Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Music & Theatre
9 December 2017

Musa Okwonga on Aquemini by Outkast: “The kind of thing you could play to aliens”

From the Long Players series: writers on their most cherished albums.

By Musa Okwonga

As a musician myself, my most important album keeps changing – once it was The Score by The Fugees, at another time Crooks & Lovers by Mount Kimbie. But Aquemini came into my life just before I started uni and hasn’t left since. With the exception of the Wu-Tang Clan, I had never seen black men so creative, so fearless. This album has everything. Breadth, depth, length, supreme storytelling, wild, almost reckless divergence of moods; at turns triumphant and melancholic, but always mesmerising. It’s an otherworldly piece of music, the kind of thing you could play to aliens as proof of how sublime humans can be. I love Aquemini as much as I love the short stories of Kurt Vonnegut – every time I return to both works, I find some new way of looking at the human condition.

I also love Aquemini because it shows, in the most thrilling fashion, what happens when two songwriters utterly trust each other. This is the album where Big Boi and André 3000 worked perfectly in tandem, and became far greater as a result. I listen to “Chonkyfire” and think that Outkast, if they wished, could have made the greatest rap-rock album of all time. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” is still a gold standard for any poet who seeks to put their words to music. The title track is as wistful yet stirring as anything that hip hop has produced, and “Rosa Parks” will fill dance floors for years to come.

I am obsessed with pieces of art that are wholly, superbly realised, because they are immediately timeless. They leave me with a sense of sadness whenever I draw to their close, the same way I feel when finishing a home-made meal with loved ones. Aquemini is a work that surges and lulls, that sprawls but never meanders; it’s vast, contemplative, universal. Most of all, it’s brave. They could have stuck to the formula, but they embraced autotune, funk, folk and more. André sang, Big Boi wrote hooks galore, they got George Clinton in the studio and went to work.

Whenever unsure about the musical path I should take, I ask myself: “What would Outkast do?” And the answer is always the same – risk everything, including ridicule and failure. Venture beyond the boundaries of all you’ve produced to this point. Try to make the kind of music that, decades from now, someone will idly slip on shuffle as their spacecraft moves from one galaxy to another; and, upon hearing it, they’ll think: “You know what, that’s not half bad.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets
Why public health policy needs to refocus

This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special