A Southern Classic: Outkast’s “ATLiens”

I was only six years old when Outkast’s rags-to-riches-themed classic “Elevators” surfaced. At that time, I dug the track because of its elementary style chorus — simple enough for a prepubescent hip-hop head to recite.

​Ahem:

Me and you / Yo’ momma and yo’ cousin too / Rollin’ down the strip on Vogues / Comin’ up, slamming Cadillac doors.’

One of the Atlanta duo’s most popular records, “Elevators” appeared on Outkast’s sophomore album ATLiens. The album, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016, was a defying, conscious, spiritual and reflective effort.

Despite being released on Aug. 27, 1996, ATLiens didn’t find its way onto my iPod (yup, I said iPod) until I was in college. This was waaaaay after I’d played AqueminiStankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below to exhaustion. I had even listened to Southernplayalisticadillacmuzikbut 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 Big Boi and three stacks (Andre 3000). ​

ATLiens is a melting pot of different rhythms and rhymes. Lyrically, ‘Kast champions their Southern roots, and vents their frustrations with close-minded critics, talentless emcees and bloodsucking labels. But they also 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 their sophomore album. Before the album dropped, Southern rap was bubbling, but the region lacked credibility. And despite Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik going Platinum, Outkast hadn’t received their just due from industry peers.

The Southern legends’ bittersweet experience at the second annual Source Awards in August 1995 would change all of the aforementioned.

The hip-hop award show 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 damn 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 during that period 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 an interview with SPIN magazine, Big Boi reflected on ATLiens, calling the album “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.

To this day, I still listen to ATLiens, and I thought it would be dope to highlight some of my favorite vibes off the album. Check them out below.

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