21 years since it's release, we revisit OutKast's "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" as part of our Classic Rotation series.
Atlanta is a modern-day hotspot for rap music, but before Young Thug, Migos, Ludacris, Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy or T.I. had captured the spotlight, there was a duo named OutKast.
Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s debut album turns 21 today, and it’s important to understand the influence that the record had, and continues to have. It’s greatest accomplishment, arguably, was putting Atlanta hip-hop on the map. Maybe they weren’t the first to do it, but they were definitely the first to do it really, really well.
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was seventeen songs of funky, soulful rap music that detailed life in urban Atlanta. With this LP, OutKast did the same thing for Atlanta that Nas did for New York, by providing a candid snapshot of the street life. It’s also worth noting that Illmaticwas released exactly one week before Southerplayalistic in 1994.
On the title track, Big Boi introduces the listener to the southern rap artist. Every bit as worthy as the NYC and Los Angeles artists, his lightning quick flow describes the southern swagger in a play-by-play way similar to Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day”:
“Well its the m i crooked letter coming around the south
Rollin straight hammers and vogues in that old southern slouch
Please, ain't nothin but inscence in my atmosphere
I'm bendin corners in my lac boi, cause that's how we be rollin here
Deep, the slang is in effect because its Georgia
Kickin they khakis and, packin yo pieces cause you sposed to cousin
Catfish and grits is how my flow flow
Rollin steady in that caddy but them 50 bottles got to go
See Juice and gin used to be my friend, from the begin
And now I'm just a player sippin sauce, every now and then
To catch a buzz like a bumble bee
Niggas who tried to fuck with me
Get sprayed like raid cause it ain't nothin see”
When “Call of Da Wild” hits, Andre 3000 laments on how hard it is to succeed in the ghetto with so much violence and strife surrounding you:
“Come niggas with machine guns, I think that is the answer
But the question ‘Should we take that bullshit from them people?’
I'm making 300 on my SAT yet I am equal
Ain't no sequel, no saga, no way out, I'm nervous
I've had it up to fo'head of suckas tryin to serve us
To graduate is really becomin a very stressful journey
I feel like a steering wheel, for them is trying to turn me
Into a hate monger, and I'm wishing and I wonder
Damn, will I graduate before I hit the summer
I think not, Officer Friendly tryin to dig up in me
He said I'm half assed and got no future
And so he sent me up the creek and shit
Stroking like hell without no paddle
But niggas is gettin smart, we back on the saddle
No longer, y'all know y'all had us down for some years
It's the call of da wild nigga, uh, there it is”
In addition to the negativity of street life, there were also very positive tracks on the album. “Git Up, Git Out” is a message to those who get high a little too often, which is against the grain of rap culture, perhaps even more so these days. However, OutKast never fell too deep into the mainstream, and the record does indeed urge weed-smokers to “Get up, get out and get something. Don’t let the days of your life pass by.” It’s one of the rare rap tunes that may implore you to put down the blunt.
Of course, Southernplayalistic doesn’t entirely play out like some sort of D.A.R.E. propaganda. On “Ain’t No Thang” the crew is having a smoke out in the studio, and on “Hootie Hoo” they’re “tight like hallways, smoked out always.” Diving deeper, “Playa’s Ball” sses Big Boi slangin’ audio dope:
“They passing herb rewinding verses cause it's in the air
I hit the parks, I hit the cuts, I'm hitting switches
Cause I'm switching from side to side looking for hoes and snitches
I'm wide open on the freeway my pager broke my vibe
Cause a junkie is a junkie three-sixty-five
It's just another day of work to me the spirit just ain't in me
Grab my pistol and my ounce see what them junkies gotta give me”
OutKast, who are known for their extraordinarily experimental tendencies, hadn’t blossomed into their ultimate selves with this first album, but there were definitely hints of that greatness. “Funky Ride” would have felt totally out of place if poorly executed, but OutKast are men of great taste. The 6+ minute tune acts as a full-length intermission from the duo’s blitzing raps, and also stands on its own as a soulful classic. The song wasn’t even performed by OutKast, instead taken care of by Society of Soul, who share members with the producers of the (entire) album, Organized Soul.
How great of a job did Organized Soul do with this record? Credited as producers on each of the album’s 17 songs, the collective channeled their inner-funk in a way only previously conquered by Dr. Dre. Obviously the funk gods were paying attention, because by the time OutKast returned with their third album, they copped a George Clinton feature.
The album has influenced generations of artists since it’s release in 1994. Myspace did a feature on the album a year ago for its 20th anniversary, and included the likes of Freddie Gibbs, B.O.B., Bubba Sparxxx, David Banner, Big K.R.I.T., and more.
Freddie Gibbs said, “I had never heard any rappers out of Atlanta so it put me up on their culture and how they move and represented the South. I was all ears and it caught my attention. It was futuristic but it also had that nostalgic sound as well.”
David Banner said, “Hearing "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" was literally life-changing for me. People don't do a lot of research on my background—I started off as a staunch hip-hop fan and I started realizing that hip-hop wasn't exactly what I'd dreamed it to be. There was still some discrimination and some confining elements to something that I had believed to be so liberating and so free. This was the total synthesis of what I dreamed hip-hop to be: It had the grooves, it had the aura of hip-hop, but it came from a pure Southern perspective.”
Big K.R.I.T., a vocal fan of Outkast, said, “I had so many cousins back then and I was so young around that '94 time when the album dropped. I want to say my cousins was always playing it but I remember when I got older and started coming into my own and finding music, the first one I knew about was ‘Player's Ball’ and finding out that it was a Christmas song at first! That was my introduction to OutKast and I just felt that they embraced being country so much—they made it really cool to be Southern. André's verse on ‘Player's Ball’ is my favorite verse on the album, just how he embraced the South and was able to be so intricate with it.”
Of course the influence doesn’t end with just those three MCs. Every artist who comes from the southeastern United States owes it to OutKast. Any hip-hop artist who goes against the grain, musically or lyrically, owes it to OutKast. In 1994, hip-hop was legitimizing itself as a culture, but Andre and Big Boi were working for people to see it as art. It’s a statement they’d continue to make over the course of their next five albums.