OutKast's 'Idlewild' is a Prohibition-era gangster rap

Andre and Big Boi are no longer joined at the hip-hop

music review

August 25, 2006|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

On one of its last great albums, 1998's Aquemini, OutKast declared in the title track: Nothing is for sure, nothing is for certain, nothing lasts forever/But until they close the curtain/It's him and I, Aquemini. At that point in their career, Big Boi and Andre 3000 were so tight, so in sync that they blended their zodiac signs (Aquarius and Gemini, respectively) for the album title.

And the music then glowed with their eccentric, electric synthesis of rap, funk, trip-hop, '70s soul and techno. No matter the style template, Andre 3000 and Big Boi always transformed hip-hop into something different, warm and fresh.

Now the greatest duo in hip-hop performs in a much-ballyhooed Prohibition-era movie, Idlewild, in theaters today, and a soundtrack that doubles as OutKast's sixth studio album. It landed in stores Tuesday.

Although the group's trademark musical adventurousness glimmers here and there, the thrill is gone. The Idlewild soundtrack is the duo's weakest album to date.

Their synergy changed right before the release of 2003's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The twosome started working separately, releasing that album as two solo discs under the OutKast name.

Although the project was overlong, self-indulgent in spots and a clear sign that the two had creatively grown apart, the two-disc set still became OutKast's biggest critical and commercial hit. It earned a Grammy for album of the year and sold 11 million copies worldwide.

Despite the apparent creative differences and independent artistic and business ventures, Andre 3000 and Big Boi surely must have felt the pressure to follow up such a blockbuster.

In the Idlewild soundtrack, for the first time since 2000's Stankonia (perhaps OutKast's last true gem from start to finish), Big Boi and Andre 3000 rap together on two tracks: the Cab Calloway-influenced "The Mighty O" and the funked-out "Morris Brown." The idea to interpolate Calloway's legendary hit "Minnie the Moocher" was a corny one to begin with, and it goes nowhere on this lukewarm track.

"Morris Brown," however, is a standout because of its inventive, funky use of marching-band percussion. It's an obvious single featuring the uncannily feminine vocals of soul newcomer Scar. His flirty, jazzy approach almost obliterates OutKast's half-hearted verses. Although on their worst day Big Boi and Andre 3000 still dust most of today's Happy Meal rappers, the chemistry between the two has fizzled. That needle-sharp, rapid-fire energy that charged such past hits as 1996's "Elevators (Me and You)," 1998's "Rosa Parks" and 2000's "So Fresh, So Clean" is sadly missing.

As soloists, each artist delves into his own musical tastes. Andre 3000 slips in and out of '30s jazz motifs and quirky, Princely arrangements while Big Boi keeps things grounded with humorous, Parliament-tinged numbers. His solo joints give Idlewild its few memorable moments, namely "N2U."

Andre's singing, which felt more like an ongoing joke on The Love Below, hasn't gotten any better. This time, though, you sense he wants us to take his vocals seriously despite their slightly nerve-grating quality. His hip hop-blues experiment, "Idlewild Blue (Don't' Chu Worry 'Bout Me)," wouldn't be so bad if a more capable vocalist sang it. As it is, it falls flat. And the bouncy "Chronomentrophobia" is as forced as its title.

The soundtrack desperately needed an editor. At 78 minutes, it's too long and jammed with colorful musical ideas that ultimately sputter out. Too bad. But nothing good lasts forever.

OutKast said it themselves.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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