My interest in Southern hip-hop was nil for a really long time. What can I say? I was a provincial hip-hop snob from the rip.
By the time Aquemini rolled around in ‘98, I’d softened my regional bias only slightly. OutKast’s first album slid by without me paying much interest. Then ATLiens came out, led by “Elevators (Me And You)” and I was like “OK, there might be something here”. I had that song and “Jazzy Belle” on cassette single but my interest still wasn’t strong enough for me to pay significant attention to Big Boi and Dre.
From mid 1996 through the end of 2000, I commuted about 90 minutes each way to work. My job was in the South Bronx, and I lived in Richmond Hill, Queens-which is right by JFK airport, damn near Long Island. During the three hours daily I spent on the train, I did a lot of two things: listening to music and reading magazines. The Source had been one of my bibles ever since a high school classmate introduced it to me in the beginning of 1990, and one of the first things I did every time I got a new issue was skip straight to the reviews section. The staff at The Source rated albums on a 1-5 mic scale, with 1 signifying absolute garbage and 5 representing an undisputed classic. 5 mic ratings were given sparingly and really meant something to hip-hop fans.
IIRC, the review of Aquemini, OutKast’s third album, appeared in print either before or right as the album hit stores.
The album got five mics.
Sacrilege! I’m sure I was thinking something to the effect of “how the hell do those country-ass bumpkins get a perfect rating when (probably a Biggie album) didn’t?
My curiosity was piqued.
I picked up Aquemini on cassette the second I could (which may have literally been the day after I read the review–I worked in a record store). Although I already knew OutKast wasn’t your typical run of the mill Southern rap group, I was skeptical that what I’d hear when I took the shrink wrap off was going to blow my mind.
It blew my mind.
One of the songs that blew my mind was the title track. “Aquemini” was hip-hop, but it was far more than hip-hop. It was soul and funk and something dark and grimy. It had a boom-bap but was also way more musical than 90% of what constituted rap music at the time. There were live instruments-even a horn section-but this wasn’t Arrested Development type shit or even The Roots type shit (and for what it’s worth, it took another year before I officially joined Team Roots). Dre and Big were rapping their asses off. Musically dense, lyrically dense, manipulated vocals, hell..there was even a false ending!
“Aquemini” is the fifth track on the album that bears its name. Each song that appears before it is perfect or close to it. But if we’re working with peaks and valleys here, this song is where the album is at its most thrilling. It provides the biggest “holy shit” moment. And marks the point where I went from “casual fan” to “blabbing about these guys to everyone I knew”.