Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Outkast from Rap

Last week was supposed to be a big one for Outkast; all in one week their new album came out, as did their movie that went with it. Both ventures were named Idlewild, and both were disappointing from a sales standpoint. Even though it had the highest-per screen average ($6,800 per) of any movie in the top ten, Idlewild was 8th in the total box office. Their album came in at #2, but sold 300,000 less copies than their previous release, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Now I know what you're thinking: what supergroup rose above Outkast to take the #1 spot? What megastar act built up enough steam in their first week to take the top spot from The Mighty O? Danity fuckin' Kane, Puffy's girl-group who you may be familiar with from MTV. You know the ones who fight all the time, can't sing or dance, and basically were more of a joke than a serious act? For Christ sakes, one of the bitches has a two-tone face, black and almost black. Yes America, you helped that collection of low-budget ho's, bitch wiggers and backup singers win Ghetto American Idol and top what has historically been the best selling rap group ever. Admittedly, I am a huge Outkast fan. I got hooked on ATLiens, went out and bought Southernplayalistcadillacmuzik, then was in line when the store opened for Aquemini, Stankonia, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and Idlewild. Each album was different, and each had its own feel to it. That is part of who and what Outkast is. They have never put out something just for the sake of it, never bent their vision of what the album should be to garner a few mores Soundscan scans. Up until Idlewild, this approach has been tremendously successful. Each successive album outsold the previous one, starting at the platinum Southernplayalistic all the way up to the 11 x platinum (aka Diamond) Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Now, the rap world wants to throw them under the bus (insert Rosa Parks joke here.)
Let's look at this logically: most rap albums have about three to five good songs, and that's being generous. If rap artists had batting averages based on their ratio of good to bad , almost every one would be batting .200 or less. Most rap records have a few good songs hidden in a cesspool of unlistenable beats, nursery school rhymes, and dreadful skits. On any given album there are two or three songs planned to be singles, a couple okay songs that won't ever be singles, and the rest is pure, unapologetic garbage. That has never, ever been the case with Outkast.

Looking at Idlewild from a sales standpoint, this is the least popular Outkast album to date, but lets take a closer look at the product...just to see if the quality of music is to blame. Off the top we'll take away the five interludes that appear (mostly dialogue from the movie) and now we're down to 20 songs. Subtract the last five that go specifically with the movie, appealing more to those who have seen it, and you're down to fifteen. GENEROUSLY take away another five, not because the songs are bad, but because everyone has different tastes. That leaves no less than ten really good songs on Idlewild. I'm not talking radio friendly, play-me-at-the-club bullshit everyone is accustomed to; I'm talking really, really good music. There is a difference: Idlewild isn't just a collection of random songs produced by random producers with $$$ in mind. This is great music. How many rap albums can you say that about?

Idlewild's ten(+) good songs are roughly 10 more than Young Joc will ever make in his life. Any southern rap flavor of the month would be seriously overachieving if they ever made 3 memorable songs in their careers. I dare you to go through your ipod and find me a recent rap record that has 10 really good songs. You would have a better chance of finding Noah's Ark sitting upon the ruins of Atlantis as the Loch Ness Monster swims around the island with Bigfoot on its back. I guess I'm just disappointed with America in general for letting this sort of thing take place. Before the albums were released, I would have said there was more chance for a Beatles reunion than for Outkast to be outsold by a broke-ass interracial Spice Girls knockoff. Great music is often swept under the rug because its different, and people are afraid of change. Most times, in music, film, literature, etc. the creators of the art strive for perfection, and while they fall short it still can lead to great achievements. Rappers don't want to go out on a limb and change things up, because they can make much more money being uninspiring and unorginal.

The only positive to this situation is there are only so many ways you can describe drinking, smoking, and banging groupies. I am actually surprised it has gone on this long. Sometimes the only creative thing a rapper will do is invent a new way to describe getting high or getting head. I know money is the root of all evil, and now it is the root of almost all music. While I'm throwing around cliches, what goes up must come down. Ten years from now, Young Joc will be watching a VHS tape of his appearance on Cribs from the basement of his grandma's, wondering how he lost his stream of revenue and wasted all his money. Maybe then he'll sell a dime bag and go pick up Idlewild so he can understand what while jewelry, big talk and cars can make you money, it can't make you good music.


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