Outkast Turn Hip-Hop Conventions Inside Out

They're hardly exiles from success and acclaim. Outkast, whose third and latest album, Aquemini, has been levitating in the Top Ten since it debuted three weeks ago, have been about breaking barriers from day one. "We sat down at Big Boi's table and looked through the dictionary for a word that meant totally different from everybody else," explains Dre, half of the Atlanta hip-hop duo. "That's how we came up with the word outcast. We were doing rhymes for people in the hood that were totally different from what was going on in Atlanta."

From the Parliament-inspired funk and live instrumentation of their acclaimed debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzi, to the spacey keyboards of their sophomore effort, ATF and the musically rich, genre-defying feel of Aquemini, Outkast create their own brand of innovative hip-hop with no mind to sales or trends. "They've consistently elevated southern music masterfully without compromise," says Ahmir Thompson of the Roots. "If A Tribe Called Quest were a southern group, they'd be Outkast."

The secret ingredient: funk. And according to the group, elements are added to the recipe in accordance to what hip-hop needs at the time.

"There's a lot of uninteresting music going on in the industry right now," says Big Boi. "A lot of sampling and raping of the music. What we tried to do was put something new, fresh and improved in the game. We use very few samples, and if we do sample, you'll never ever know where it came from because it's switched and warped so many different ways that we've created a whole new sound out of it. It'll never sound nothing like the original, and we'd never use the whole thing."

It's that unique sonic fusion that has critics raving over Aquemini, including Rolling Stone (four stars) and The Source (five 'mics'). It's not shocking, though, given Outkast's knack for transcending regional boundaries.

"It's about having fun and dropping time capsules that paint a picture of what's going on in the world," says Dre. "We never want to be just straight local. When we started making music we wanted to get everybody on the planet to hear it. We reflect emotion, not just what's happening on your street."