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Produced by David "Mr. DJ" Sheats
Led by the taunting chant, "If you scared, say you scared," Big, Dre and three-fourths of Goodie Mob light a fire and take cowards to task over Mr. DJ's organ and guitar-laced track.
Kawan Prather: The hardest thing about Aquemini is that me and Big Boi fell out for a couple of months on that one. I wanted to start the record off with 'Return of the Gangsta,' he wanted to start it with 'Y'all Scared.' Big Boi had missed his flight coming to the mastering session and by the time he got there we had kind of already gone through what we thought was a good flow for the album.
My thought was, we can't start an album off with a record with a bunch of other people on it. And coming off of where other people thought Dre was - with the whole, "Is he gay, is he in a cult?" - I was like, 'Return of the Gangsta' just shuts down everything. And if you start with 'Y'all Scared' you're going to get graded on everybody else who is on that song. I said, 'Let's just answer the questions and get to it.' Big Boi was like, 'Muthafucka you don't rap! Why don't you just rap then, since you have such an opinion.'
We had to kick people out of the studio so that we could have a real conversation. But it was based on everyone wanting that shit to be dope. It wasn't ego; it was like everybody was really passionate about it. It's why we're brothers. We fall out every so often, but based on the fact that we all have a common goal, it works.
Khujo: That's one thing about Big Boi, he is such a team player. He's like a coach. So I gotta commend little buddy on that. He's always been an advocate and DF coach.
A real-life collect call from the bing features inmate and OutKast crony Nathaniel rapping a pungent, a cappella verse about the ills and ironies of doing time: "They treat you like a motherfuckin' slave/Dope fiends find Jesus, swear they saved." A perfect set-up for the next song, "Liberation."
Andre 3000: Nathaniel had gotten locked up for a little trouble. It was Big Boi's idea to put him on the album, and half the time I had a cousin or somebody that was in jail [too] so we knew it would resonate with a lot of people. You look at these albums as time capsules, so when people go back and listen to them they can hear what you were going through. He was going through some trouble and he called Big Boi. Big recorded it [and] he put it down.
Mr. DJ: He went to Banneker High School with me. He was in jail for DUI, I think. He might've been in boot camp.
Nathaniel: I was in both, shawty. The idea really came from UGK's "Ridin' Dirty," when buddy's talking from jail. They really wanted me to do something like that. But see, I was trying to be a rapper, so I put a rap to it instead of just talking. I did it in one night. I talked to Big on Sunday, and I came back and called him collect on Monday and history was made.
Produced by OutKast for Earthtone
Wrapped around a cosmic jam that travels backward through the Middle Passage, the eight-and-a-half minute opus gives trill niggas who missed a lotta church a dose of new age liberation theology to "shake that load off."
Kawan Prather: Yeah, that [song featured] Erykah, Big Rube, Cee-Lo - again random occurrences. Dre's baby mama was Erykah Badu. I mean, damn, why wouldn't you put your baby mama on the record if she's Erykah Badu? It's not like he came to the studio and said, 'I want to put my girl on the song,' and this bitch work at the Varsity. She's Erykah Badu. Okay, do it.
Andre 3000: We were riding in the car and Erykah was originally supposed to be on "SpottieOttie" and somehow it ended up working out where she fit better on that. So she went off and wrote her thing and ended up coming back with something cool.
Cee-Lo: I remember we were outside shooting a video for Sleepy Brown and I think me and Big Boi were maybe burning something and he was listening to the beat, sitting out there in the car. I heard that beat and it just spoke to me.
Mr. DJ: Dre loved experimenting - not even starting out with samples, just starting out with live instruments.
Andre 3000: I was working on the music at home on the piano. And I think [Marvin] Chanz [Parkman] played on that one. He started playing these chords and then we all started vibing out and kicking in, and what you have there is the jam session.
Marvin Chanz Parkman: We had been up all night. It was like 3 in the morning. They went and pulled the baby grand out, pulled the track up and when we got through I think it was 6 a.m. We got into it, I got to running on that piano and just got lost in the vibe.
Preston Crump: I didn't know what they were going to do with the song. They had some chords and I remember feeling like it sounded like War, so I tried to stay away from that. We just vibed that one out with no vocals and I remember being at the studio later when Cee-Lo was laying his vocals and stuff. I was like, 'Oh, I see. Wow.'
Cee-Lo: What inspired those words, I can't say. I was out of my mind during that time. I was just very, very obedient to what was moving and motivating me. And, of course, to be liberal and to be liberated was an artistic aspiration and a personal aspiration of mine, too, so it was just all relative.
Andre 3000: Once we had the music I just went off and started writing my verse. I started it off and Big Boi came after me. And then Erykah came in and killed it.
Mr. DJ: The singing just felt right. That's where it was heading. That was what OutKast was all about anyway. It just felt like a natural progression. And that was towards the end of the album when you knew it was about to take that turn,'cause Dre started to do it more and more after that.
Joi: The whole song was done and Dre was like, 'I really want you and Peaches to put something on this bridge for the breakdown part.' Peaches and I kinda listened and I started writing.
I feel like [Atlanta rap duo] YoungBloodz might've had [their single] "Shake 'Em Off" out. Just that whole idea of shaking something off, the idea of being specific about it and making it a little more serious - specifically the load - y'know, "shake that load off." We just kinda kept going in with that.
Neal H. Pogue: Joi and Peach were big friends then. They hung tough. Peach has been gone for awhile now, so that's good that she was on that record.
Andre 3000: Joi and Peach were like two pistols on your hip they were so reliable, and they would always give you more. I was going to [form] a group with them. Screechy Peach's voice was like all over the place and then Joi was so smooth with it and she could get funky. You got them and Preston, Vic and Chanz, and Omar's percussion work on that album was superb. He added a character to that album.
That was a really good time because we'd found our sound. We didn't care what other motherfuckers thought 'cause we didn't have anything to live up to but ourselves. By that time we'd gotten to a point where we were in our own world. Anything we did, it was to impress ourselves.
Produced by OutKast for Earthtone
Here's a clue: If you want to know where the ever-evolving OutKast will go on a subsequent release, peep the last track from the previous album. True to form, OutKast peers down the wormhole, offering a preview of the Stankonia to come with a song driven by electric guitar wails, fuzzy amp feedback, and a lyrical challenge to elevate issued to all those closed-minded MCs.
Andre 3000: I remember reading about human beings and how if everybody is in the same place, humanity can go to another dimension. And when I'm saying that and recording that - "You are now entering the fifth dimension of ascension/Our only mission is to take you high" - that's what I'm thinking. I was just trying to make the impossible out of music, make people rise in some kind of way.
Rico Wade: Dre did that beat, I remember that being the complete shit. But that's when they had started messing with them guitars and they might've just kept putting them motherfuckers on there. A lotta them songs got that extra "waawaahaa," like they were just overcompensating. [laughs] That's what I remember. Then when you get to the next album, they had mastered using the musicians.
Tomi Martin (guitarist): "Chonkyfire" was actually a last minute decision of Dre's as far as I remember. When I went to Southern Tracks to cut the song, there was a rare Fender amp that I was stoked about using. So Dre told me to go in the booth and do whatever I wanted. The track was already killer so it was really easy to just get a great tone and wail.
Andre 3000: Everybody knows in Atlanta, Tomi Martin is the muthafucka. I just call what I do [on guitar] tinkering around. It's been five years [since I've been playing], but back then I was just doing stuff with my mouth. I don't call myself a musician, but I have the utmost respect for those that put in the amount of time it takes to [to excel]. Tomi's the muthafucka.
Corrections: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced the location of the seminal bus boycott Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks sparked by refusing to move to the back of the bus for a white passenger. The Montgomery, Ala. protest lasted from December 1, 1955 to December 20, 1956. The horn section on "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" was Hornz Unlimited.
Is this some sort of joke?
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