When I decided to begin this project the first album that came to my mind was Aquemini by Outkast. No album challenged me more around the time when I decided that music was really THAT important to me. Not only was it a challenge but I didn’t like it. It was just weird for 1998. There were no soul samples and boom bap drum breaks like the traditional east coast rap that I was listening to at the time. They had live instrumentation on a lot of the tracks and…gasp…a harmonica solo on the first single. These songs were even different then the ones on the previous album ATLiens. How could they screw up a proven winning formula (pimps, ho’s, players, and Cadillac’s)? I couldn’t tell if there had been a actual conscious decision to change the style up or wether these guys were doing drugs only aliens had access to. The album stood out in’98 because of the live instruments, spiritual/astrology themes, rappers singing (now every rapper sings even if they can’t sing), and a member who decided to get weirder and weirder by each album. “Why is he wearing football padding and multiple color frizzy pants?” No one could explain any of it to me. Then my rap bible and I think everyone else’s at the time “The Source” gave the album 5 Mics (when 5 mics was credible) and then we were all really confused. What I didn’t see as a kid and immature appraiser of art was that Outkast was creating their own paradigm and never looking back.
Change is tough. Change is especially tough and not embraced in rap after a successful album. Rap fans hate when there favorite artist try something different than what they had did before (particularly in the 90’s). One of my favorite examples is Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys. Coming off of a multi platinum album License To Ill, the Beasties went in a entirely different direction, going with a cut and paste production approach working with producers, The Dust Brothers. No one liked it. Everyone claims to have liked it now of course because they and only them had it figured out before the general listening public. Lets all save the B.S. other then a small minority who led there lives as outcasts (no pun) for liking the album originally. By time the Beasties developed their own unique sound after another album or two, fans name checked “Paul’s” as their favorite album. It took time and seeing where the catalog went to truly appreciate where that new direction started. This is the case with Aquemini
In my opinion Aquemini is when Outkast became outcasts and laid the seeds for alternative black music in Hip-Hop and R&B that we currently see today. They hinted at this change in direction on ATLiens but they didn’t go in. They went it on Aquemini. They began to produce majority of the tracks themselves, with Andre taking the lead on the musical end and Big Boi writing the hooks. Some songs had flange and delay like an old reggae dub record and some songs incorporated high pitch vocal effects that Prince used on “Sign O’ The Times.” The lyrical content wasn’t highly aspirational or ignorant. It was just right. That fine blend of uplifting poetry but with the upholding of the decadent “this is life in the south” style that the region held and still holds today. To be able walk that thin line in a time and a region that didn’t look positively upon change was next to impossible. Although they were successful, they innovated under duress from peers and people like me who wanted the “Pimps and Players” stuff from the first album. They made these moves alone because art demanded it and rap needed it. They sold records and by their next album we all loved the wacky clothes that Andre wore, the trippy themes, and how the same ‘ole for Outkast was that new shit. Aquemini is fascinating because this is where Outkast were becoming the group that your mother references when she’s trying to remember who sang “Hey Ya”. With the next album Stankonia they would then become the international superstars they are today. But Aquemini is the beginning. It’s a time where they took a beautiful risk and charted the direction for the rest of their career .
With this in mind I like to think of this first party as a chance to celebrate the courage to change in the face of obstacles and the ability to innovate and create something GREAT as a individual or artist. This is what Aquemini means to me.