With additional reporting by Jacinta Howard and Phillip Mlynar
Man, first they were some pimps. Then they were some aliens or some genies - some shit. Then they be talkin' 'bout that black righteous space. Man, fuck them. I ain't fuckin' with them no mo'.
- "Return of the G' skit, Aquemini
By the time Aquemini was due to drop in the fall of 1998, no one knew what to expect from the-soon-to-be-iconic OutKast.
They'd gone from red clay players to extraterrestrials - down-to-earth to out-of-this-world - in the span of two albums. But if the contextual leap from their Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik debut to ATLiens was fueled by an Afrofuturistic flight of fancy (and, lest we forget, their feelings of alienation from hip-hop's East Coast vanguard), then Aquemini was OutKast's return mission home.
Not only were Antwon "Big Boi" Patton and Andre "3000" Benjamin eager to prove that they were still down, they wanted to lift the 'hood a little higher.
The resulting mix was earthy and ethereal - a perfect bridge between their artistic extremes. Dre was producing more, following the blueprint inherited from mentors Ray Murray, Rico Wade and Sleepy Brown of Organized Noize. Big was penning the hooks that would help turn OutKast into celebrated pop stars. And Mr. DJ was churning out some serious beats on the drum machine. By collaborating with some of Atlanta's finest instrumentalists on record, they created one of their most experimental and musical releases to date.
Now that the Dirty South rules the world, it's easy to forget that Aquemini was the first Southern hip-hop album to earn the coveted five-mic rating from the former bible of the genre, The Source magazine.
At the time, R&B was dead, rap was on its last leg (R.I.P. Biggie and Pac), and Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office getting some head. But it mattered not. If post-soul polemics and pre-millennial angst had the world in a funk, Aquemini only made things funkier.
Before all the drama with babies' mamas' mamas, before the Grammy's got hip (replacement surgery), before Hollywood hopped on the jock, this was the album on which Big (the Aquarius) and Dre (the Gemini) truly unleashed their stanktastic genius.
On the twelfth anniversary of its release - you know, 12, as in signs of the zodiac - Creative Loafing pays track-by-track homage with an extended breakdown on the making of Aquemini, featuring interviews with Andre 3000, Big Boi, Mr. DJ, Organized Noize mentor Rico Wade, and the numerous featured artists, Atlanta musicians and studio engineers who played an integral role in the creation of one of the best albums ever.
Featuring: Andre 3000: MC/producer | Big Boi: MC/producer | Mr. DJ: Producer, one-third of Earthtone III with OutKast, and cousin to Rico Wade | Rico Wade: Organized Noize founder/producer with Ray Murray and Pat "Sleepy" Brown | Raekwon: MC/Wu-Tang Clan member | Cee-Lo: Vocalist/Goodie Mob member | Khujo: MC/vocalist and Goodie Mob member | Masada: New Jersey-based MC and former Organized Noize protege | Joi: Vocalist/songwriter and long-time Dungeon Family collaborator | Kawan Prather: Former LaFace Records A&R for Aquemini and early Dungeon Family member | Preston Crump: Bass player | Marvin Chanz Parkman: Keyboard player and former Organized Noize staff producer/songwriter | Omar Phillips: Percussionist | Donny Mathis: Guitarist | Tomi Martin: Guitarist | Neal H. Pogue: Sound mixer/recording engineer
"Hold On, Be Strong"
Produced by Donny Mathis and OutKast for Earthtone
Barely over a minute long, the meditative intro sounds like a relic from the previous album
Donny Mathis (guitarist): I came from the church, that's how I got involved with Organized Noize [and OutKast]. I told OutKast I had a song and they allowed me to produce and put "Hold On, Be Strong" on there. It was a full song with verses, but they didn't want the words, they just wanted the hook. It was really coming from a gospel aspect by me being in the church. Dre played the kalimba on it.
Andre 3000: I bought that kalimba at some flea market or music store and I just remembered hearing it on Earth Wind & Fire records. I just thought it was cool and started playing around with it. It was definitely improv. Donny [Mathis] played guitar, Preston [Crump] played bass and I think 4.0 was singing on it. Tony Hightower was in 4.0 and we've been friends since third grade, along with Cee-Lo. We all used to breakdance with each other and we ended up meeting each other again back at [the Dungeon Family headquarters and Rico Wade's home studio] the Dungeon.