True story - my wife loves to go grocery shopping as a family. I can't explain it nor have I ever fully understood it. Yet, for her, it's good times all around if our family of four is roaming the aisles of Kroger together. She gets to shop for sales and I am assigned to occupying-the-kids duty (Tossing paper towel rolls for Hail Mary passes is our favorite shopping pastime).
A few months back, my wife dashed ahead to taste one of the sample items from the deli and with a fatigued spirit, I made a somewhat under-the-breath comment to my daughters.
Me: "Man, mama gonna have us up in here forever.
SugaBear (my oldest daughter): Forever. Forever, ever? Forever, ever?
My daughters and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. Our inside joke was inspired by how often I play OutKast. When your dad is bona-fide hip-hop head, then such moments are common.
But even as a longtime OutKast fan, just beneath my enthusiasm lies a stark truth - after ATLiens, I listened to each subsequent OutKast album less and less. Indeed, I gave them all a thorough listen. But over time, I cherry-picked my favorite songs and listened to those songs with a significantly greater frequency than I did the whole album.
But that is more of a reflection of my own life trajectory than it is a reflection of the brilliance of OutKast's work.
2000 ~ Stankonia
Typically, "what the f***?" or "what in the hell? or even "oh sh**!" are shared with a bit of trepidation regarding what has been revealed. But the first time I heard B.O.B., my versions of "what the f***?" and "oh sh**!" were fueled with excited fervor. I was happily aghast and immediately needed to tell somebody with the ardor of newly-minted born-again Christian.
"Have you heard that new OutKast joint?" was typically met with an expression comparable to someone who has enjoyed a roller coaster. Whoa. I mean seriously, if I told you "Yeah man, this dude rapping about a million elephants and silver backed orangutans ..." It could be presumed that your response would be something along the "not-impressed" end of the fan reaction spectrum. But once you heard Andre 3000 spit those bars, you would have been a believer. In the last few years, Eminem has repped as the fasted-rapping, witty-lined MC. Em does his thing, but Andre 3000 on B.O.B. took that rapid-fire flow to places that Twista and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony would admire. Yet, truth be told, B.O.B. is just one of the gems found on Stankonia.
There are times within a culture when a competitive energy emerges in places where there doesn't have to be competition. Immature Christians debate about how holy they are and less holy others are. Some advocating for cultural pride detract from their own work as they proclaim an esteemed "Blackness" to which others must work to achieve. Among hip hop heads, there is a perception of lessened authenticity when songs are prominently featured in the mainstream. I don't think there could be much argument regarding the commercial success of the second single from Stankonia, Ms. Jackson; however, an engaged listen to the lyrics would reveal amazing lyricism, a pioneer-like uniqueness regarding subject matter, and an exceptional artistry all tied together in a commercially viable package. Perhaps the jealous would call it selling-out, but I call Ms. Jackson, genius.
As if that wasn't enough, OutKast concocted the ultimate "getting-ready-for-the-party" anthem in So Fresh, So Clean. The song's timeless sentiment could currently refer to when someone "feeling themselves" or what a few years ago was considered "swag." But if swag or feeling one's self are relatively recent phenomena, then the fact that OutKast put it down fifteen years ago conveys just how enduring and trendsetting their art is.
I'm quite sure it is easy to say this in retrospect, but it wouldn't be a surprise if during the chart-topping success of Stankonia, someone, somewhere wondered just what would OutKast do to top this endeavor? There were probably a handful of others who wondered whether the rate at which the members of OutKast were evolving, just how long could they continue to work together?
I'll share what I was wondering. I remained a Big Daddy Kane fan after other's scorned his Prince of Darkness album. I rode with LL Cool J up until 14 Shots to the Dome and I regretfully abandoned Public Enemy when they dropped Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (which when I finally listen to it years later, I recognized this as a colossal mistake. The album is as good as it is slept-on). My point is, there were artist that after witnessing their high-water mark, I either held fast, jumped ship, or gave-in too soon. OutKast held too much credibility with me for me to give up. But I wondered just how long they could maintain the magic?
Check back tomorrow for Part 5.