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OUTKAST, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, La Face
Leading up to this together-but-separate Outkast double album, speculation ran rampant that this was a prelude to a breakup. Even while reaching greater and greater success with each passing album, it was obvious that the duo had been following separate paths. Big Boi's style and flow would still fit side-by-side with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, while Andre's headwear and rhymes have been increasingly on some other sh--. Not that Big Boi was stuck in the past -- it's just that his progression follows a more natural and logical route than Andre's experimental explorations. In fact, had Andre not opened your mind on previous albums, many likely would pull the plug on The Love Below before letting his whole concept album play out and turn to Speakerboxx right away. But for those that stick with Love, there's a payoff. For every "Happy Valentine's Day," there's a "Spread" and "She Lives in My Lap," which surprisingly features Rosario Dawson and a Geto Boys sample. Kelis and Norah Jones also appear, but The Love Below climaxes in the middle on the addictive "Hey Ya" and the Big Boi-blessed "Roses." There's a whole lot of singing from Andre throughout, but those put off by how different Love is thankfully have Speakerboxx to turn to. A more traditional Outkast collabo, Andre guests on four tracks. But as good as Big Boi, guests like Ludacris and Jay-Z, and the beats backing them are -- especially on "The Way You Move," "Ghetto Musik" and "Church" -- you still find yourself waiting for Andre to chime in. There's something about Andre's craziness grounded by Big Boi that makes Outkast better together than apart.
Click here to listen to samples or buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

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