Outkast Speakerboxxx / The Love Below

Big Boi and Andre 3000 have always thrived on accentuating their differences from each other and everyone else so their decision to essentially record two separate albums does have some credence. Choosing to sing virtually everything on The Love Below despite being a highly respected MC, Andre 3000 muses on love, lust, relationships and commitment cloaked in a full-blown detonation of his creative impulses. Copping artistic cues from the likes of Prince and Sly Stone, Andre’s falsetto registers strongly on the lasciviously frantic "Spread,” the exquisitely sticky hesitancy of "Prototype” and the deft swirling crescendo of "Pink & Blue.” If Andre’s freewheeling organised confusion can incorporate everything from a drum & bass reading of a John Coltrane jazz standard to an acoustic jam duet with Norah Jones, the urge would be to label Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx as the more conservative effort. However, Big Boi channels his impulses in a more focused and arguably more consistent manner. Big Boi serves up the regular Outkast flavour, meaning the fact that the torrid pace of "Ghetto Musick” is naturally intermittently halted by a Patti Labelle slow jam is considered business as usual. Without Andre’s verses Big Boi recruits aid from the always able Dungeon Family and ups the ante on the soulful musical arrangements, flaunting a fascination with horns on "Bowtie” and the baby mama drama of "The Rooster.” On the mic he experiments stylistically and topically sounding almost unrecognisable on the rock crunch of "Bust” and dropping political insight on "War.” If Big Boi’s record was more conventional it would be easier to pinpoint a permanent schism between the duo. As it is, the evidence doesn’t quite answer the looming question regarding their artistic relationship, but it does confirm that no hip-hop artists who have released double CDs can traverse the past and the future or the spiritual or secular with the frightening ease accomplished on this ambitious project. (Arista)