Looking at the stunning success of OutKast’s third album 20 years later
In the history of popular music, what can be referred to as the “imperial album” is often a razor’s edge, with outsize success or failure equally possible. By “imperial” I mean that moment when an artist is granted more freedom and more money than they’ve had before, giving them license to indulge in their wildest ideas and take all the time they need to develop them. OutKast’s third album, Aquemini, released 20 years ago this month, is a perfect example.
After two critically acclaimed albums that also sold well (1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmusic and 1996’s ATliens), the duo of Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin used all the leverage they had to gather the resources they needed to top everything they’d done before. And they were wildly successful: Aquemini took a mere two months from its release in September 1998 to go Platinum, which means over 1,000,000 people making their way to the record store (or filling in a number on their BMG Club card!) in order to get their hands on the album. Even during the peak CD era, this is a notable achievement. How did they do this?
Five Reasons Aquemini Went Platinum In Two Months
“Rosa Parks”: Releasing this countrified songas the first single was a stroke of genius. Driven by Donny Mathis’s strummed acoustic guitar and featuring a harmonica breakdown by Pastor Robert Hodo, “Rosa Parks” can be said to have changed the sound of hip hop. It helped paved the way for Bubba Sparxxx and even the current “hick hop” sub-genre, among other things. While some old heads might have been taken aback by the irreverence Big Boi and Andre 3000 showed towards the civil rights legend (Parks later sued), there was nothing in the song that disparaged her achievement and OutKast’s rapidly growing. audience was delighted by their cheekiness. If this was the single, what other gems were contained on the 74-minute album? Only one way to find out: buy it.
The Jungian Thing: Remember when Private Joker, Matthew Modine’s character in Full Metal Jacket, is asked how he can have both “Born to Kill” on his helmet and a peace sign on his jacket and he replies, “The duality of man; the Jungian thing, sir!” This is like the split-personality created by OutKast, with Andre 3000 the spaced out dude whose “mind warps and bends,” and Big Boi as the ultimate gangster, “Daddy Fat Sax, The n***a that like them Cadillacs.” The idea that we all have an angel and a devil within us goes deep into our psyches and by the time Aquemini came out, people wanted to know how those personae were going to continue to play out on the canvas of hip hop.
Great Song Titles: So, you’ve heard “Rosa Parks” and you see the CD in the “New Releases” display at Tower Records. Pick it up, flip it over…and how can you resist titles like “Skew it on the Bar-B,” “Slump,” “Da Art Of Storytelling,” and especially “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”? With names like that and P-Funk avatar George Clinton guesting on one song, even some musty old funkateers might have been curious enough to try this new-fangled music, looking for a hit of what they used to get from classic albums like Cosmic Slop or Mothership Connection.
East Coast – West Coast Beef Fatigue: By 1998, the “Dirty South” was just about established as a third beachhead in hip-hop, mainly thanks to OutKast’s first two albums and those of their mentors, Goodie Mob. But the flame out of the east-west rivalry that led to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. probably had more people seeking out some organized noise from another geographic zone. The “ATliens” were more than happy to oblige.
A Killer Live Show: As this 1998 clip from The Tunnel shows, OutKast had one of the craziest, most energetic live shows in hip-hop – even to this day. Anybody who caught a hint of that madness would definitely want some of it in their own home. OutKast was more than aware of their onstage charisma so, shortly after Aquemini came out, they brought their A-game to The Chris Rock Show with a stunning performance of “Rosa Parks” that probably had people heading to the record store the next day. I should know – I was one of them!
The best part of the story is that when all those people got the 74-minute CD home, they were treated to an aural feast of slinky horns, chicken-scratch guitars, deep grooves and some of the best rhyming ever waxed. Even 20 years later, putting on Aquemini still “gives me the dickens reminiscent of Charles,” as Andre so memorably says in “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.” Now, as Big Boi says in the same song, “Go on and marinate on that for a minute.”