Before we delve into the first album I have decided to talk about, let me digress into why this particular subject will be on an ongoing series for me. Hip-Hop has not only been my absolute favorite genre of music since I was nine years old, but it is also, in my opinion, the most important genre of music in modern culture. It has influenced everything from material possessions such as clothing and sneakers, to more substantive psychological aspects such as behaviors and dialect. It is also undeniable the effect that it has had on the suburban white culture that one would think would be a little more closed off or unfamiliar with music that is primarily describing the plight and struggles of black youth. That is not to say that rap is not one of the more accessible forms of music, either. It is only to say that while the lyrics and themes orchestrated in the multitude of forms that rap has taken in many different regions of the country, the effect that it has had on white suburban youth, such as myself, seems to be an unintended effect.
However, that does not mean the intricacies and complexity of rap and the many subcultures within it have been fully realized in the cultures and communities outside of those the music is taking place in. To simplify it, most white people of my generation and those both below and above mine, like rap yet don’t seem to fully understand it or it’s intended effect. They hear it but don’t listen to it. They see its effects but don’t understand its causes. Most of all, they hear what they like or don’t like, and usually choose to not venture any further into the music.
So that is where I come in. Let me give you my real intentions of this series. I am not here to convince you that rap should be important for you as it is me, nor am I here to analyze the root causes of white ignorance to predominately black music. All I am here to do is recommend important hip-hop albums that you may have never thought to listen to before. All of these albums will have a purpose for being discussed, though. Each one of these albums, whether new or old, has had some sort of lasting qualitative effect on the rap genre, while also being an album that a new or uninformed listener could understand and appreciate on a deeper level. So let’s get started…
I don’t know why Aquemini by Outkast was the first album I decided to choose here, but I do know that it is the perfect example of the type of albums I recommend you listen to. First off, there are plenty of ways I could start this argument but let me start with three definitive statements I feel that I can firmly make about Aquemini:
- It is the one of the ten best rap albums of all-time.
- I believe it to be the best Outkast album of all-time.
- There has never been another rap album to fully encapsulate its sound.
Let me start off with what you should expect from this album sonically. Imagine if someone made a rap album that combined all of the jazzy, unorthodox aspects of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly with the smoothest bass lines and live instruments you could ever imagine, and then recorded it on Mars. Aquemini is a dark, emotionally spiraling roller coaster drifting between dream and nightmare from start to finish. Leaving the lyrics aside, it could hold its own with instruments alone. Whether it be the trap drums and violin combinations on “Return of the G”, or the musical equivalent of sexual intercourse that is “Spottieottiedopalicious”, Aquemini separates itself from every other album of its time in a multitude of ways. For an album released in 1998, it has the intelligence and complexity of an album that could be released five years from now. We are talking about an album released at the same time as Big Pun’s Capital Punishment, Jay-Z’s Vol.2: Hard Knock Life, and Gangstarr’s Moment of Truth, and it blows those albums out of the water.
However, that doesn’t even describe the lyrics of this album. Have you ever heard someone at your house party arguing about why Andre 3000 is one of the best rappers of all-time? Have you also wondered why the hell they thought the guy from Hey Ya! could possibly be a good rapper? Chances are they have heard Aquemini and you, sure as shit ,have not. This is quintessential “3 stacks” lyricism. Whether it’s on the album’s self-titled track “Aquemini” where Andre manages to rap about the emotional value of he and Big Boi’s friendship and music, or whether it’s on meta-rap songs like “Da Art of Storytellin Pt.1” where Dre can weave storytelling and self-awareness in and out of each other seamlessly, there are very few moments in rap where an emcee has sounded so sharp and precise with his or her message.
What makes Aquemini special, is that it isn’t just a rap album; it’s an insight into the human soul. It’s a perfect encapsulation of friendship, partnership, male identity, and continual growth as a black artist. It is the point that Outkast went from being just another incredible rap duo to being the trend setters for many other artists such as Kanye and Kendrick to one day follow. This album is about to boys becoming men and becoming self-aware enough to separate themselves from the pitfalls that others before them have succumbed to. It has Andre 3000 commenting on questions surrounding his sexuality and style in 1998, a time in rap in which manhood and masculinity were the formula.
Maybe it doesn’t have the popularity of Speakerboxx/ The Love Below, or the chaos of Stankonia or ATLiens. Maybe it can be impenetrable on its first listen, and maybe you won’t understand its message. However, Aquemini marks a moment in rap, within the context of late 90’s rap, that was never duplicated. It was simultaneously before its time while also being able to capture the most beautiful aspects of the previous Outkast albums that nostalgic listeners would enjoy. For its time, there is no replica to Aquemini, and if there is one album that I would urge you to take my word on, at least starting out, it is this one.