture that accompanied it.
While largely embracing the classic origins of southern, bass-driven, g-funk influences of their 1994 debut, it was clear from the outset of ATLiens that the ingenious duo had conceived a significantly more innovative approach while constructing their subsequent project. ATLiens, which was fittingly titled, promptly established its celestial, avant-garde theme, with OutKast declaring their arrival from extraterrestrial dimensions, welcoming the listener to their 58-minute audible universe in the form of a supernatural, "Greetings, earthlings", immediately after the album's intro concludes.
The first-third of ATLiens, which includes a stretch of tracks (Two Dope Boyz, ATLiens, Wheelz Of Steel, Jazzy Belle, Elevators) that rivals any five-song assemblage throughout the archives of hip-hop, succeeds in properly setting the atmosphere for the remaining duration of the extraordinarily experimental album.
Not lost in the duo's sonic transformation though, which was mainly accredited to the Atlanta-based production collective, Organized Noize, is both André 3000 and Big Boi's refined lyrical maturation. Certainly emerging as the primary triumph upon completion of the album, the topical focus within ATLiens saw the two emcees chronicle an array of endearing and purposeful subject matter, ranging from the negative effects stemming from a woman's promiscuous behavior ("Jazzy Belle"), the pressures of faith and succumbing to sin ("Millennium"), to the obstacles in overcoming poverty and attaining your dreams ("E.T."), and ultimately condemning the lack of substance in the music industry, while encouraging one to stay true to thyself ("Mainstream").
Although the content throughout ATLiens had a heightened sense of sophistication, André and Big Boi constantly remained loyal to their braggadocio roots, regularly flexing their lyrical muscle in the midst of their elaborate messages, simply for the sake of self-admiration.
The accolades ATLiens achieved were plentiful, as it debuted, and peaked at number two on the Billboard Top 200, saw three singles reach the Billboard Hot 100, and eventually in 2003, seven years post-release, was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Generally in music, it's rare for an artist to achieve both universal introduction to the masses, while instituting their respective place in history within the same release, but that's exactly what made ATLiens so profoundly significant. In what is undoubtedly the quintessential album of OutKast's remarkable discography, ATLiens was not only the unrestricted presentation of Big Boi and André the unfamiliar hip-hop enthusiast, but it simultaneously established them as the most imposing rap duo to ever collectively grace a microphone.—Michael Blair
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