Outkast were teenagers when they released Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Though they’d met at an Atlanta mall only two years earlier, they already sounded like soulmates by the time they dropped their 1994 debut. What’s more, the record not only introduced the world to hip-hop’s greatest odd couple—swaggering, smooth-talking Big Boi and a far-out word nerd known then as simply Dré—but it also broke the coasts’ beef-based monopoly on relevance. “Southern rap” wasn’t a thing until people had to come up with a way to classify this heady set of languid funk, moody grooves, slurred hooks, and intoxicating slang. While the Outkast heard here is a bit harder-edged than the ATLiens of the future, their early-days balance of street cool, societal musings, and off-kilter outlook was refreshingly one-of-a-kind, encapsulated by the immortal refrain of the third track: “Ain’t no thang but a chicken wing.”
Of course, “Player’s Ball” was the breakthrough—a slinky jam that dared to dream of a 24/7 pimped-out plane of existence high above the daily grind of the ghetto. But Outkast are often grounded, examining the pressures that cause kids to quit school for crime on the delightfully dissonant “Call of Da Wild” and sharing their own youthful missteps on the horn-streaked “Git Up, Git Out”—both of which feature CeeLo Green on the chorus alongside his Goodie Mob bandmates.
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik gets a big boost from breakout producers Organized Noize, who laced their beats with live guitar, keys, and bass, and hence pioneered the Dirty South sound. But it was the duo’s unusual personalities and restless creativity that bought Outkast artistic control heading into their next LP and led to Atlanta’s position as the hub for successful rap eccentrics, from Lil Jon a decade later through to Young Thug in the ’10s.