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Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

It's the coolest thing when two good friends grow in opposite directions but remain tight. I got cats I grew up with who've decided they can't click with me anymore because I left the 'hood to go to (gasp!) college. But then I got close compadres still in the 'hood who totally support my departure with no love lost. Every time I listen to an Outkast CD I'm reminded of those friends in the latter boat.

Since 1994 when Outkast dropped their first of five classics, Southernplayalisticadillacmusic, we've watched these two Atlanta boys grow before our eyes: Big Boi into pimp eternal with the Tommy-gun spitfire flow, and Dre into ... well, whatever he is now. But how dope is it that, with their latest, we find the two still together in musical matrimony even while respectfully agreeing to disagree with the other's character? The art this duo shares has metastasized into something that can no longer be contained by the Aquemini hybrid compositions that anchored them for so long.

So from that ball of clay they've antennae'd out into two frequencies: Big Boi's frick-VHF to Dre's frack-UHF, manifesting as separate recordings called The Love Below (Dre) and Speakerboxxx (Big Boi), yet still packaged as one. One listen to Big Boi's "Ghettomusick" -- a warp-speed, future-of-the-crunk tune that stops only for a smooth Patti LaBelle voice sample to cross -- and you realize they're still on. A listen to Dre's "She Lives in My Lap," which easily could have been an early '80s Prince B-side, or "Take Off Your Cool," featuring Norah Jones, and you find Dre has reached a plateau his NYC hip-hop-purist contemporaries can't touch with twin towers. An unlisted rendition of jazz classic "My Favorite Things" to a dirty 808 booty-clap beat magically proves that a union between intellectual and ghetto cultures can exist contrary to the fluke theories of John McWhorter-type hip-hop opponents.

Thank God for friendships that don't change, even as friends do.

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