THERE WERE MORE THAN ENOUGH brilliant recordings released this year to make top-10 lists difficult. Reaching a consenus on the best of the best was bound to be a battle royal for NOW's music writers.
Surprisingly, when the year-end tallies were taken, the Stankonia (LaFace/BMG) album by visionary Atlanta hiphop headz OutKast wound up the clear number one, and for good reason.
More than merely a genre-defying anomaly, Stankonia is a stone-solid hiphop masterpiece that manages to be creatively challenging without sacrificing pop appeal. Check the charts -- it's ringing up boy-band numbers at retail. The dirty south duo of Andre "Dre" Benjamin (aka Nookie Blossumgang III) and his pitbull-breeding partner-in-rhyme Antwan "Big Boi" Patton (aka Daddy Fatsacks) have topped last year's Aquemini breakthrough with even bolder orchestrations of mad beats and inspired narrative, making every other rap record issued this year sound sadly old-school by comparison.
No sound or idea seems too warped. Past records have seen the Hotlanta duo dabbling in dub, funk and soul. Stankonia adds brass bands, backwards booty beats, jungle breaks and Erykah Badu to the mix, all filtered through OutKast's acid-tinged psychedelic filter. That P-Funkified vision even extends to the group's groundbreaking videos, cosmic cartoon lands where arm-waving cats, head-bobbing owls and purple grass are part of the natural fabric. No other record -- hiphop or otherwise -- comes close.