OutKast – ATLiens (1996)

Hey Gang, here is another installment from Amanda! Look forward to more articles in the coming months!

Another Georgia band! Shocking!

It’s universally understood that OutKast is a national treasure and lots and lots has been written about the cultural significance of their success and what that did for southern rap – so I’ll save that particular spiel. BUT what I do wanna talk about at length (sorry) is just how fuckin’ weird this record is – managing to feature out of this world (see what I did there) lyrics and beats while also introducing the very OutKast approach to persona, shirking traditional rap aesthetics to instead focus on the eccentricities of Atlanta and its residents. Sort of like two dope boys in a Cadillac end up on the X-files and live to tell the tale.

I have been obsessed with ATLiens, released in 1996 by LaFace Records, since I was a chubby little Appalachian kid – forcing my dad to buy me the CD at the Cornelia, GA Kmart in 1997 (it was on sale). The record still bangs some 22 years later and is even more relevant to me now as a long-time resident of Atlanta.

ATLiens is the second studio album by OutKast and came out when André 3000 and Big Boi were a mere 20 years old. A complete change in approach from 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens finds the men exercising complete creative control  and ruminating on themes like black alienation, what it means to support a family, growing older, and death.

While there are many, many recognizable hits on the album, some of the best imagery and lyrics come from the B-sides, so to speak. “13th Floor / Growing Old,” the last song on the record, opens with a spoken word piece by artist Big Rube, meditating on the spiritual necessity of moving forward in both life and creation … “Otherwise Babylon.”

Perhaps I’m drawing parallels between two unrelated bands that I equally enjoy, but themes from “13th Floor / Growing Old,” “Elevators (Me & You), and much of the ATLiens catalogue directly reminds me of another great southern band, The 13th Floor Elevators. Bizarre, yet moving, psychedelic rock pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators experimented with sound in a very “space-centric” way while also discussing themes like alienation, abandonment, and the idea of cultural collapse and rebirth in creation.

This parallel is clearest in The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Slip Inside This House,” from the 1967 album Easter Everywhere. Roky Erickson, guitar visionary, eccentric front-man, and a very real reminder that too much acid can be a bad thing, sings: “In this dark we call creation/ We can be and feel and know/ From an effort, comfort station/ That’s surviving on the go/ There’s infinite survival in/ The high baptismal glow/ Slip inside this house as you pass by.”

This is not to say that ATLiens doesn’t have some dope-ass rap on it, too. In “Two Dope Boys (In a Cadillac), I want to say that André 3000 coined the phrase “fuck shit,” as in “I ain’t for that fuck shit; so fuck this,” and both come at those who doubt their talent with rhymes like “Every time I rhyme for y’all, I’m looking to prove a point/ Kicking a freestyle every now and then/ But mostly off the joint/ …I’m sick of these wack ass rappers like I’m tired of hoes in chokers.”

Coming at haters ain’t nothing new in rap, but the tension was palpable for OutKast in 1996, who, just a few months before at the now-notorious 1995 Source Awards, were booed when they won New Artist of the Year – Group… to which André 3000 famously responded to in his acceptance speech with “the South got something to say.

Another great record about the trials and tribulations of the southern experience, OutKast’s ATLiens is a must-listen. Here’s a link to my favorite song, “Decatur Psalm” (might be biased because I live in Decatur) and the Discogs link for vinyl fans: https://www.discogs.com/OutKast-ATLiens/release/5391604


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