One of the Atlanta duo's most popular records, "Elevators" appeared on Outkast's sophomore album, ATLiens. The defying, conscious, spiritual and reflective effort turns 20 years old today.
Despite being released on August 27, 1996, the album didn't find its way onto my iPod until I was in college. This was waaaaay after I had played Aquemini, Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below to exhaustion. I had even listened to Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, but for whatever reason I skipped over ATLiens.
When I finally got the chance to let the album marinate inside my headphones, it became my favorite release from Outkast.
ATLiens is a melting pot of different rhythms and rhymes. Lyrically, Andre and Big Boi champion their Southern roots; vent their frustrations with close-minded critics, talentless emcees and bloodsucking labels; and display their evolution into men who refuse to compromise their integrity for pats on the back from peers and superiors.
Production-wise, I would say ATLiens is one of Outkast's most somber efforts. There's not too many uptempo tracks; it's relatively laid-back, and encompasses elements of rap, gospel, along with subtle hints of funk and reggae.
Released during a period when hip-hop was dominated by artists from the East and West Coasts, Outkast helped propel Southern hip-hop with ATLiens. Before the album dropped, Southern rap was bubbling, but the region still seemed to lack credibility. And despite Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik going Platinum, it still seemed as if Outkast had not yet received their just due from industry peers.
Outkast's bittersweet experience at the second annual Source Awards in August 1995 would change all of this.
The event took place during the early stages of the Death Row/Bad Boy turmoil and East Coast-West Coast rivalry. It's safe to assume that Southern rap was the furthest thing from people's minds that night. Nevertheless, Outkast ended up winning in the "Best New Artist" category, and were booed all the way to the stage to accept their award. But before it was all said and done, 'Dre displayed a sense of resiliency and courage, letting the audience know, 'The South got something to say!'
This experience played a pivotal role in the direction Outkast took with their sophomore album. Evidently viewed as foreigners in hip-hop at the time, the title ATLiens was fitting. And the ostracism they, along with Southern rappers in general, suffered at that time fueled their creation of timeless music.
Following its release, ATLiens would go on to be a success, selling more than two million records. And, in my opinion, is one of the greatest rap albums ever.
In a recent interview with SPIN magazine, Big Boi reflected on ATLiens. He said the album "was a mature evolution" from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
We didn’t know what the music business was. We were just two young cats that wanted to destroy everything we got on. Once we started traveling, doing interviews, being in front of the TV, you started to know the system. From that comes maturity. You’re also going from a teenager to being 20 and you’re looking at life differently because you’re having different experiences. [ATLiens] wasn’t more serious, but we weren’t kids anymore...I don’t think we really realized how big ATLiens was until we put out Aquemini. It’s like the following was growing and growing and growing. We sold over a million records every time. The ATLiens album just spoke to people. People who were in our same age group [who] were teenagers during Southernplayalistic followed us to ATLiens. They were on that same journey.
In celebration of ATLiens' 20th anniversary, I have decided to highlight some of my favorite tracks off the album. Check them out below.