You can’t talk about ATLiens without talking about André 3000 getting up at the 1995 Source Awards and saying, “The South got something to say.” Not only did it mark the beginning of a tidal shift in the role the South played in hip-hop (whether it was Master P or Juvenile or Big Tymers or Ludacris or Lil Jon or countless others), it told you something crucial about who Outkast were and how they handled themselves. Yes, they were laid-back and a little spiritual and at the very least coming in at an angle more oblique than Biggie or Tupac, but that didn’t mean they didn’t know how to be hard when hard was necessary. If anything, it was that sense of groundedness that made their more cosmic sides digestible in the first place—like, coming from them, you could believe it in a way that flightier artists might give you pause. “Softly as if I played the piano in the dark/Found a way to channel my anger, now to embark,” André starts a verse on “ATLiens,” ending on the image of his creativity as a gun that never runs out of ammunition. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is great, but this is when they really arrive. The beats are richer (“Elevators (Me and You)”), the rapping more complex (“Wheelz of Steel”), the imagery both more sci-fi-futuristic but also more deeply rooted in the jazz and gospel that gave Black America something to lean on when racism—whether institutional or otherwise—had taken away pretty much everything else (“13th Floor/Growing Old,” “Babylon”). This was music you could party with if you wanted to party, and think with if you wanted to think, not to mention an album in the novelistic, front-to-back way Prince and Bruce Springsteen made albums. In the end, where they came from couldn’t have mattered less—and that’s part of what made them matter so much.

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