If “Aquemini” were released today, it would still be ahead of its time. On OutKast’s third LP, the rap duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi simultaneously embraced and rejected the gangsta sound that infiltrated their hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. “Aquemini”, released in 1998 is rooted in the trap beats and minor cadences that dominate club music today. However, unlike A$AP Rocky or Mac Miller, OutKast drastically redefined what it means to be a “gangsta”, using the term to signify their undying search for knowledge and the beyond.

On “Return of the Gangsta”, Andre 3000 raps about time traveling and mind unraveling in a way that frames drugs and violence as mere child’s play. The album’s slinky and plastic synths beautifully juxtapose the dark subject matter of the lyrics, similar to the way the Gorillaz did on their 2009 release, “Plastic Beach.”

On “Aquemini”, OutKast makes one of the most compelling hybrids of hip hop, latin, blues and jazz music to exist. “Rosa Parks” combines salsa acoustic guitar with the type of playful 808 beat that would make Timbaland drool. What’s more, on “Synthesizer”, OutKast brings in George Clinton for a bubbly funkfest, all while making poignant critiques and  observations on the future of a technology-obsessed society.

Both sonically and lyrically, “Aquemini” nods to musical textures and themes that have been deemed innovative decades after its release. In a given style of music, true innovators come around only a few times in a century. Hip Hop may still be a young art form, but on “Aquemini”, OutKast proved themselves to be nothing less than exquisite as artists and MC’s.

Howard is a member of the class of 2017

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