Studio Tales From Stankonia

When Outkast's Stankonia was released 20 years ago, it made an immediate impact on the radio and MTV off of the strength of singles like "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)," "Ms. Jackson," and "So Fresh, So Clean."

Those who bought the album (525,000 in its first week)—or downloaded the leaked version two months before its official release—were rewarded with an hour-plus of funk, psychedelia, electronica, and rock all combined into a hip-hop classic. It was a rare breed, an instant smash commercially and critically whose allure has only continued to grow.

"Stankonia" as a concept was coined by André 3000 to give a name to the group's free-wheeling mindset, a funky utopian headspace where anything and everything is allowed. Stankonia Studios, which André and Big Boi built just before starting work on the record, was where that freedom reigned supreme.

For a year, André, Big Boi, and co-producer Mr. DJ were let loose in a studio of their dreams, bringing together all of their influences, tastes, and more than 30 musicians and guest performers. The resulting album was the neon fruit on the vine.

Founding Stankonia

Following 1998's Aquemini, André and Big Boi had money in the bank and wanted to make good on their desire to have a large studio of their own. Incidentally, they got a chance to buy one of the first professional studios they'd ever set foot in.

Bobby Brown's Bosstown Recording Studios had been a hotbed of recording in Atlanta, with Whitney Houston, TLC, and others making records there after Brown bought the facility in 1991. (Before Brown's time, the building housed the rock-oriented Soundscape Studios.)

Outkast got a chance to record there briefly during the creation of their first record, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Having only made music up to that point in the appropriately named Dungeon, the basement studio of production team Organized Noize, Bosstown made an impression.

In a mini-documentary on Stankonia, André said: "This was the first, like, real studio we came to. We came in here and our mouths were like, ahh, open, like, 'Oh man, look at this.' We were trippin'."

OutKast's 'Stankonia' Album: 15 Years Later | MTV News

By the late '90s, Brown had lost Bosstown to foreclosure. Most of the equipment that had wowed André and Big Boi was gone. They bought the studio in 1999 and with the help of John Frye—who had met the duo when they were recording a verse at Bosstown for TLC at Bosstown—outfitted the rooms once again.

Frye told Sound on Sound in 2004:

"When we came in there wasn't much left gear-wise. There was the SSL G-series console, and I refurbished it. I put in all new bussing and new EQs. I changed everything here [in the A room]. I redid all the wiring, bought new Studer A827s and an A820 half-inch, and really got Outkast set up with all the gear they needed to have and wouldn't want for anything. I put in Augsperger monitors with TAD components and Bryston amplification, and that seemed to be a great system for us. It's not the most high-fidelity system but it's a good marriage for the power and the drive and volume that we put through it."

They recorded Stankonia right on the precipice of the digital takeover. They had one small room set up with a Pro Tools rig, but otherwise it was an analog and tape affair. (By Speakerboxxx/A Love Below the balance shifted toward Pro Tools.)

The studio houses a cavernous "warehouse-like space" they'd use for a live room, according to SOS, "so large, in fact, that huge pieces of stage gear from previous Outkast shows share the space."

More than the physical space itself, owning the studio gave the group the freedom to record whenever inspiration struck. As Big Boi said in MTV News' Stankonia doc, "When you own the joint, you can stay here all day. Because you never know when the vibe's gonna come. It could be seven in the morning. It could be seven at night. It could be midnight, you know what I mean. So I was sleeping with the music."

And like other artists before them who got or fashioned their own keys to the sonic kingdom—Hendrix at his own Electric Lady or Sly Stone's mobile rig for There's a Riot Goin' On—having their own studio let Outkast lean into their creativity.

Stankonia's Sonic Stew

The production team that had first taken Outkast under their wings, Organized Noize, developed a signature sound by blending live instruments and drum machines. While they still appeared on Stankonia, producing three of its 16 songs, the rest of the record is the sound of their proteges taking the lead.

André, Big Boi, and Mr. DJ (who had DJ'd with the band while they were still teens before moving into production), started with the same sonic template: an SP-1200 and MPC3000 for beats, and a revolving array of synths, guitars, and other instruments. As they had on previous records, Outkast sampled very rarely, preferring instead to craft their own sounds.

"There’s a closed-mindedness in hip-hop; once people get a set formula, and it works for ‘em…. It’s like being in school: If you’re passing with a B, then why try to get an A?," Big Boi told Spin in 2000. "Everybody samples, but there’s a lot of not-so-creative sampling out there. When we sample, we sample for the sounds, not for the structure of the whole damn song. It’s about being creative."

For Stankonia, they used the wealth of local Atlanta musicians, inviting them into the studio for extended jam sessions.

In an interview with Alpha & Omega around the album's release, Mr. DJ said:

"We really go out and get the old school live players from all the city. Sometimes we go to clubs and watch the bands play and we'll pick out who we want to play for us... Of course we got people that we always use... And we just all hookup and have big vibe sessions. We use beat machines just to get the rhythm going.. then we sit around, smoke a few, drink a few.. Is this for the kids?.. (laughter)... We just basically get a vibe going.. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it ain't so good. Whatever sounds the best."

Throughout the entire making of the album, Outkast was steeping itself ever-deeper into their favorite music of the past. André wanted the guitar sounds of Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel, a longtime inspiration, or James Brown's guitarist Jimmy Nolen, who was suggested to André by Jimi Hendrix in a dream, or so he told Knox Robinson in his The Fader cover story at the album's release.

In a separate profile with Spin, Big Boi listed the artists he was taking inspiration from at the time: "Gil Scott-Heron, Minnie Riperton, James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Kate Bush—I go deep into her music."

What was new to them was rave music, but that too got thrown into the mix. Mr. DJ said, "Me and Dré went to a rave and we were listening to the music that people were dancing to and we were amazed how many people were in there... It was inside a big church and there were like thousands of people... A lot of white kids.. and they were out there jammin'... We noticed that there was a whole crowd of people that we were not reaching.. While we were there, a lot of people new who Dré was and knew what it was going.. So we were like, 'We gotta make some music for them.'" So definitely, we listen to all types of music."

Dré explained his own take on it to Spin: "I like the tempo more than anything. Some of the music be wack; most of the music be wack—they be in there trippin’. (Laughs) It’s just too repetitious for me. When you’re on that dope, it just feels good, I guess."

All the same, they took a drum and bass rhythm for the album's lead single.

Stankonia's Glowing Rooms

Outkast - "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)"

Recalling the creation of the song to The Boston Globe, Big Boi said he came back to the studio to find André putting synths on top of a 154 bpm beat.

"I walked into the room, and it’s like the room was glowing. It was crazy," Big Boi said. Lift-off was achieved. Big Boi added a verse to the one André had already made, then took it back to his kids to see what they thought. "They were going crazy," he said. "So I called Dré and I said, 'I think we got one.'"

"Bombs Over Baghdad" blew up as soon as it was released. With its technicolor video and relentless rhythm, it was unlike anything else at the time. The followup, "Ms. Jackson," was an even bigger hit. It too was the result of a glowing session, according to Big Boi.

"It was storming raining," Big Boi told The Boston Globe. They invited bassist Aaron Mills to add to the track. "And he got to thumping that bass, man. The room started glowing again. After that moment, I knew that this was the place where I was going to always record at."

For Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Outkast updated Stankonia, but thanks to their growing fame and busy schedules, it was a more fractured affair: André recorded portions at his home in LA, and eventually spread to other places, including Stankonia. The much-discussed fracturing of the duo's creative partnership eventually hit the studio too.

Though André sold his share of the studio to Big Boi in 2015, Stankonia has remained his home base, and has been used by T.I., Ludacris, Lil’ John, and plenty of other artists over the last two decades.

As Big Boi told The Boston Globe, "A lot of good music came out of there. A lot of good music is still coming out of there. It’s our home, and it’s the place where all the funky things come from."

comments powered by Disqus

Reverb Gives

Your purchases help youth music programs get the gear they need to make music.

Carbon-Offset Shipping

Your purchases also help protect forests, including trees traditionally used to make instruments.

Oops, looks like you forgot something. Please check the fields highlighted in red.