Before Big Boi became Sir Lucious Leftfoot and back when Andre 3000 was just a dude named Dre, Outkast were an up-and-coming hip-hop tag-team from Atlanta whose 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik grabbed some attention for its gritty flavor and head-spinning wordplay. But Outkast completely changed the game (and hinted at the boundary-destroying monster they would become) with their follow-up album ATLiens, which was released on this day in 1996.
In the history of hip-hop, ATLiens ranks among the most fitting titles of all time, as it combined the tropes of the Dirty South with a forward-thinking sci-fi mindset where anything was possible. But ATLiens also described the group's place in the hip-hop universe. Back in '96, Atlanta was a fairly insular music community (not like today, where it is one of the key taste-making cities in rap). With a mainstream music market dominated by Death Row style gangsta rap and Biggie Smalls-fueled East Coast grit, a group from Atlanta with a penchant for southern drawl might were strangers in a strange land. Outkast might as well have been from Neptune, not Georgia.
And yet for all its weirdness and envelope-pushing, ATLiens was a huge hit. The beats (produced by fellow Dungeon Family members Organized Noize) built giddy, chaotic hooks around throbbing bass grooves, neck-snapping drums and bits of backwoods country and psychedelic rock for good measure. While Outkast would further expand their sound with subsequent albums like Aquemini, Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, their ascent to hip-hop greatness began with "Elevators," the killer Top 40 single from ATLiens. We know you're nodding your head, because we can see you.