Where Do I Start With Outkast?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 20 2013 3:00 PM

Where Do I Start With Outkast?

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You should definitely listen to these guys. But where to begin?

Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

So much music-critic ink has been spilled over Outkast over the years it’s amazing to realize that it’s been seven years since the duo released a proper album and more than 10 since the group was at its creative peak. As rumors swirl about a reunion between Andre 3000 and Big Boi at next spring’s Coachella—for the record, if I was Sleepy Brown, I’d be trying to get Outkast back together too, just so I could sing “The Way You Move” again—a lot of listeners under 25 must be wondering, What’s the big deal? After all, “Hey Ya!” is a great wedding-reception song, but why should I care about some Atlanta rappers getting back together?

Because for a seven-year stretch—from ATLiens in 1996 to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003—Outkast was making the best, weirdest, funkiest, funniest music on the planet, that’s why. “Hey Ya!” was their inescapable hit, spending nine weeks at No. 1, and it’s a historically great pop song, but it only somewhat reflects what made the duo so great. Outkast’s songs were catchy, yes, but what drove them was the tension behind Big Boi’s delivery and Andre’s, between “ghetto musick” and flower power (but with each influencing the other over the years, until they split entirely); the wry, personal, technically astonishing rapping; the wild production that sounded years ahead of what anyone else was making at the time. It all came to a head in 2000’s “B.O.B.,” a masterpiece of angry funk that was (correctly) declared by Pitchfork the best track of the decade.

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Where should you start with Outkast? With all of it. But here are 10 songs to get you going, beginning with their first single in 1993, released when Big Boi was still in high school. Well, 10 songs besides “Hey Ya!” Because c’mon. (Also: “Int’l Players Anthem” features Outkast, but was a UGK track; that’s not here either.)

Wheelz of Steel” (ATLiens, 1996)

Rosa Parks” (Aquemini, 1998)

B.O.B.” (Stankonia, 2000)

Ms. Jackson” (Stankonia, 2000)

Gangsta Shit” (Stankonia, 2000)

Ghetto Musick” (Speakerboxxx, 2003)

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor, co-host of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.