Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is the fifth studio album by American hip hop duo Outkast. It was released on September 23, 2003, by Arista Records. Issued as a double album, its length of over two hours is spread across solo albums from both of the group’s members. Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx is a Southern hip hop album with a P-Funk influence, while André 3000’s The Love Below features psychedelic, pop, funk, electro, and jazz styles.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was supported with the hit singles “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move”, which both reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, and the top ten hit “Roses”. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with sales of 510,000 copies in its first week. It eventually amassed a total of seven non-consecutive weeks at the top of the chart and 24 weeks in the Top 10. It has been certified diamond and 11 times platinum by the RIAA (each disc in the double album counted as a separate unit for certification). As of March 2012, it has shipped 5.7 million units in the United States.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below received widespread acclaim from music critics, who praised the consistency of Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx and the eclectic musical style of André 3000’s The Love Below. It topped The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics poll, and won Album of the Year and Best Rap Album at the 46th Grammy Awards, while “Hey Ya!” won Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
Following the release of Outkast’s fourth studio album Stankonia (2000), André 3000 felt urged to do something different from his previous projects and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He was relatively unsuccessful, landing a minor role in Hollywood Homicide (2003) and a one-episode appearance in the drama series The Shield. He returned to music and recorded a solo album that was different from the material he had recorded as part of Outkast. The output was a blend of pop, jazz and funk with live instruments and singing instead of rapping. When writing songs he used a microcassette recorder in order to “record melodic ideas and lyrics, then build the melody around the lyrics”.
The CD artwork is designed so that the Speakerboxxx artwork is on the front of the case, whereas the Love Below artwork is on the back of the case. These images are merged on the artwork displayed on online stores (Front cover on left, back cover on right). The CD booklet and the credits printed within is also divided in half and the back cover is printed on both sides, allowing fans to customize who appears on both the front and back covers.
The recording of The Love Below began at André 3000’s Los Angeles home, using Pro Tools software, in addition to a drum machine, keyboards and various synthesizers. He enjoyed the atmosphere of recording at home instead of a studio, saying to XXL, “it didn’t start in the studio because if you have a bunch of people around, they’re coming from the party and I’m in there singing falsetto … those vibes didn’t match.” His initial sessions were hampered by his inexperience with Pro Tools and, unaware how to edit his recordings, he opted to record songs such as “Pink & Blue” in their entirety. Other gear used included an Avalon VT737 SP and AD2055 EQ and AD2044 compressors for his vocals. After creating five songs, he informed Big Boi of the solo project he had been working on.
Big Boi had already recorded some songs when André 3000 had contacted him, but after their conversation he decided his next project would be Speakerboxxx. Describing his approach in the studio, Big Boi later commented to XXL, “the idea was just to keep it funky, keep it jamming, it’s always bass-heavy. And lyricism, it’s all about lyrics, taking pride in your pen and your pad.” His favorite song to record was “Unhappy”. He spent several days working on “Unhappy”‘s hook before driving to his mother’s home and playing the song in her driveway, to which she responded enthusiastically. At some point in the recording, the project moved to OutKast’s Stankonia Studios in downtown Atlanta, which had been used to record OutKast’s previous release and namesake. John Frye, the studio manager and an engineer, would later recognise that much of the media attention surrounding the album’s recording was concerned with André 3000 and Big Boi’s working relationship and why they had chosen to record separately. He concedes that both enjoyed working solo and were doing so more frequently, but they continued to share and critique each other’s music.
John Frye also describes how the format of the projects changed rapidly. Initially intended as two separate solo releases, they decided to merge their work and create a soundtrack album as André 3000 had initially intended. The duo then began preparing to work on a motion picture, but reconsidered and compromised by interpolating background noise into songs, such as the slamming of car doors and footsteps. They eventually settled on releasing a double album. Frye noted the end of the recording sessions as particularly stressful for André 3000, who he described as drained from working at four studios simultaneously. In total, an estimated 120 songs were recorded for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a two-disc set that features 39 tracks, including several interludes and a postlude. It is a concept album with the intention of each disc delivering each member’s individual perspective and sound. The Love Below is substantially longer than Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx, clocking in at almost 78 minutes, compared to 56 minutes for Speakerboxxx. Featured guests on Speakerboxxx include Sleepy Brown, Jazze Pha, Jay Z, CeeLo Green, Killer Mike, Goodie Mob, Lil Jon and Ludacris. Guests on The Love Below include Rosario Dawson, Norah Jones, Kelis, and Fonzworth Bentley.
According to music journalist Roni Sarig, Speakerboxxx features Southern hip hop with more social awareness than The Love Below, exploring themes of family, philosophy, religion, politics and “a wider emotional terrain … from melancholy to outrage to expression.”
By contrast, The Love Below is identified by Sarig as showcasing “jazzy pop-funk” comparable to the music of Prince. Marcello Carlin of Uncut magazine calls it “an avant-soul concept album”. The disc’s abounding theme is love, examining the emotions one experiences when falling in love and loving oneself. Sarig suggests that André 3000’s break-up with neo soul singer Erykah Badu had influenced much of the lyrical content on the album, which he sees as concerned with the search for true love.
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 91, based on 26 reviews.
Reviewing for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called both discs “visionary, imaginative listens, providing some of the best music of 2003, regardless of genre”. Will Hermes wrote in Entertainment Weekly that the album’s “ambition flies so far beyond that of anyone doing rap right now (or pop, or rock, or R&B)”. Blender magazine’s Kris Ex felt that it “holds an explosion of creativity that couldn’t have been contained in just one LP”. The Guardian’s Dorian Lynskey described both discs as “sublime … hip-hop’s Sign o’ the Times or The White Album: a career-defining masterpiece of breathtaking ambition”. According to Andy Gill of The Independent, the album set “a new benchmark not just for hip hop, but for pop in general”, featuring “so many musical tributaries coursing into both Big Boi’s progressive-rap pyrotechnics and Dre’s freaky jazz-funk love odyssey that even their old tag of ‘psychedelic hip-hop soul’ starts to look restrictive”. Stylus Magazine’s Nick Southall called it “a series of spectacular moments and memorable events”. NME magazine’s John Mulvey described its two discs as “two Technicolor explosions of creativity that people will be exploring, analysing and partying to for years”. Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine wrote that it is “greater than the sum of its parts, and this kind of expertly crafted pop and deftly executed funk rarely happen at the same time—not since Stankonia, at least.”
Less enthusiastic were Rolling Stone magazine’s Jon Caramanica, particularly about André 3000 expressing his “right to be peculiar in a hip-hop context”, and Pitchfork’s Brent DiCrescenzo, who said The Love Below does not sustain “consistent brilliance and emotional complexity throughout” like Speakerboxxx. In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau said the double album could have been “the classic P-Funk rip it ain’t quite” had Speakerboxxx alone been issued with “Roses”, “Spread”, “Hey Ya!”, and “an oddity of [André 3000’s] choosing”. He nonetheless commended what he described as “commercial ebullience, creative confidence, and wretched excess, blessed excess, impressive excess”. In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Roni Sarig wrote that, “for sheer breadth, ambition, and musical vision, there’s little doubt Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a classic.”
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was voted as the best album of the year in The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics poll. In Australia, “Hey Ya!” was voted No. 2 on the 2003 Triple J Hottest 100, the country’s biggest alternative music poll of its type. The album was nominated for six Grammy Awards, winning three (Album of the Year, Best Urban/Alternative Performance for “Hey Ya!” and Best Rap Album). OutKast’s other nominations were for Producer of the Year, Best Short-Form Music Video, and Record of the Year, the latter two both for “Hey Ya!”.
In 2009, NME ranked Speakerboxxx/The Love Below number 44 on its list of the top 100 greatest albums of the decade, while Newsweek ranked the album number one on its list of the ten best albums of the decade.
The jazz periodical Down Beat chose it as the best “beyond” album. In 2012 Complex named the album one of the classic albums of the last decade. In 2013, NME ranked Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as #183 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All-Time, it was ranked number 290 in the 2020 edition.
After having had three number two-albums on the US Billboard 200, OutKast enjoyed their first chart-topping album with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The album debuted at number one during the week of October 11, 2003, selling more than 510,000 copies in its first week. It became the second-biggest debut for a double album during the SoundScan-era (beginning in 1991). The album sold 235,000 copies in its second week, holding its position atop the Billboard chart. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below spent the next three weeks in the top 5 before returning to the top spot for one more week. Sales remained strong, and the album would spend another four weeks at #1 between January and February 2004. In all, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below amassed a total of seven weeks at #1, 24 weeks in the Top 10, and 56 weeks on the Billboard 200. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has been certified diamond and 11 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipping more than 11 million units (in this case, 5.5 million double album sets, which are double-counted by the RIAA).
The single “Hey Ya!” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, topping the charts there for nine weeks. It was the act’s second #1 single, following 2000’s “Ms. Jackson”. “Hey Ya!” also topped the singles charts in Canada and Australia and charted in 28 countries around the world. “Hey Ya!” was also the first platinum download on iTunes. Follow-up single “The Way You Move” knocked “Hey Ya!” off the top of the charts in the US in February 2004, just the seventh time a recording act replaced itself at No. 1. “The Way You Move” topped the singles chart for one week. The third single released from the album was “Roses” from The Love Below, which reached #5. The fourth and fifth singles released, “Prototype” (The Love Below) and “GhettoMusick” (Speakerboxxx), did not chart.