When the Atlanta-based duo of Awtwan Patton and André Benjamin – collectively known as OutKast – released Aquemini on September 29, 1998, they were already on their way to establishing themselves as one of the top acts in the industry. Bursting onto the scene in 1993 with “Player’s Ball,” the group followed that with the release of the critically-acclaimed Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik just a few months later. OutKast rose to prominence after ATLiens, which laid the groundwork for the recording of their third studio project, and the album that would define the dynamic of Big Boi and André 3000 for years to come.
Outside of the many topics it explored, the principal theme of Aquemini was the act of two different forms of artistry – and personalities – merging together to create something timeless. Throughout the group’s previous albums, André’s sound and style was slowly becoming more eclectic, while Big Boi found comfortability in being the street-smart lyricist who exudes Southern rap. On this album, the duo combined their separate but equal talents, and showed the world that just because you take a different route, doesn’t mean you can’t arrive at the same destination.
As with most major label releases, musicians have to deal with the battle of staying true to their artistry, while having the pressure of creating a commercial hit. But for OutKast, this wasn’t the case. Due to the success of their first two albums, OutKast was given more space from their label, LaFace Records, to be a little more experimental with Aquemini. The bulk of the production on was handled by André and longtime collaborator Mr. DJ, while Big Boi strengthened his songwriting abilities by crafting the song’s hooks. The collection of these three entities – along with the assistance of Organized Noize – laid the groundwork for the group’s most ambitious album up to that point.
Aquemini was more of an expansion of what Dré and Big were doing creatively, rather than a move in a new direction. The album built upon futuristic-inspired compositions on ATLiens by incorporating live instrumentation and drawing on 1970s funk, southern soul, gospel, country, psychedelic rock, along with additional influences. Lyrically, Aquemini explores various subjects including individuality, human nature, addiction, poverty, and relationships, and stories about urban life, among others.
The album opens with “Hold On, Be Strong,” written by session guitarist Donny Mathis; followed by the song “Return of the G,” which touches upon the group’s duality, as well as their public perception. Track 3 is “Rosa Parks,” Aquemini’s second single, and definitely it’s most popular, for reasons both positive and negative. While the record’s hypnotizing melody and catchy lyrics made it a favorite with many, it almost gained notoriety for its highly publicized legal ramifications. Rosa Parks, the heralded civil rights activist, filed a lawsuit against OutKast and LaFace Records citing defamation and trademark infringement. The case would linger for years, and was ultimately settled in 2005.
Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon appears as the LP’s first guest feature on “Skew It on the Bar-B,” which transitions into Aquemini’s title track, which precedes the George Clinton-assisted “Synthesizer,” one of the more experimental cuts on the album. After “Slump,” and Big Boi’s solo outing “West Savannah,” listeners will hear the first two songs in the duo’s “Da Art of Storytellin” franchise, where we see OutKast really tap into their writing prowess. “Mamacita” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” discuss turmoil that can sometimes come in dealing with the opposite sex; followed by “Y’all Scared” featuring T-Mo, Khujo, and Big Gipp of Goodie Mob.
“Nathaniel” a recording of a call from a close friend of the group introduces listeners to one of the more sonically-poignant tracks on the album, the eight minute long “Liberation,” featuring CeeLo and André 3000’s then-girlfriend Erykah Badu. The album closes appropriately with “Chonkyfire,” which contains snippets from OutKast’s speech at the 1995 Source Awards, where the group let the world know that Southern hip-hop was and will be a force in the entertainment industry.
The most famous and recirculated portion of OutKast’s acceptance speech was when André told the audience that “the South got somethin’ to say.” Although it may have not resonated with the public at that time, it arguably became one of the most powerful quotes in rap history. With Aquemini, André 3000 and Big Boi not only gave the South a louder voice, but it also served as a reminder that sound of Southern rap was far from monolithic, and became the precursor of the subgenre’s dominance in the years that followed.