Critics, including me, have piled on the Stankonia superlatives so high and wide that the mound threatens to overshadow the product itself; you can't see the Stank for the praise, and otherwise curious souls can be forgiven if they're wary of the product. The record smushed the competition in the Village Voice's lauded "Pazz & Jop" poll last month and is widely regarded as one of the last great records of the 20th century (or the first great one of the 21st). But too much slobbering can kill an earnest reaction, can make freethinkers ditch the product. Who wants to be a party to such gushing? You're bound to be disappointed.Except, of course -- and you knew this was coming -- in the case of the Outkast's Stankonia. Two men, Big Boi and Andre 3000, yin and yang, the former the devil on your left shoulder, the latter the angel on your right, go 'round and 'round all over the record. Big Boi says shit that pops a question mark over your head, and then Dre comes in and turns it into a light bulb, contextualizes it, frames it, explains it without dismissing it or apologizing for it.
This isn't to say, as many have, that Boi's always the thug and Dre's always on the straight-and-narrow; both live in the gray -- where we all live -- and the give-and-take between the two is what makes the record (and their three other excellent records, stretching back to the mid-'90s) -- so engaging. Their politics are right-on -- they tackle stupid drug laws; absentee fathers; the electronic revolution and its effect on the working man (the hilarious quickie skit "Drinkin' Again"); mutually pleasurable humpin' ("I'm a gentleman, I'm gonna satisfy your soul, and then I'm gonna get mine. Like Wimbledon, we go back and forth across the court"); rappers' fucked-up relationship with money and its effect on teen wannabes; and a million other ideas, all smart and quick and, above all, honest. And damn funky, by the way, funky like Sly and the Family Stone, funky like Funkadelic, funky like the Jonzun Crew and Newcleus, funky like Public Enemy. Totally funky. Totally funny. Totally right-on. Stank's the one, even for you bland rockheads who don't care about hip-hop, Stank's the one, as rich as any novel written about the human condition, about race, about life, about struggle, about truth.