As those local practitioners who feature in today's story know, hip-hop is pliant, adaptable stuff.

Nobody knows this more that Outkast, the Atlanta duo of Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin, here on their fifth - and sixth - album, the follow-up to their 2000 classic Stankonia.

It's forgiving enough, apparently, to absorb the sort of musical differences which would put paid to most musical partnerships - Speakerboxxx and The Love Below are essentially an album from each of the duo in one double album package.


The former is the product of Big Boi, the relatively straight street-oriented guy. The latter is Andre's, a funky freakshow proving what Stankonia made many suspect - that he is truly a brother from another planet.

The Love Below is possibly the least hip-hop album from a major hip-hop artist, and probably the funniest. At times, it's also one of the best Prince records Prince never made - whether it's the Lovesexy-grooves of She Lives in My Lap and Dracula's Wedding, the Sign O the Times-ish Love in War, the Purple Rain-echoing Vibrate, or when he's cooing back and forth with - yes, really - Norah Jones on the suggestive Take Off Your Cool.

Elsewhere, he's also game enough to go rock (Hey Ya!), spray rampant piano about the place (including a breakbeat-jazz take on My Favourite Things) and throw in some rudely funny skits which - like Prince used to - neatly confuse sex and God. Heard-to-be-believed stuff really.

On the other hand Speakerboxxx feels like the album you'd expect after Stankonia - minus an answer to the great pop moment that was the previous album's hit Miss Jackson.

But it's still madly funky and sounds like hip-hop with the colour turned way up.

That's right from the rapid electro-clatter beginnings of Ghetto Musick, through the Superfly soul-rock stylings of Bowtie, Bust The Rooster, and Knowing.

Big Boi's half shows he's the more commanding rapper who tempers his own vivid studio imagination with loyalty to the music as we know it. It's still a good album but as for its better half ... well, The Love Below frees your mind, Speakerboxxx's beats ensure your ass will follow.

While on the subject of hip-hop genre-benders, the third album by Black Eyed Peas, the Los Angeles group and Big Day Out visitors sure has quite a go at standing out from the pack.

Their guest list would seem to have crossover potential in mind - metallers Papa Roach, legendary Brazilian samba pianist Sergio Mendes, and young up'n'comer singer Justin Timberlake are in there somewhere.

And they've added gal-singer Fergie to the line-up, which should get them called "The New Fugees" until this runs out of singles.

There's a list of potentials after the first Timberlake-featuring hit Where is the Love? Especially Labor Day (It's a Holiday) with its Madonna-meets-James-Brown foundations; the electro-funk stomper Let's Get Retarded, and the R&B-tinged Shut Up.

But as an album, the BEP variety show feels less wilful eclecticism than ticking off a demographic check-list.


Speakerboxxx (Herald rating: * * * )

The Love Below (Herald rating: * * * *)

Label: Arista

* * *

The Black Eyed Peas:


(Herald rating: * * *)

Label: A&M