OutKast are that extremely rare package – a hip-hop outfit with mainstream traction and an album career that’s only the odd bum note away from flawless.

Like the Nineties’ other great rap team, The Wu-Tang Clan, OutKast were a perfect storm in action – an unlikely combination of top-level technical chops, proper imaginative vision and double-act charisma. For all the supposed differences between Andre 3000 (flamboyant, adventurous, gentle) and Big Boi (doughy, purist, hard-edged), they shared a distinctive cadence – a rapidfire, urgent stream-of-consciousness flow, only loosely tethered to the beat – that no-one’s quite matched since.

At once the strangest and the most gifted of Atlanta’s early 1990s crop, OutKast have spent the last two decades ploughing their own wayward furrow. None of Nas’ flunking or Jay-Z’s up-down output here – pretty much all of the OutKast albums (Idlewild excluded, obviously) fall into the classic category. Their 1990s run is straight-up impeccable: 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, a key release in the rise of the Dirty South; 1996’s freaky, funky ATLiens; and 1998’s head-spinning Aquemini, one of our top five albums of the decade. After that, Stankonia was a commercial high watermark buzzing with ideas – and wherever you stand on Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, you simply can’t argue with its imaginative chutzpah. Their solo efforts have been patchier and more sporadic, but not without riches: Big Boi’s hit some high pinnacles on his own, and Andre 3000 is a well-seasoned master of the guest spot.

We’ve spent the last week canvassing our writers to build a picture of OutKast’s finest work. What follows are FACT’s Top 50 favourite OutKast tracks, including solo cuts, guest spots and assorted oddities. Like another artist we profiled in similar fashion, Aphex Twin, they’re technically prodigious artists who’ve blossomed from prodigies into game-changers – and earned the spoils of hero-worship as a result. Tuck into the, ahem, spread.


OutKast

50. OutKast
‘Flip Flop Rock’ (ft. Killer Mike & Jay Z)
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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Over melodramatic piano arpeggios and guitar harmonics, Big Boi takes this opportunity to drop a little science (and math, for that matter). Jay Z’s ad-lib-heavy chorus teases a deceptively simple verse dropped just before his first curtain call, and a tip of the hat to Killer Mike for raising his game in the company of legends, spraying some of his most battle-ready bars “like a young Cassius Clay in his prime.”


OutKast

49. OutKast 
‘The Whole World’ (ft. Killer Mike)
(12″ single, Arista, 2001)

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Toytown pop-rap that tiptoes precariously along the natty / naff line and just about manages the balancing act. Boasts an appearance from Killer Mike before his firebrand days, some commendably off-key singing from Andre, and one of OutKast’s most persistent ear worms.


OutKast

48. Big Boi
‘Be Still’ (ft. Janelle Monae)
(Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, Def Jam, 2010)

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Three Stacks might command more column inches, but Big Boi’s solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty was a minor marvel. ‘Be Still’ paired him up with the ascendant Janelle Monae, and while Dre’s nowhere to be seen, if you didn’t know any better you could almost be listening to OutKast. Those synths? Those hazy vocals? Yeah, we’re there.


OutKast

47. OutKast
‘In Due Time’ (ft. Cee-Lo)
(12″ single, LaFace, 1997)

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The duo channel some velvety-smooth quiet storm vibes on this team-up with Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo, who brings the falsetto finery on his own verse. The accompanying video is interrupted by a short interlude that sees Andre escaping a chain-gang and soundtracking his sprint away from imprisonment with his take on the Chariots of Fire theme.


OutKast

46. OutKast
‘The Way You Move’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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You can have the easy irresistibility of ‘Hey Ya’: the real party starter on Speakerboxxx / The Love Below is ‘The Way You Move’. Alternating between 808 b-a-s-s bass verses and the full-on orchestration of the chorus, Big Boi’s flow is as melodic and playful as ever, and Sleepy Brown’s hook and breakdown will have you wondering how he never found success outside of OutKast’s discography.


OutKast

45. OutKast
‘Lookin For Ya’ 
(unreleased, 2010)

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Originally included on Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot…, Jive blocked Andre 3000 from appearing on the final cut of the album (though he did sneak in a production credit, on ‘You Ain’t No DJ’). It’s not quite ‘Royal Flush’, but acted as a timely reminder in 2010 that even though Big Boi seemed the only OutKast member interested in rapping, Andre’s still more than capable of bringing his A-game.


OutKast

44. Trick Daddy
‘In Da Wind’ (f.t Big Boi & Cee-Lo)
(Thug Holiday, Slip-N-Slide, 2001)

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Miami’s Trick Daddy calls on Big Boi and Cee-Lo to spice up some jaunty jangle from Jazze Pha. The instrumental is fairly unremarkable, but the Southerners push the track a couple of notches up the Beaufort scale – Cee-Lo blusters, whereas Big Boi is nimble as the breeze.


OutKast

43. Goodie Mob
‘Black Ice (Sky High)’ (ft. OutKast)
(Still Standing, LaFace, 1998)

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There’s a symbiotic relationship between OutKast and Goodie Mob: both relied on the resources of production team Organized Noize in their formative years, and the latter made their recording debut on the former’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Of the numerous Goodie Mob / OutKast joint ventures, this is one of the better ones. As ever, Big Boi and Andre 3000’s fleet-footed flows shift the host track – in this case, a shimmering, organ-lead joint – into a different gear.


OutKast

42. OutKast
‘The Rooster’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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Just as ‘Ms Jackson’ dealt with the tears and recrimination that come after the affair, ‘The Rooster’ offers a ‘ten years down the line’ perspective on relationships – except here, we see a henpecked husband having to dodge his way through the daily grind without putting his foot in it. What with the brassy tension-is-rising instrumental and “oh, Dad!” moments, it’s basically ‘Big Boi Does Modern Family‘, which is totally fine by us.


OutKast

41. Drake
‘The Real Her’ (ft. Andre 3000 & Lil Wayne)
(Take Care, Universal Republic/Cash Money, 2011)

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This slow-burning Take Care piano ballad could stand on the two legs of Drake’s dashboard confessionals and Wayne’s pre-fall-off coughs of smoke, but it’s Andre’s last-minute verse that makes it transcendent. Punctuating his poetry with pregnant pauses — as if you’ll need a moment to take it all in — Andre moves from the club to Boise State’s blue turf to an Adele listening party before his “bitches got the rabies” kiss-off.


OutKast

40. OutKast
‘Git Up, Git Out’
(Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace, 1994)

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Goodie Mobsters Cee-Lo and Big Gipp roll through for seven-plus minutes of ‘Get Up, Stand Up’-laced head-nodding. This is as conscious as the Dungeon Family was getting in ’94: Cee-Lo is resigned to doing more dumb shit, Big Boi reminisces on the lessons of his uncles, Gipp is just trying to have a Good Day, and Andre is cynical but with a share of regrets.


OutKast

39. Missy Elliott
‘All N My Grill’ (ft. Nicole Wray & Big Boi)
(Da Real World, Elektra, 1999)

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It’s important to go back to ’99 for this one – Missy was a world-beating force after the unprecedented success of ‘97’s Supa Dupa Fly, but Boi, in Europe at least, was still only on the cusp of superstardom (Stankonia was released the following year). This was probably why the lead version of ‘All N My Grill’ in the U.K. featured Guru collaborator MC Solaar snapping up the guest verse. Take it from us, though; the superior mix has a typically high-speed turn from Big Boi, whose Southern drawl complements Timbaland’s robotic syncopated beats perfectly.


OutKast

38. OutKast
‘Gangsta Shit’
(Stankonia, LaFace, 2000)

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Tucked towards the end of the sprawling Stankonia, this low-riding bragathon pulls in Dungeon Family cohort C-Bone, Goodie Mob’s T-Mo and Aquemini Records signing Slimm Calhoun for a G-funky posse cut that harks back to OutKast’s debut album.


OutKast

37. Big Boi
‘Royal Flush’ (ft. Andre 3000 & Raekwon)
(12″ single, LaFace, 2008)

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An unofficial sequel to Aquemini‘s ‘Skew it on the Bar-B’, ‘Royal Flush’ flips the script, revealing funhouse funk with a blown-out soul lick that passes for a hook. Raekwon is game, donning himself the “treasurer of getting ass,” while Andre 3000 takes a break from Hollywood to educate youngins, comparing himself to crack (“We both come up in the ’80s and we keep that bass pumping”) and testing the limits of street morals.


OutKast

36. OutKast
‘Synthesizer’
(Aquemini, LaFace, 1998)

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OutKast’s absorption of Parliament / Funkadelic’s P-funk (and the West Coast’s subsequent G-funk) was crucial to not only their early development, but also their later, more experimental dalliances. It’s fitting, then, that they managed to get George Clinton to give the band his blessing on the aptly titled ‘Synthesizer’, one of Aquemini’s most underrated cuts. As Clinton spews his tongue-twisting astral ramblings, everything about OutKast, both then and later, becomes clear for a moment, and all is right with the world.


OutKast

35. Killer Mike
‘A.D.I.D.A.S. (ft. Big Boi & Sleepy Brown)
(Monster, Columbia, 2003)

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For sure, ‘A.D.I.D.A.S.’ isn’t going to make it into any OutKast obits – it’s a dorky kiddo-rap single based around a decades-old playground backronym. Within those parameters, though, it’s just about impeccable. Big Boi and Killer Mike attack their theme from stacks of different angles, and, coded ‘no homo’ moments aside, the tone is buoyant throughout. Low of brow, but still exceedingly good fun.


OutKast

34. OutKast
‘Skew It On The Bar-B’ (ft. Raekwon)
(Aquemini, LaFace, 1998)

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OutKast’s Southern status was an important part of their image, and they always made sure they supported their own, Dungeon Family or not. It was intriguing on multiple levels, then, when Raekwon appeared on ‘Skew it on the Bar-B’, giving the duo an East Coast co-sign (something that couldn’t be sniffed at back in ’97) and serving indication from Andre and Big Boi that they were competing at the highest possible level – toe-to-toe with the Wu.


OutKast

33. Goodie Mob
‘Dirty South’ (ft. OutKast)
(Soul Food, LaFace, 1996)

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Goodie Mob at their absolute best: a low-slung Organized Noize neck-snapper, sing-song rhyme schemes that don’t become mawkish, and a heady sense of place. Big Boi’s guest spot, predictably, dive-bombs the other verses out of the water.


OutKast

32. OutKast
‘Snappin’ & Trappin’ (ft. Killer Mike)
(Stankonia, LaFace, 2000)

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A then-unknown Killer Mike makes his recorded debut with a super-stanky verse that marries vulgar shag-brags (“I betcha I’ll drill your heifer like Black & Decker”) with an eerie premonition of his recent move into the world of men’s hairdressing (“guaranteed to get more cut than a barber”). Verdict? “One muthafuckin’ verse and it’s already a classic!”


OutKast

31. Big Boi
‘General Patton’ 
(Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, Def Jam, 2010)

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Just watch the video – a choir bursts into song, horns spit fire, the camera shakes, Big Boi explodes (“get the South’s dick up out your mouth!”) and Big Rube does as only Big Rube can. All in a bowling alley – what more could you ask for?


OutKast

30. OutKast
‘She Lives In My Lap’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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The trio of sternum-rattling drum machine clatter, funk sneer, and Andre’s pitch-shifted slither is enough to keep Rosario Dawson interested, and that’s good enough for us. Powered by a devotion-rejection narrative, the final moment of Premieresque scratching throws everything into a centrifuge before giving way to the count-in of ‘Hey Ya’.


OutKast

29. Frank Ocean
‘Pink Matter’ (ft. Andre 3000)
(channelORANGE, Def Jam, 2012)

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Frank Ocean shares the spotlight with one of his stylistic forebears on this standout moment from Channel Orange, in which Andre butts in on a moment of deep soul-searching as the young kid debates the dubious pleasures of “soft pink matter”. A remix that appeared this year surprised everyone with an unexpected OutKast reunion, not least Andre, who went on record to reject Big Boi’s newly tacked-on verse as “misleading”. We can dream.


OutKast

28. OutKast
‘B.O.B’
(Stankonia, LaFace, 2000)

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Whaaa? Stankonia’s lead single had jaws on the floor as the duo pushed further into bonkersland with this 150 BPM explosion of full throttle drum breaks, frightfest organs and gospel wails, while Andre and Big spit their little hearts out to keep up with the frantic pace. Still sounds fresh to death, yet it’s old enough that the European single contained the iconic video on CD-ROM.


OutKast

27. OutKast
‘Jazzy Belle’
(ATLiens, LaFace, 1996)

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They’d arguably revisit the subject matter more successfully on ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)’, but the fathoms-deep ‘Jazzy Belle’ is still a classic Dre & Boi meditation on females and relationships. Yeah, it’s jazzy – the instrumental’s filigree licks and artful shuffle attest to that –but the “jazz” at hand is something a damn sight raunchier than anything in the Count Basie songbook.


OutKast

26. Devin The Dude/b>
‘What A Job’ (ft. Snoop Dogg & Andre 3000)
(Waitin’ To Inhale, Rap-A-Lot Records, 2007)

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It’s sad that it requires Andre 3000 and Snoop to make people take notice of Devin the Dude, but if it’s any consolation, the Texan rapper’s status as one of hip-hop’s hidden heroes is self-examined beautifully on ‘What a Job’. “I’m trying to do what I love, I love what I do”, Devin explains, “sometimes it’s like a pigeon coop, but it’s all for the cause.” Andre takes verse three, and sets his crosshairs firmly on the bootleggers (“If I come to your job, take your corn on the cob … would [it] be alright with you?”) before ending with a shout to Devin – one echoed by Snoop at the track’s close.


OutKast

25. OutKast
‘ATLiens’
(ATLiens, LaFace, 1996)

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The title track from the duo’s second album still stands as one of their finest. It was the record’s most prescient anthem, pre-empting the woozy space-funk of their future hits and offering a stern acknowledgement of their Atlanta roots. Dre and Big Boi weren’t simply stargazing dreamers: ‘ATLiens’ shows they had rock-hard foundations to build on too.


OutKast

24. OutKast
‘Humble Mumble’
(Stankonia, LaFace, 2000)

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Marrying Latin rhythms with funk bass and lashings of hip-hop scratching, this psychedelic number bears the unmistakable touch of Andre’s then-squeeze Erykah Badu, coming loaded with nonsense rhymes and embellished with her own jazzy screech.


OutKast

23. OutKast
‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’
(Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace, 1994)

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By the second single from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, it was clear that while G-funk might live and die in LA, it would never be the same after a trip to Atlanta. The prototype for Southern hip-hop’s Cadillac-obsessed, woodgrain-gripping trunk rattlers has been widely imitated but never replicated: as good as someone like Big K.R.I.T. is, he’ll never make ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’ and he knows it. Side note: how great is it to hear Big Boi’s youthful twang before his flow calcified into consonants?


OutKast

22. 8Ball & MJG
‘Throw Your Hands Up (ft. OutKast)
(In Our Lifetime Vol. 1, Suave House Records/Universal, 1999)

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Another key member of the Organized Noize family, Tennessee duo 8Ball & MJG were making the case for the Dirty South on the national stage before Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik had rolled out of the garage. This OutKast double-date from their career-best In Our Lifetime, Vol. 1 trumps any of the Goodie Mob/OutKast team-ups, offering tightly-sprung cruising music with some freaky glitches – check those rickety, teeth-on-edge snare fills.


OutKast

21. OutKast
‘Roses’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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One of rap’s best Stay The Hell Away From Her joints, to be filed along ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘She Got A Big Posse’. ‘Roses’ succeeds because it keeps the stakes high throughout – from the widescreen chorus to Big Boi’s grizzled appearance, this story of a toffee-nosed heartbreaker feels like it really, really matters (something cleverly exploited by the West Side Story-inspired video). Altogether now: “crash, crash, cra-aa-aash…”


OutKast

20. OutKast
‘Liberation’
(Aquemini, LaFace, 1998)

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It’s not a single, and it presumably didn’t even make the longlist for their 2001 Greatest Hits compilation, but few songs sum up OutKast quite like Aquemini’s closing track. It’s barely even a hip-hop track (not that OutKast cared about that at this point – it’s as much a song about stylistic freedom as it is inequality), with OutKast, Cee-Lo and Erykah Badu singing over eight minutes of live instrumentation. Aquemini’s full of legendary verses, from Andre’s on ‘Rosa Parks’ and ‘Return of the G’ to Big Boi stealing the show on ‘SpottieOttieDopalicious’, but at no other point on the album does someone sound as simultaneously haunting, stirring and just-downright-fucking-cool as Big Rube on ‘Liberation’.


OutKast

19. OutKast
‘Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac)’
(ATLiens, LaFace, 1996)

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Sure, we love OutKast because they were able to shoehorn ‘weird’ into rap music that didn’t suck – but, y’know, sometimes they just made straight bangers. There’s a reason why a popular rap blog snatched the name – ‘Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac)’ manages to capture the duo’s origin story and back it up with a beat that could snap yer neck.


OutKast

18. OutKast
‘Return Of The G’
(Aquemini, LaFace, 1998)

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Their third album’s opening gambit sets the bar high with Andre’s bruising prologue, a sneering jibe at the lunkheads who’d rather hear “hoes and clothes and weed” raps than OutKast’s “time travellin’, rhyme javelin” and “mind unravellin'” genius. And what better way to skewer idiotic questions about your sexuality than to sample disco king Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Theme From Midnight Express’?


OutKast

17. OutKast
‘Prototype’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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The Love Below‘s most laidback number, a windswept bit of funk balladry that finds Andre trying to find his way among Sly Stone, George Clinton and Prince. With touches of studio serendipity – the guitar solo, the coos of a woman, his ad-lib about ad-libs — it’s a sorbet-like palette-cleanser for the album that follows.


OutKast

16. OutKast
‘Crumblin ‘Erb’
(Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace, 1994)

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For all the bluster of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, OutKast have always been more likely to smoke something than shoot something. ‘Crumblin ‘Erb’ updates ‘What’s Going On’ into ‘Give Weed A Chance’, a message we can all get behind. Oh, and that Ohio Players sample? The apropos ‘Sweet Sticky Thing’.


OutKast

15. OutKast
‘So Fresh So Clean’
(Stankonia, LaFace, 2000)

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‘So Fresh, So Clean’ sounds like a victory lap for the ATLiens, and dripping with white-hot funk it boasts an effortless cool that only OutKast can really nail. Quite how they manage to pull off a boastful p-funk nursery rhyme without sounding abrasively wacky is simply astonishing.


OutKast

14. Big Boi
‘Shutterbugg’
(Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, Def Jam, 2010)

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BUH-BUH-BUHBUHBUHBUH-BUHBUHBOOM. A wild Scott Storch appeared, produced his best beat in years, and then went back to hoofing coke with Brooke Hogan while Sir Lucious Left Foot rode into the sunset. Like Big Boi – kind of – says, it’s risky business in the ‘ye.


OutKast

13. OutKast
‘Hey Ya!’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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Who could’ve predicted that (one of) the South’s stankest ATLiens would come up with the 21st century’s most reliable wedding disco anthem? Even your whiskery great aunt knows what’s cooler than being cool, for god’s sake. Pete Novak, who recorded Andre’s vocals for the track, recalled that he would do 30 or 40 takes of every line: “I would say, ‘Alright, better put that one aside, that was a great performance.’ And then he would come and listen to them and the one he would like would be the one I was about to erase. After a while working with him I said, ‘I’m not even gonna try to read him.’ ”


OutKast

12. OutKast
‘Ain’t No Thang’ 
(Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace, 1994)

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Sure, Aquemini and Stankonia were the albums where OutKast’s Funkadelic influence really became pronounced, but listen to the opening sound of ‘Ain’t No Thang’ – squint, and that guitar could be from Maggot Brain. Another early ‘Kast cut where Andre comes way more straight-up gangsta than Big Boi, who gets eerily Scarface-esque with “these voices in my skull have got me reminiscing.”


OutKast

11. OutKast
‘Ms Jackson’
(Stankonia, LaFace, 2000)

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OutKast’s hookiest effort, and their biggest hit at the time, at least until ‘Hey Ya!’ scampered into view. Based around a crumpled sample of Shuggie Otis’ ‘Strawberry Letter 23’, it’s a heart-on-sleeve discussion of a relationship gone sour that feels neither bitter nor trite – a reminder that domestic melodrama doesn’t have to go down the N-Dubz soap opera route. Also prefigures all those pops about The Love Below being a Prince knock-off: the churning reversed drums and amphibian bassline are pure ‘The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker’.


OutKast

10. OutKast
‘A Day in The Life of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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It’s hard not have a little sympathy with those who see The Love Below as a pompadoured indulgence – despite its undeniable highlights, there are definitely more than a few moments where the weirdo impulses of Aquemini and Stankonia tilt into something much crasser. Those disenfranchised older fans who weathered the icky skits and d’n’b Julie Andrews covers, however, came to this – a life-flashed-before-his-eyes bit of rap autobiography set over a magmatic instrumental, and one of Andre 3000’s great virtuoso performances.


OutKast

09. OutKast
‘Rosa Parks’
(Aquemini, LaFace, 1998)

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From its title down to its soul-clapping harmonica break, ‘Rosa Parks’ is an uncompromising anthem and a deeply, profoundly Southern one, at that. OutKast’s yin yang flows — Big Boi’s rat-a-tat enunciations and Andre’s silver-tongued storytelling — are at their finest here, with verses so rich you only need one apiece before the extended chorus/outro/breakdown brings the lights down. Plus, Andre’s verse proves that even in 1998, near the height of their powers, he still had one eye on the group’s horizon.


OutKast

08. OutKast
‘Ghettomusick’
(Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, Arista, 2003)

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Taking ‘B.O.B’s pressure-cooked psychedelia and ramping it up to warp speed, ‘Ghettomusick’ is the sound of OutKast going for broke. There’s more twists than an airport potboiler: shredding industrial electro in the Final Cut mould; an out-of-nowhere rip of Patti LaBelle’s ‘Love, Need and Want You’ (also sampled on Nelly’s ‘Dilemma’); and a coda that sounds like Omar Souleyman at his rowdiest. Still one of the strangest things the pair have put their name to, and a supercharged rejoinder to the idea that Big Boi’s disc is the drudge of the Speakerboxxx / The Love Below coupling.


OutKast

07. OutKast
‘Players Ball’
(Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace, 1994)

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OutKast’s debut single, and a reminder that, even at their freshest-faced, the duo were subversive: on the surface, ‘Player’s Ball’ is a song about pimps hanging out, but Big Boi’s verse in particular reveals what a dirge his situation’s become (“a junkie is a junkie, three sixty five / It’s just another day of work to me, the spirit just ain’t in me”). Still, let’s not get caught up in all that – just listen to those flows. Even in ’93, OutKast were rapping rings around the competition.


OutKast

06. Kelis 
‘Millionaire’ (ft. Andre 3000)
(Tasty, Virgin, 2004)

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Andre 3000’s production was often just as notable as his wordplay, and Kelis’s ‘Millionaire’ is a prime example. Brash and vividly lit, ‘Millionaire’ kicks Dre’s The Love Below-era excesses into overdrive, and Kelis’ ghetto-diva coos work a treat. Great ideas, perfect execution, and a massive tune to boot.


OutKast

05. Big Boi
‘Shine Blockas’ (ft. Gucci Mane)
(Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, Def Jam, 2010)

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Despite its numerous qualities, Big Boi’s solo debut doesn’t hold a candle to OutKast’s pre-Speakerboxxx / The Love Below albums – it’s not as interesting or successful as Stankonia, and it’s simply not as good as the other three – but its pre-release run of material (see ‘Shutterbugg’ and ‘General Patton’) was nothing short of phenomenal. Driven by an ebullient Cutmaster Swift beat that’s a successor of sorts to ‘Int’l Players Anthem’, Big Boi and Gucci aim for the stars with a chart-friendly chorus and some of – particularly in Gucci’s case – their catchiest lyrics.


OutKast

04. OutKast
‘Da Art Of Storytellin’ (Part 1)’
(Aquemini, LaFace, 1998)

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There aren’t many cuts that live up to their lofty titles as well as ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)’. While Big Boi dexterously details a quickie in the parking lot, Dre flips the script, effortlessly laying out the heart-wrenching story of a young heroin addict. Both verses show, maybe better than any other single track, just how innovative and economical the two rappers can be, and just how well each style complements the other. Few rap tracks have ever captured tragedy so succinctly and with such subtlety.


OutKast

03. OutKast
‘Elevators (Me & You)’
(ATLiens, LaFace, 1996)

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Somewhere between ATLiens and Aquemini, OutKast’s horizons and hearts start to open in earnest. ‘Elevators (Me & You)’ is the perfect representation of that tilt – a snapshot taken bang in the middle of their evolution from twisted pimp rappers into full-on space cadets. In a sense, it’s straight Cadillac music, featuring a lazy Organized Noize beat well-suited for porch-dwellers and summertime drivers. There’s something weird in the water, though. Who is the ambiguous “you”? What are those bleeps – alien signals, or cardiogram song? And where the hell did that mildewy Disney-flick chorus line just come from? Despite sounding like it was unearthed from some subterranean crypt, ‘Elevators’ ascended up the charts, infiltrating the Billboard Top 20 and frazzling a million minds in the process.


OutKast

02. OutKast
‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’
(Aquemini, LaFace, 1998)

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‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ starts with the roll of a Sly Stone song and features the guitar trill of a Genesis one; in kind, its horns announce the arrival of funkadelic rap royalty. Sleepy Brown is at his sleepiest, recalling George Clinton on the first verse before OutKast’s verses give the song a rising and falling action: Andre’s half-lidded spoken word recollection of youthful club hopping and Big Boi’s smoked-out meditation on the realities of adulthood. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious via the Dirty South? As the chorus goes (and with respect to Florida on Good Times): “damn, damn, damn, James.”


OutKast

01. UGK
Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)’ (ft. OutKast)
(Underground Kingz, Jive, 2007)

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No, it doesn’t feature on any of OutKast’s classic albums, but six years on from ‘Int’l Players Anthem’, it’s simply not been topped. The track’s timing, of course, was gut-wrenching: UGK’s Pimp C was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room less than six months on from its Summer 2007 release, a fact that meant that, even without OutKast drifting apart – something that had been happening since 2000’s Stankonia – these three titans of the South (OutKast, UGK and Three 6 Mafia, who produced the track), who all came up in the 1990s before reaching wider fame in the early 2000s, would never record together again.

In spite of that, it remains one of the most joyful hip-hop records ever made. Andre 3000’s opening verse is as powerful a dedication of love as anything from The Love Below, while the way Pimp C catches the drop – over a minute into the song – is simply euphoric. Who else could open his verse on a song (loosely) centered around the virtues of matrimony with “My bitch a choosy lover / Never fuck without a rubber”?

The Bryan Barber-directed video, which didn’t win at the 2007 BET awards (Kanye West, who won with ‘Stronger’, claimed that it should have), is also a classic, from Juicy J sneak-drinking in church to T-Pain leading the choir. Speaking to XXL last year, Big Boi emphasised the symbolism of the video’s opening scene, where Andre prepares for his wedding with best man Big Boi, UGK and Three 6. “It was big for us, we couldn’t think of a time when all three of those groups had ever been in the same room together. Everybody is a big fan of everybody. We are all brothers. We’re peers. We basically came up around the same time, during the same struggle, all working these different clubs in the Chitlin’ Circuit. That was 15 years into all of our respective careers and we were all still here, still making money.”

‘Int’l Players Anthem’ might be the decade’s funkiest ode to marriage, and it’s also the logical conclusion to OutKast’s player/poet dynamic (though it was probably already established who was who on Speakerboxxx / The Love Below). But more than that, it’s a celebration of Southern hip-hop’s rise – not only Three 6 (who won their Oscar the previous year), UGK and OutKast, but David Banner, Chamillionare, T-Pain, Big Gipp and more, all of whom toast in the video. “Really man, [Andre] understood the historical value of OutKast and UGK being on the screen together”, Barber told XXL. The fact that it served as Pimp C’s swansong is mere tragic coincidence.

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