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Album of the year 

OutKast's Stankonia drops bombs over ATL, the entire nation

"Don't pull your thang out unless you plan to bang." Be it known, for all who haven't yet heard, that this year OutKast, Atlanta's greatest musical export, pulled their thang out, slang it and swang it in the faces of the hip-hop nation, and banged out not only the most musically progressive pop album of the year, but also the first great rap record of the 21st century.

Not that anticipation wasn't high, but who could've predicted Stankonia? By summer 2000, it had been almost two years since OutKast had unleashed new material. The duo's previous album, Aquemini, had raised the bar considerably for Southern rap, proving it could continue to find mass appeal while aspiring to be more than a booty-club soundtrack ("but yet it's that too," as Andre 3000 would say). And for the group itself, Aquemini -- particularly the pop hit "Rosa Parks" -- suggested Dre and Big Boi had a future that stretched beyond both region and rap charts; these two had the makings of major figures in American music.

As word of Stankonia leaked and began to drip onto urban radio, though, the question remained: How would OutKast follow up Aquemini's double-platinum/critical-rave success? Would it be a pop-chart friendly cash-in on "Rosa Parks'" breakthrough? Would it be a retreat into hip-hop orthodoxy to prove they were still down with the core fans?

Hell naw. As the album's introductory single, "Bombs Over Baghdad," dropped, it was clear this is how they go about it: a placid keyboard arpeggio that explodes into an overdriven bass bump more slamming than a punk-rock skin-pounder trying to go-go; the frantic rush of rappers opening mouths and taking a bite out of the future -- "Yeah! Inslumnational underground, thunder pounds when I stomp the ground/Whoo!/Like a million elephants, silver back orangutan, you can't stop a train/Who want some don't come unprepared, I'll be there/But when I leave there, better be a household name ... " -- then ramming up into a drum 'n' bass clusterfuck fill; flung toward a heavy funk strut of handclaps, wah-wahs and sing-song hook; back to steam kettle organ, popcorn synth, and then choked by a Van Halen-style guitar solo sliced through furious turntablist scratching; then a breakdown of fuzz-guitar riffing that ramps up to the exultation of a gospel chorus: "power, music, electric revival."

Huh? After checking the dial to make sure this was the same urban radio that also incessantly played one-trick inarticulates like Miracle and Ying Yang Twins, there was nothing left but to conclude hip-hop had forever changed. And yes, while "B.O.B." disappeared from the radio as soon as programmers felt they'd obliged the curiosity of fans, OutKast had already proven they had the biggest balls in the biz by even attempting to release that track as a single. And they sent the message loud and clear: Stankonia would not adhere to anyone's notion of what hip-hop should, could or would be.

When the full album finally arrived on Halloween -- with its second single, the insanely catchy and novel "Ms. Jackson" headed to the Top 10 -- Stankonia proved to have something for everyone: sophisticated music and intricate rhymes, inviting melodies and varied beats, fun and high-mindedness, anger and ecstasy, immediate rewards and long-term vision. In an era where, for the most part, pop stars have dropped any pretense to artistic ambition, OutKast are this year's model of having your cake (uncompromising originality) and eating it too (2 million copies sold and counting).

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