Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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No Underpants

Hip hop has vinyl roots, and for all its heritage of park parties and freestyling contests it's never been much of a live music. Opening for his OutKast homeboys at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden March 9, Ludacris knew such innovations as arrangement and rehearsal wouldn't suffice. So he and his sidekicks reprised live rap's signature move--they showed us their underpants. Applause was lukewarm.

After an intermission whose mere half hour was innovation indeed, the curtain was drawn to unveil a huge grotto, "the center of the earth" whence legend says Stankonia's stank derives. Within a minute, its sweaty fragrance had permeated the 5600-seat hall. No, Dre 3000 and Big Boi haven't revived Parliament-Funkadelic down to the last bop gun, and they won't. But the roof-ripping "Gasoline Dreams" went directly for the hardcore jollies, kicking off the show as it does the album with the kind of ferocious propulsion George Clinton's aggregations take an hour or two to work up. And although OutKast is regularly praised for enlisting Live Musicians, note that only two of these paragons were onstage helping the music go--most crucially, Donny Mathis on bass.

The concert didn't maintain this pace--it couldn't have. But with Dre the genially suave, unflappably weird ringmaster in pink Elvis suit followed by green fancy pants and the jock-suited Big Boi quickening pulses as Fastest Mouth in the South, OutKast made hip hop a live music. The soulful backup singers and roughly choreographed dancers were nice. But whenever the intensity flagged, they rolled out what they're not ashamed to designate their "hooks," as signature grooves were lifted by "Hoo-de-hoo" (aka "Slump") and "We just can't be amazed" (aka "Xplosion"). And after an hour or two, a through-the-roof finale that built from "Rosa Parks" to "Ms. Jackson" to "B.O.B." proved that hits work even better.

Rolling Stone, 2001