With the all-too-real “sophomore jinx” phenomenon that is as prevalent in music as it is in sports, dropping a second album that is a complete transformation in sound from one’s debut is a risky move. Yet, despite a platinum plaque, a Source Award for Best New Group, and loads of positive reviews (a 4.5-mic rating amongst them), Andre Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton decided to make such a transition. From smoothed-out to spacey. From Caddies to comic books. From portraying a pimp’s lifestyle to questioning the existence of life forms on other planets. From “If you smoke a dime, then I’ll smoke a dime” to “No drugs or alcohol so I can get the signal clear”. From “Talkin’ ’bout her period late, guess what I did” to “Oh yes I love her like Egyptian”.
Granted, there were some points of similarity between Outkast’s first two albums — pieces of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik still prevalent in ATLiens, and vice versa. The “GREETINGS EARTHLINGS” sound effect that kicks off ATLiens was first heard on “D.E.E.P.”, the closing track on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. And, on ATLiens’ two biggest singles, Dre and Big were still talking about “slammin’ Cadillac doors” and “all that pimp shit”.
So, maybe Outkast didn’t pull a complete 180 between their first two albums… but, it was at least a 160. Rappers aren’t supposed to make such dramatic changes in styles and still maintain such a high level of success? Maybe so, but noise isn’t supposed to be organized, either. (Also, noise isn’t supposed to be spelled with a “z”, but let’s ignore that for now.)
The only two things that one could really say was consistent between the two albums was the quality of the music (incredible) and the names in the production credits (Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown). And, as their work within and outside of the Dungeon Family collective throughout the years has shown, it’s no coincidence that the name “Organized Noize” and incredible music go together like fish and grits. Oh ye-yer.
Joining us for this Beat Drop are…
- Brandon Soderberg from No Trivia
- Dom Corleone from Hold The Throne Hits From The Blog
- Jesse Hagen from The Smoking Section
- Sach O from Passion Of The Weiss
- Wesley Verhoeve
Jesse: I must admit, I was pretty shocked when I first heard that the most singable song of my elementary school years was produced by Organized Noize. The group never made another beat that was as cotton-candy-flavored bubble gum as this, but don’t front — you sing along when DJs spin this on their throwback hours.
Wesley: This was my jam in high school. Soulful and driving. Sidenote — one of the best Andre verses of the time.
Sach O: Andre once said that Outkast’s music was a reflection of the open space typical of the dirty south and that he never understood how New York rap could sound so claustrophobic until he visited the city’s housing projects. You wouldn’t know it by the first song on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, however — an Organized Noise production so dense and smoky it could have been made in any dungeon from Collie Park to Compton to Queens. Drawing on Funkadelic’s acid-fried guitar lines, the haunting organ that would become the producers’ trademark and crashing drums that’d make The Bomb Squad green with envy, “Myintro” announced a new sound to the world that challenged both the West Coast’s funky instrumentation and NY’s atmospheric abstraction. Evoking the steaming hot climate that birthed it, “Myintro” was the first blast in a new wave of Atlanta hip-hop.
Dom: Not only did the lead-in to ‘Kast’s debut launch the rap duo’s ying-yang style, it introduced Organized Noize’s early production technique of gritty drums and multihued instrumentation. The distorted guitar riff rides shotgun here, with rolling double-time snares and occasional horns hopping in the back seat for the trip. Topped off with pinpoint scratches during the hook, ONP constructed an ideal backdrop to start ‘Kast’s smoked-filled, pimp-tastic storylines.
Download: Outkast – “Git Up, Git Out” featuring Cee-Lo and Big Gipp (off Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik)
Brandon: ONP adapted that Marley Marl-turned-boom-bap sound of the East for the South, keeping hard-smacking drums and record hiss — love the wobbly record scratches in the background of this one — but slowing it down a bit and filling in the open space with funk flourishes instead of jagged jazz and soul. This one just keeps going, too, so you get to really obsess over little details, like the wandering Eddie Hazel guitars behind the hook. Also, used really well in Chris Robinson’s ATL.
AaronM: The first proper song on Soul Food, “Thought Process” immediately sets the album’s tone with its mellow, meditative loop. It’s got this great woodblock-sounding clap that ONP used on a lot of their production around this time. I love how the instrumental is slowly reduced to just live claps and backing vocals for Dre’s revelatory verse.
Jesse: The greatest thing about “Dirty South” is that it’s so damn anthemic without making the mistake that most attempts at anthems make — it never goes overboard. Instead, the ONP boys craft a banger with a simple blip, a creeping bassline and a guttural drum pattern that provides the perfect minimalist backdrop for them Southern boys to plant their flag firmly in the mud.
Wesley: There’s very few non-East Coast tracks that can make me do the grimy/scrunchy facial expression and headnod like this track. DJ Premier semi-channeled through an original filter Atlanta visions. Dirty, dark, yet enlightening.
Wesley: This track has always puzzled me in terms of how hard it is, yet how smoothed out it also is at the same time. Great break down during Cee-Lo’s verse where they play with the bass notes. Great slap-back snare sounds. So simple and effective.
Brandon: Those like, pumping iron-lung drums that a lot of ONP shit had, here working with a devastating string sample and classic hard-ass, sad-rap humanism from Goodie Mob. Shares sonic space with something like “John Cassavetes 2″ by Ekkehard Ehlers or Gorecki’s “Symphony No. 3″ as much as it does brooding-strings beats like OB4CL‘s “Rainy Dayz” or “Sunshine Into Rain”, that Scarface joint off Miri Ben-Ari’s album (remember that one?), or, more recently, something like “Shotz” off the Paper Route Recordz mixtape.
AaronM: “The Coming” takes the classic blaxploitation sound and sucks all the id out. The beat has the classic ’70s signifiers but they combine for a sound that’s dark and foreboding. Where wah-wah guitar, blurting horns, a thumping one-note bassline and clattering piano keys would normally sound like an upbeat, glossy strut, ONP turn “The Coming” into a swampy, apocalyptic creep.
Wesley: The ultimate early-days Outkast song. Everything about this beat embodies their spirit and vibe perfectly. Beautiful.
Jesse: For my money, ATLiens is the best Outkast album in their platinum-plated and mistake-free discography. But as much credit (all of which is due) is given to the duo’s superior lyricism and intelligent verses, the disc is held together because of the consistent production sound. Of all the haunting, spacey instrumentals that litter the album, this beat is the most enduring. The eerie guitar feedback opens up to the chilling vocals that carry the hook without uttering even a single lyric.
Sach O: Starting with what sounds like Monks humming (!!!) over record static, “Babylon” doesn’t give Andre much of a safety net as he fearlessly starts flowing sans-drums until a massive break drops in to provide the rhythm to one of ONP’s vastest compositions on wax. Little more than sub base, drums, an occasional guitar lick and the aforementioned humming, “Babylon” is all about the vocals, which is perversely why it’s such a fantastic beat. While R&B hooks were increasingly present on rap records in ’96, often for purely commercial purposes, the monastic vibe and sparseness of “Babylon” elevates Andrea Martin’s chorus about battles and faith from “Rap & Bullshit” to psychedelic hip-hop gospel. The track’s unadorned midrange provides little cushioning for the singer, but, as all students of the choir know, it’s a vastly rewarding gambit as it lets her voice flood every inch of the track. In terms of sung vocals on rap records, perhaps only Blue Raspberry’s hook on “Rainy Dayz” can match what ONP and Andrea Martin achieved here.
Wesley: This is essentially just a beat loop, but a great one. Great backwards sample that makes for an eerie atmosphere that works well for Witchdoctor’s lyrical content. Great for dreamy headnodding.
Buhizzle: I’d be hesitant to label any of the MCs involved in this collabo as “smooth” — granted, not everybody can flow like Jigga, but the coarse, start-and-stop rhyme styles of Witchdoctor, T-Mo and Khujo added to the uniqueness of the Dungeon Family records they appeared on. Nonetheless, this record really is some smooth shit. I dig the live female vocals that lay delicately beneath the verses, not taking the focus away for the rapping, but more lively than a mere loop. And, though the chorus isn’t all that special standing alone, it serves its purpose over this delightful beat.
Brandon: A particularly busy beat — loud drums, sad piano, weird sound effects all over the place, lilting guitar — so Witchdoctor kinda shout-ras over it (or, shout-raps more than usual). ONP beats are great because they sound confident, smoothed-out, ready for driving, and downbeat all at the same time. And there’s always something redemptive wrapped up inside of it, like the feeling that shit will get better or you shouldn’t lost hope, without being too grand and epic about it. Along side “13th Floor/Growing Old”, this is ONP’s most moving beat.
Buhizzle: Amongst hip hop hookmen, I might place only Nate Dogg above Sleepy Brown as far as those whose crooning increases the likability of a hip hop record… and I’d be the first to admit that it is most likely my West Coast upbringing bias talking. I have to give Sleepy his props, however, for his oft-overlooked solo catalog — The Vinyl Room (released under the name Sleepy’s Theme, but essentially a Sleepy Brown solo album) had its own unique feel, not sounding like some collection of hip hop records cast aside from a rapper’s album. Call it claim lack of promotion, or inability to target stubborn hip hop fans with albums of predominantly soul music, but neither The Vinyl Room nor ’06′s Mr. Brown caught much attention (throw in ’03′s shelved Phunk-O-Naut for good measure, if you will). “Can’t Let Go” freaks what sounds like a sample of the theme to The People’s Court (word to Judge Wapner), turning into a nice piece of thick-yet-subdued funk — also, Chad Butler‘s name appears in the credits, and what more could be expected from putting Pimp C and Organized Noize in the same studio. “Choked Out Saturday Night”, in contrast, is a lighter, more piano-and-horns-based example of Sleepy’s soulful solo repertoire.
AaronM: ONP employ an eerie flip of the Midnight Express theme, fleshing out Moroder’s skeleton of foreboding synthesizers with beautiful instrumentation and a multi-tracked sung chorus. ONP’s work on Aquemini is clearly indebted to Curtis Mayfield’s socially conscious work in the early ’70s, and “Return Of The ‘G’” is a stellar example. Listen to the sound effects that accompany Big Boi’s verse, the cascading harp that enters occasionally. On some outerspace pimp-noir steez.
Jesse: The conventional picks for the best tracks on Aquemini are “Rosa Parks” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”, but I always found myself more bewitched by the hushed flutes of “Skew It On The Bar-B”, which somehow pioneered a middle ground between the dirty Southern funk of Outkast and the grimy kung-fu of the Wu. RZA would even flip the same “Police Woman Theme” 6 years later for Masta Killa’s “No Said Date”.
Brandon: That spark of funk guitar and classic ONP drums knocking a little louder than usual sounds like ONP moving into the next decade, predicting the synthethic-but-still-kinda-warm sound of The Neptunes or something. At the same time, though, it’s even weirded and murkier than the Outkast and Goodie stuff. All the sounds usually rolling around in the background of their beats are pushed even further into the background, like a swamp of country rap tunes signifiers.
Download: Cool Breeze – “Watch For The Hook” featuring Outkast, Witchdoctor and Goodie Mob (off East Point’s Greatest Hits, 1999)
AaronM: ONP expertly chop Merry Clayton’s cover of “Southern Man” into pieces and string snatches of its ominous keyboards and a ringing guitar riff together with these fantastic stuttering, stumbling drums. What’s incredible about “Watch For The Hook” is that the instrumental fits each emcee’s voice and flow perfectly — Witchdoctor’s blunted mumble, Cee-Lo’s helium babbling, T-Mo’s fiery bark, Big Gipp’s plain-spoken twang, Big Boi’s slick double-time spitting, Breeze’s authoritative drawl, and so forth. Of course, the lyrics to “Southern Man” share common ground with the more righteous Goodie Mob songs, too.
Buhizzle: The bubbly sound effects lead me to wonder whether ONP cooked this one up during an ATLiens session, before realizing that it was just way too intense for that album… so, instead, it ended up in the hands of Cool Breeze, who tears into it, speaking on all sorts of “people who…” at an energy level which would lead one to believe that he doesn’t sit still all that often. If you’re not going to bed anytime soon, check out the video — I would’ve never guessed that ONP could’ve laced a beat to match that imagery if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. I listened to East Point’s Greatest Hits in its entirety for the first time not too long ago, and though it didn’t grab me enough for me to call it “slept-on”, I will say that Cool Breeze deserves credit for making trap music before “trap music” really existed.
Dom: One of the ATLiens’ instantly-recognizable singles, “So Fresh, So Clean” knocks right off the bat with its precisely syncopated drum programming. Then comes the good stuff, as the producers reinterpret soul singer Joe Simon’s “Before The Night Is Over” by bending a sweet synth around soft, melodic keys. The beauty here is the beat’s airy simplicity, evoking a feeling of clarity supported by Andre’s and Antwan’s refreshing verses (pun intended).
Buhizzle: I’ll pass on the big words and fancy synonyms on this pick to get straight to the point — I fucking love this song. Dungeon Family background player Backbone had exactly one commercial single in him — kudos to ONP for finding it.
Dom: Man, them drums! Off Luda’s sophomore effort Word Of Mouf, “Saturday” hits harder than a Tyson uppercut with its thumping kicks layered between shimmying hi-hats and punchy vocal samples. The subtle bassline supports the drums effectively, leaving plenty of room for Luda’s Southern-fried rhymes. You don’t need much more for a trunk-rattling weekend celebration — feel free to drop the top and have some fun to this one.
Dom: It takes an often-overlooked track from Bubba’s Deliverance to best summarize ONP’s distinct sound. The guitar loop syncs flawlessly with the melodic whistling in front of a fury of upbeat drumming, creating an atypical fusion of rock and hip hop elements. This is exactly what I mean when I say multi-layered instrumentation defines the production crew — perhaps Weezy should recruit ONP for Rebirth so the masses can experience what real rock-rap should sound like.
Dom: I chose this ode to the green leaf from The Red Light District to demonstrate the crew’s versatility on the boards as they tossed away the guitar chords to dig deeper into the electronic sound banks. Borrowing from the West Coast G-Funk era, they utilize a zigzag portamento lick amidst a trippy, electro-synth harmony. The drums aren’t too fancy — they don’t need to be — as a basic kick and snapping snare acts to control the atmospheric melody from blasting off into distant space. Unless that’s your sort of thing, they by all means — prepare for lift-off!
AaronM: “Wonderful” is a bouncy song for a beautiful sunny day when you’re feeling especially great, you got a shiny pair of new kicks, and you don’t have any immediate commitments. It’s the feel that Nappy Roots’ “Good Day” captures, the feeling that Jay Electronica’s “I Feel Good” captures. “Wonderful” combines a lot of overused musical elements that would be irritating in another producer’s hands — acoustic guitar, chopped chipmunk vocals, blaring marching band horns, shuffling 808s. And on “Wonderful”, ONP make all these song parts work wonderfully… it’s nice out today, huh?
Jesse: It takes a special production team to chop-and-screw the only memorable line from an overhyped movie, turn it into a hilarious hook, and back the effort with a screaming, guitar-laced instrumental, which served as a fitting undercurrent to lift Cee-Lo’s soaring voice.
Brandon: Let’s begin by pointing out that “Dress Up” has two saxophone solos. And that said sax solos are played by Sleepy’s pops — Jimmy Brown from Brick. Throw in some comely “Boogie On Reggae Woman” drums and anchor the whole thing around a blaxploitation vibe and you’ve got the ballsy, incongruous, kitchen-sink weirdo production genius of ONP in a nutshell. Steeped in tradition, obsessed with aping their musical heroes but somehow internalizing those influences well enough to spit them back up as something wholly original.