Whoops, forgot about this amazing Outkast album

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In the year 2000, I heard my first Outkast album, Stankonia. You'll have to excuse my sheltered existence -- being a small-time kid from a small mountain town didn't exactly lend itself to being on the cutting edge.

I was hooked instantly the first time I heard Stankonia. I quickly dug up copies of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATliens, and went on to buy the rest of their albums the day they came out.

And that even led me to have a brief stint listening to ludicrous amounts of southern rap. Somehow, in all the chaos of finding something new and badass, though, I missed Aquemini. Certainly not on purpose. It was there, ready to be purchased at any moment -- I simply forgot.

When I picked it up last week, I was a bit astounded by how fresh it still sounds. I'd heard "Rosa Parks," of course, but for the most part, this record was completely new to my ears. Outkast's greatness has always been its ability to never repeat itself, something more hip-hop groups should take note of.

Each and every one of their albums builds on something new and different; they sound nothing like the others, but somehow retain the sense that they're being made by the same group. Aquemini is a prime example of this.

At this point, we're all accustomed to Dre and Big Boi's unique vocals, but what they do better than any other hip-hop act out there is utilize a wide range of instrumentation and styles on their records. There's a harmonica break on this album -- a harmonica break! (Let that soak in for a minute.) Combine that with some live orchestration, some horns and a rock guitar, and you'll see Outkast performing some of the best damn music of their career.

In talks with fellow Outkast fans I've come to notice this is generally considered their best album, and it's still a bit beyond me how I never bothered to pick it up. It's the only one I was missing. Either way, I'm glad I did. Whereas a lot of things from 1998 might cause a shade of red to pass over your face, Aquemini honestly sounds like it could have come out last week.

Even the second half of the record -- traditionally where throwaway tracks and worthless instrumentals tend to lurk -- is strong. It's certainly a bit chilled out compared to the opening tracks, but that doesn't make it any less listenable or enjoyable. "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 2)" manages to sound fuzzed out and distant but still manages to be in your face, while the closer, "Conkyfire," cranks it up just enough to capture your attention again before the album ends, but then doesn't overdo it as a finale.

With Big Boi's forthcoming record poised to be one of the summer's hottest jams, now seems like a perfect time to become reacquainted with Aquemeni, his band's best album.

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