A Tribe Called Quest v. OutKast: A Love Story
I’m a music snob (and a movie snob but that’s for another essay). By snob I mean a sort of connoisseur, if you will. I love music, all types for various reasons, but as a Black woman in my mid-20’s I hold a special place in my heart for Hip-Hop. As a woman, I must admit that it is a love/hate relationship. Regardless, Hip-Hop is my first love. Hip-Hop was the first genre of music I’d literally ever heard, since the womb. At the time I was born, my Dad was 21. Now that I am 23 and have a grasp of who he is I understand what place he was in his life at the time, and why Hip-Hop resonated so deeply with him. The feeling we get with Kendrick and Cole, K.R.I.T. and Wayne is the same feeling he got with Snoop, NWA, Biggie, and OutKast. The obvious difference here is that for him it was the first time; he witnessed the birth of Hip-Hop and has watched it become what it is today.
Let me drive this point home. I was born in March ‘92. A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory was released September ‘91, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was released in December ‘92, and Ice Cube’s The Predator, just to give reference. In ‘93 Enter The Wu from the infamous Wu-Tang Clan was released. Might I add, Midnight Marauders from ATCQ and in ‘94 OutKast’s rookie album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Hip-Hop was at it’s purest form and while being entirely too young to realize what my ears were being blessed with, as all toddlers are, I was a sponge and absorbed it all. I will be forever grateful to my Daddy for everything, but especially for the music that has shaped my personal taste and even my lifestyle.
Being a self-proclaimed music connoisseur was only further nurtured by friends and classmates. We held lunchroom and bus-ride debates over Kanye and Jay-Z’s lyricism, over whether Lil’ Wayne was really that dude. That turned into illegally downloading music on school computers in high school. Being a “millennial” and part of the first generation with music at our literal fingertips has turned me into the music snob I am now. As an adult that likes to amass music, I have come across a significant internal conflict (or Man vs. Self, for all who paid attention in English). A Tribe Called Quest, or OutKast? Growing up you HAD to have a favorite rapper and at least a top-ten list (top-five for those of us who were hypes).
My top-ten and top-five are pretty solid for the most part, but my favorite rap group has been a lot harder to pin down. My boyfriend has expressed that I can love both equally and no one is forcing me to choose but let’s be honest... that’s impossible. I love them both too much to not have a clear decision, but declaring one over the other seems just as unfair. It’s like having two boyfriends, they both satisfy you fully but in different ways, and you NEED both to be fulfilled but inside you still know you need to be faithful to only one (I would imagine, anyway). To break this down this down further I won’t compare the two groups and I won’t go in depth with each album (even though I could). I will, however, express what they mean me to in order to convey this, if only for my own understanding.
ATCQ’s first album was People’s Instinctive Travel and the Paths of Rhythm, released April ‘90. On this album is ‘Bonita Applebum’ and ‘Can I Kick It.’. Now, ‘Bonita Applebum’ is a classic and I’m sure there’s no one debating this. So instantly ATCQ is solidified, coining what is known as “Alternative Hip-Hop”. In ‘91 Low End Theory drops, containing five of my all-time favorite songs on this record alone. It’s clear my affection for this album developed while still inside the womb. This was followed by Midnight Marauders in ‘93, their most popular album. ATCQ declared their stake in the game early and there is no doubt of their excellence as Hip-Hop pioneers. My love for them resonates to the point where no disrespect will be tolerated. ATCQ created a subculture within a subculture and will be respected as such. Their jazzy, cool beats with slick, laid back rhymes are the epitome of who I am. I can listen to them all day everyday, as I do.
Without ATCQ we couldn’t even discuss half of the artists in the game today. They made Hip-Hop “cool” and blurred the lines between Hip-Hop and Jazz, which are both cruxes of the Black community. The wordplay and the ‘Vibes and Stuff’ they caught from each other on each record was so infectious. There’s no way ATCQ isn’t my clear winner in this conflict, right?
Here’s where it gets messy. You could argue that there is no OutKast without ATCQ and I wouldn’t debate you, but I wouldn’t say you were right either. Before we get to their music, I have to say that OutKast and The Dungeon Family put Atlanta on the map and were the first on the frontier of Southern Rap, changing the face of music as we know it forever. In that regard, they’re just as important as ATCQ if we’re keeping it a buck. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik came out in 1994 and that’s all she wrote. For real. But for the sake of this essay I digress. ‘Player’s Ball’ stands out the most to me on this album, being from Detroit. André 3000’s quick but velvety-smooth delivery and Big Boi’s effortless yet clever bars melded Hip-Hop lines with a 70s grooveline, creating a special concoction of music we’ll never truly hear again. I remember this album being played in the car and at home constantly; if I looked hard enough I could probably still find the tape.
Also featured on the album is ‘Git Up, Get Out,’ a Dungeon Family track featuring Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo Green and Big Gipp. The slowed-down beat and message about getting your sh*t together is altogether outshined by the sheer lyricism. Typically on a collab track, artists try to outshine each other in competition for ‘Best Verse,’ and usually that’s what makes the record hot. But this track - the verses complement each other. No one verse outshines the other, but all of them are gems that hold their own weight only to be made better by the other verses.
In ‘96 ATLiens was released and in all honesty every. single. track. on that album is in my favorite songs of all time. I remember this album better than any other I’ve ever heard because my brother was born two months after its release. OutKast’s pure talent was laid down on this album. THIS was the album that singlehandedly made Southern Rap the undisputed ruler of Hip-Hop at the time. Hip-Hop in ‘96 was in a crazy place. Tupac was murdered that September, the East-Coast-West-Coast beef was at its peak, and TWO GEORGIA BOYS swooped in and changed the course of Rap music.
The release of Aquemini catapulted OutKast into the stratosphere with the critically-acclaimed ‘Rosa Parks’. This track made them a part of popular culture and at this point there was no denying them as an all time Hip-Hop group. What’s weird here is that ‘Rosa Parks’ is nowhere near the best track on the album - not by a long shot - let alone in contention for their best song overall. In my opinion, it’s one of their worst. But you know, pop culture or whatever. MY favorite song on the album, ‘Da Art of Storytellin’, Part I’, tells stories of young girls lost to the game and of the real struggle of up-and-coming artists trying to make it. This song is really a movie for me. Every time I hear this song, the lyrics come to life for me. I remember being a little girl hearing this song over and over, and my imagination would run with the lyrics.
Lastly, this album has ‘Liberation’. This song might be the greatest song of all-time. Hear me out. The piano. The drums. The bassline holding them together oh-so-delicately. Cee-Lo with the vocals. The poem recited over the beat takes this from being just a Hip-Hop track to a spoken-word groove at a Jazz club. This mashup of genres in a single Hip-Hop record is unmatched and you’re not telling me otherwise. NOT TO MENTION Mama Badu gracing the track with her heavenly voice, not mentioning what she’s actually saying about having real friends and how to watch your back while being successful in the game. What makes this record my all-time favorite is knowing that 3000’s verse was written by Mama Badu and it’s what started the love affair that resulted in their first child.
I could break down every single track from OutKast. I could express how 3000’s The Love Below is seriously on Prince’s level or how Speakerboxxx is so slept on that it should be a crime. But I could also break down every single track from ATCQ. I could discuss the intricacies of ATCQ’s slick discussion of fly ladies and ‘Sucka N****s’ all day, but I won’t. You wouldn’t make it to the end of that essay. I want to have a clear winner in my head for my own satisfaction about who is truly the object of my affection here, but as ‘Spottieottiedopaliscious’ blasts through my Beats, the only thing that I’ve concluded is that without ATCQ and OutKast my life would honestly be different and your favorite wouldn’t exist. And that’s real.