The mothership has landed. Or at least it's hovering over Atlanta, where the hip-hop duo Outkast is based and where its terrific fourth album, Stankonia, was conceived. And if master funkster George Clinton isn't piloting the ship, he's at least guiding the eternal funkmusicmachine in spirit. Loaded with jejune jokes, sweaty hip-hop, and respect for mankind, Stankonia (the follow-up to 1998's slippery and skillful Aquemini) darts back and forth between old-style funk and new-school hip-hop. In other words, it's an R&B tour de force, with Andre "Dre" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton touching nearly every soul-music branch that's sprouted since the late '60s.
And if that doesn't sound possible in today's hip-hop climate of money-obsessed hacks and raging homophobia, consider Outkast the new-millennium exception. Stankonia is as funky, sticky, and heady as its title implies. It's at once juvenile and brainy. It's also naturally elastic. Mostly supplied by a live, flesh-and-blood crew, the beats stretch from track to track, summoning both the P-Funk posse and daisy-age hip-hoppers. Stankonia also includes one of rap's first universal protest songs: The frenetic "B.O.B." -- "Bombs Over Baghdad" -- trips over an Atari-in-the-jungle rhythm, as backup singers chime the title and Dre and Big Boi bemoan the "accidental" bombing of milk factories and other civilian-safe areas. It's a bold and long-overdue statement in hip-hop, smashing the barriers that have settled into place after years of indifference.