The sheer variety displayed on this double album makes it deliciously hard to describe. Speakerboxx, performed and produced by Antwan (Big Boi) Patton, is a fabulously inventive rap masterpiece, with songs ranging from bass-heavy gangsta (“Tomb of the Boom”) to upbeat party hip-hop (“Bowtie”, “Church”), and taking in all manner of experimenal beats and grooves inbetween (“Ghetto Musick). On the other hand, The Love Below, produced and performed by André (3000) Benjamin, is a fabulously inventive R&B masterpiece, with tunes ranging from beautifully chilled out (“Prototype”, “Take Off Your Cool”) to energetic (“Hey Ya!”), and taking in all manner of experimental beats and grooves inbetween (for example the frantic jazz/drum ‘n bass crossover version of “My Favorite Things”).
The key thing that binds the albums together is an utterly fearless eclecticism. Orchestral string sections, big band style horns, hard rocking guitars, easygoing acoustic sections, layered samples and hyper-produced twiddlings…it’s all there, and it all just works. On top of it all lie Antwan’s precise counterpoint rap phrasings, and André’s seductively meandering vocals. There are numerous brief interludes scattered throughout the album, most of which I can live without (even if some of them are fun once or twice, such as “God”, and “Bamboo”), but amongst the 30 (!) actual tracks, there are no more than a handful I would call weak. It’s an extraordinary double album: topical and timeless, sensitive and hard-edged, sexy and fun.
If I can figure out which one it will displace, Speakerboxx/The Love Below is heading straight into my all-time top 10.