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OutKast

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista)

Beatles parallels are a record reviewer's best friend and worst habit. But it's just too tempting, when listening to the fascinating sprawl of OutKast's double-length latest, to consider it urban music's heir to "the White Album." The Georgia duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000, who each contribute a solo set to this package, is the closest thing, creatively and ambition-wise, hip-hop has yet produced to the Fabs.

Under that scenario, Big Boi is OutKast's McCartney, a traditionalist trying to hold the group together. His Speakerboxxx will surprise no one who loved the group's breakthrough, Stankonia -- the futuristic funk beats and good-natured, pimpadelic outlook of "The Way You Move" and "Rooster" make it a respectable follow-up. All that's missing, really, is Dre's unpredictability; it's probably no coincidence that "Ghettomusick," a locomotive fusion of techno and crunk he produced, is the most aurally stunning thing on his partner's album.

Hip-hop's White Album is a segregated affair.
Hip-hop's White Album is a segregated affair.

Which brings us to the Lennonesque The Love Below. If it contains no "Revolution 9," its probing of black music's boundaries is, at times, almost as revolutionary -- and indulgent. Featuring almost no rapping, it sets Dre's suspect croon atop '60s jangle, continental jazz, and all points between and beyond, often succeeding from the sheer buzz of boundary-toppling. Its aspirations, like those of the White Album, also contain the seeds of the group's demise; Dre has already stated he's fed up with rhyming and won't tour. We can hope OutKast has an Abbey Road left, but it's a tribute to its greatness and reach that this flawed exercise is still required listening for fans of any genre.

 
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