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In the history of rap, few groups have been as impactful and influential as Outkast. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Andre 3000 and Big Boi helped Southern rappers gain respect amongst their peers with a succession of albums, beginning with their 1994 debut Southernplayalisticcadillacmusic, which earned them hardware for Best New Artist at the 1995 Source Awards (where Andre 3000 famously put the world on notice that “the South got something to say”). Since that landmark moment, Outkast have continued to raise the bar with each album, unleashing classics like ATLiens, Aquemini, and their blockbuster 2000 album Stankonia, the official coming out party as bonafide rap superstars.
With immense success comes pressure, and topping Stankonia was a tall task, particularly with the uncertainty of the group’s future amid rumors of Andre 3000’s disenchantment of rap.
However, in 2003, Outkast returned in a big way with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, an ambitious double-album that captured each individual member in their own creative element. Originally intended to be an Andre 3000 solo project, 3 Stacks and Big Boi would ultimately decide to package both bodies of work as one album, an unprecedented move for a rap group of Outkast’s stature. Released on September 23, 2003, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below debuted atop the Billboard charts with 510,000 copies sold in its first week, and would eventually reach diamond certification with over 11 million albums sold, making them one of a handful of rap acts to achieve that feat. In addition to its commercial success, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was also critically acclaimed, taking home the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, making them the second rap act ever to receive that honor.
In the 15 years since Speakerboxxx/The Love Below‘s release, Outkast have gone on hiatus to pursue individual endeavors; however, the album is still regarded as a game-changer and one of the most memorable albums of its time. In celebratiion of its anniversary, we compiled a list of five ingredients that made Speakerboxxx/The Love Below a pop culture phenomenon.
1 | The Lead Singles
After the success of hit singles like “B.O.B.” and “Ms. Jackson” from the group’s previous album, Stankonia, rap fans anticipated the first offerings from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below with bated breath. Never ones to take the traditional route, Andre 3000 and Big Boi executed the genius idea of releasing a pair of solo singles in tandem with one another in promotion of the album. At times perceived as playing second fiddle in the group, Big Boi quieted all critics while scoring a chart-topping with “The Way You Move,” a groovy single featuring vocals from Sleepy Brown, while Andre 3000 threw everybody for a loop with “Hey Ya!,” a rock-inspired track that would become a cultural phenomenon, spending nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and helped bring the Polaroid Corporation back from the dead.
2 | The Music Videos
Andre 3000 and Big Boi were regarded as visionaries long before Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, however, the duo would outdo themselves in terms of the visual components that accompanied the album, particular its music videos. Directed by Bryan Barber, the music video for “The Way You Move” captures Big Boi in various locations, including a ballroom surrounded by dancing patrons, as well as an African safari filled with exotic women. The visual was also notable for helping further popularize Fonzworth Bentley, as well actress and model Ki Toy Johnson, who became one of the most legendary video vixens of the era off that video alone. Barber also worked the camera on the video for “Hey Ya!,” which cast Andre 3000 as a one-man band called The Love Below, in which he plays all eight members. Drawing inspiration from the Beatles’ legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Barber’s idea would be executed perfectly by 3 Stacks, who had everybody shaking it “like a Polaroid picture” from the comfort of their living rooms. Additional music videos for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below tracks like “Roses,” “Ghetto Musick” and “Prototype” would also be well received for their colorful nature and Outkast’s willingness to fully get into character for the sake of translating the songs into visual form for the viewer’s entertainment.
3 | The Completion of Andre 3000’s Artistic Evolution
Initially entering the rap game with a wardrobe that included baggy jeans, T-shirts and athletic wear, Andre Benjamin would gradually evolve into the man we know as Andre 3000, a descendant of the funk gods and a futuristic symbol of free expression. While this transformation would manifest itself in Andre 3000’s stylistic choices, with the rapper replacing baseball caps with blonde wigs and turbans, it would reach completion upon the release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, with his portion of the double-album being unlike anything rap fans had ever heard from their favorite emcee up to that point. Despite being hailed as one of rap’s most respected and skilled lyricists, 3 Stacks would spend much of The Love Below crooning or wailing instead of spitting bars, a move that risked alienating his core fanbase. However, Andre 3000’s voyage into untapped waters and foray into production on The Love Below would help open the door for the alt-rocker in rap and serve as a precursor to albums like Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak and Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love!
4 | Its Star-Studded Cast of Role-Players
Andre 3000 and Big Boi were undoubtedly the maestros of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and were responsible for the album being as magical as it was, but it would not be quite the same without its cast of guests and role players that helped contribute to its greatness. Each group member’s choice of co-stars also speaks to the vibe of each album, with Speakerboxxx boasting appearances from rap royalty like JAY-Z, CeeLo Green, Killer Mike, Goodie Mob, Lil Jon, Ludacris, Sleepy Brown and Jazze Pha, while guests on The Love Below include a more eclectic list of contributors, with Rosario Dawson, Norah Jones, Kelis, and Fonzworth Bentley lending their talents.
5 | Its Marking of The End of An Era
The critical and commercial success of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was overwhelming, marking a new height of mainstream popularity for Outkast that bordered on unprecedented for a rap group. However, prior to the album’s release, reports that Andre 3000 had become disenchanted with rap following the release of Stankonia and was non-committal about how long Outkast would continue as a group began to swirl, resulting in uncertainty if there’d ever be another Outkast album, and if so, when it would see the light of day. So after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was announced nearly a full three years after Stankonia first hit shelves, it was imperative to rap fans to be able to enjoy the music while they could, with the knowledge that it may be their last opportunity to do so. And while Outkast would release another project in 2006 with their sixth and final studio album Idlewild, to accompany their film of the same name, it was devoid of the air of excitement and fanfare that surrounded Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, making it the duo’s last true shining moment under the Outkast banner.
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