30 Years Ago, OutKast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik Disrupted the Rap Game With Dirty South Flavor

Rico Wade’s unfortunate passing has shaken the ATL hip-hop community, but his work on Big Boi and André 3000’s debut album proves timeless.

Music Features Outkast
30 Years Ago, OutKast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik Disrupted the Rap Game With Dirty South Flavor

Throughout the year, Paste will be looking at the most important album releases from 1994 as they turn 30, from Portishead to Tom Petty to Pavement and beyond. This is 1994, She’s in Your Bones, a column of essays dedicated to one of the best years in rock ‘n’ roll history. Read our previous installments, on Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers and Nas’s Illmatic.

From the very beginning of OutKast’s debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, we’re informed that this record is going to be “nothing but king shit.” The vocal intro, titled “Peaches,” comes from the late singer Myrna “Peaches” Crenshaw (not to be confused with Peaches Nisker), setting the scene as she introduces listeners to fresh new Dirty South sounds. The 1990s were a remarkable time for hip-hop, as the early parts of the decade introduced us to the groovy, yet armored West Coast sounds—like those featured on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic—and the East Coast jazzy, conscious musical stylings—namely Nas, with his 1994 debut, Illmatic. Though Dirty South sounds weren’t missing from the landscape, the two coasts had a strong market share within hip-hop. But when OutKast debuted in 1994, they arrived with an ardent mission: to amplify the voices and the art of southern artists.

Upon the release of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, the South would soon rise again and again. OutKast’s members—Big Boi and André 3000—had only met each other two years before making their debut album, when they were both only 16 years old. But their musical chemistry quickly proved undeniable. Honing their craft through rap battles at Tri-Cities High School, Dré would drop out by 17 and work multiple jobs before he and Big Boi officially formed the soon-to-be-revered duo. While Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, in its heart-of-hearts, is a reflective record, it never pretends to be a “conscious” album. Rather, it is a homegrown project capturing the nuance and heart of Dré and Big Boi’s hometown of Atlanta. At the foundation of the project is the gangsta lifestyle, especially given that a good portion of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was funded by way of street hustling. But Dré and Big Boi’s mission was always to uplift the ATL area and pave the way for a better future for the city they came up in.

On an interlude called “Welcome To Atlanta,” a pilot speaks to passengers on a plane as they descend into Atlanta—the scene of a new musical renaissance. “Atlanta has been called the new Motown of the South / And is the home of LaFace Records / Organized Noize Productions,” says the voice. Much of the album’s production was handled by the Organized Noize collective, comprised of Sleepy Brown, Ray Murray and the late Rico Wade. In Wade’s basement—known as The Dungeon—is where OutKast recorded some of their earliest demos, as well as raps for remixes to tracks on TLC’s album Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. Live instrumentation gave the songs born from the Dungeon a more personal, immediate touch. Organs and pianos, paired with low bass and 808s combined the sounds of rap and soul, capturing the energetic, tethered hearts of OutKast and Atlanta. These recordings would later result in a record deal with LaFace Records for both OutKast and Organized Noize.

Wade, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 52, would become a force in Atlanta’s hip-hop soundscape, producing the rest of OutKast’s albums, as well as projects by Goodie Mob, Future and others. But it was Southernplayalisticadilacmuzik that solidified Wade’s legacy. “If the only thing Rico Wade ever did was co-create TLC’s singular 1994 ‘Waterfalls’ and OutKast’s seminal 1994 Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik debut, he would be a legend,” said author Danyel Smith to Atlanta Magazine in a memorial piece.

OutKast’s debut single, “Player’s Ball” was the perfect introduction to both the duo and Organized Noize. From the jump, Dré’s funkadelic flows and Big Boi’s piercing bars laid the foundation of who OutKast was, both as a duo and as individuals. Instrumentally, the song’s piano-and-drum-driven production, paired with Sleepy Brown’s falsetto chorus, gave the song a soulful touch. At the beginning of the song, Wade vividly describes a “Player’s Ball” in Atlanta—scenes rife with “Lowriders, ’77 Sevilles, El Dogs, nothin’ but them ‘Lacs, all the players, all the hustlers. I’m talkin’ ’bout a Black man Heaven here.”

The song’s accompanying video takes viewers through a day in a bustling Atlanta, as Dré and Big Boi take to the streets, play card games, get their hair touched up at their local barber shop and steal the show at a house party—with fresh looks and unbridled confidence both in tow. The party continues in the visual for the album’s title track, which sees the duo as the life of a thumping celebration. The crowd can’t help but sing along to the catchy, R&B-influenced chorus, as they bounce to the beat like the hydraulic cars that dominated the ATL streets. Throughout the video, Dré looks fresh in an Atlanta Braves jersey, and later, a crisp black T-shirt with a matching fedora—while Big Boi opts for a T-shirt adorned with the OutKast emblem and a flashy chain. Their individual aesthetics correspond with their unique musical stylings, Big Boi with his pure rap prowess and Dré with his soulful yet sharp melodiousness.

Though the two frequently rapped about the street life of Atlanta, OutKast had their eyes constantly affixed on community growth. One of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’s standout tracks, “Git Up, Git Out” serves as a call to the youth of Atlanta, motivating them to find their purpose rather than falling victim to the circumstances around them, like drug dealing, cop brutality and street violence. Featuring members of fellow ATL hip-hop collective Goodie Mob (Big Gipp, Khujo, CeeLo Green, T-Mo), the song encapsulates the act of lifting one’s peers up. “You need to git up, git out and git something / Don’t let the days of your life pass by / You need to git up, git out and git something / Don’t spend all your time trying to get high,” raps CeeLo on the song’s chorus.

Also on the song, Big Boi lets us know that he’s always going to hold it down for his ATL crew, even as OutKast would soon begin to reach new levels of fame. “I hang with Rico Wade ’cause the Dungeon is where the funk’s at / I’m true to Organized, ’cause they raised me,” he spits. Closing out the song, Dré recalls how his mother urged him to take his studies seriously: “Cool is how I played the 10th grade/ I thought it was all about macking hoes and wearing pimp fade /Instead of being in class, I’d rather be up in some ass / Not, thinking about them six courses that I need to pass.”

Though Dré was open about the fact that he dropped out of high school—and would later return to get his GED—he admits he wished he would’ve listened to his mother. Feeling compelled to right his wrongs, he urges the next generation to stay in school: “I should’ve listened when my mama told me / That if you play now, you gonna suffer later / Figured she was talking yang yang, so I paid her no attention / And kept missing the point she tried to poke me with / The doper that I get, the more I’m feeling broke and shit.”

Though Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik proved to be a success and was well-received by critics, the hip-hop community remained divided over the album and OutKast as a group. Neither they nor Organized Noize claimed to have invented the Dirty South sound, but when they stepped onto the scene, they disrupted an entire industry dominated by the coasts that surrounded them. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik would earn OutKast the New Artist of the Year (Group) at the 1995 Source Awards—however, this award proved polarizing. As OutKast arrived to the stage, they were booed by the crowd. Still, Big Boi and André 3000 each stood 10 toes down in their mission to uplift Atlanta—most memorably as Dré closed out OutKast’s acceptance speech by proclaiming that “the South got something to say,” which was met with visible shock and awe by the audience.

The duo would continue to push the envelope, with genre-fluid albums like ATLiens, Aquemini, Stankonia, Speakerbox/The Love Below and Idlewild. Though Organized Noize would return to contribute on every single one of OutKast’s later albums, each one sounded different. But still, you know an OutKast song by its rhythmic grit and soul-powered melodies, and the distinct flows and the sharp lines of Big Boi and Dré confirm those recognitions.

It’s been nearly two decades since the last proper OutKast album, but Big Boi and André 3000 still maintain their influence within the rap game. The former has released three solo rap albums since Idlewild, while Dré has yet to release a solo rap album—though he did release an instrumental flute-driven album, New Blue Sun in 2023—he remains an ambitious get for a rap verse on musical collaborations, including songs by Frank Ocean (“Pink Matter”), Killer Mike (“Scientists & Engineers”) and Beyoncé (“Party”). Having overcome street life in Atlanta and thriving within a scene that was not ready to welcome them, OutKast proved to be game-changers—and they set the stage for the likes of Gucci Mane, the Ludacris, Childish Gambino and Young Thug to build a strong rap community far into the 21st century. As was told to us by Peaches Crenshaw in the album’s intro, this is some real king shit.

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