Towards an Outkast Being: On Southern Music and Politics

Towards an Outkast Being: On Southern Music and Politics

by Sara Khaled

Ferguson’s on fire. And as fires are accustomed to do, it seems to be spreading. And in addition to a million thoughts that I’ve had in regards to this spreading fire, the lyrics of a favorite song has been scrolling through my mind for weeks now:

Don’t everybody like the smell of gasoline?

Well burn motherfucka burn American Dream

Don’t everybody like the taste of Apple Pie?

We’ll snap for your slice of life I’m tellin’ ya why

I hear that mother nature’s now on birth control

The coldest pimp be looking for somebody to hold

The highway up to Heaven got a crook on the toll

Youth full of fire ain’t got nowhere to go.

For those born and raised in Atlanta (and for those who just recognize real), you’ll likely have the accompanying beat to the lyrics above echoing in your mind. The song is Gasoline Dreams by Outkast, arguably one of the best rap groups of all time—genuine kings of the south.

Recently, Outkast announced a festival reunion tour, seven years after their last album dropped. One of the best things about the tour was their #ATLast homecoming show(s). They announced a single show in their hometown–Atlanta. Within minutes of going on sale, every last ticket was sold. So, Outkast expanded to three consecutive nights, and brought in a roster of other performers–a proper homecoming indeed. Give the people what they want, eh?

I was born in the north. I know nothing about the state that I was born in. I grew up in the south really, metro-Atlanta to be exact. I’m a child of immigrant parents so my relationship to American music was largely one of peer exposure.

I didn’t start listening to Outkast until early adulthood. I loved them. They were, to be simplistic, fly as fuck. Andre has a skill for rapping that oozes funky sex; unique and memorable. Big Boi is the buoy, the anchor, the rock to the group. They were incomparable to much else.

But to be honest, I didn’t really start listening, I mean like LIST-E-NING, to Outkast until I moved to Atlanta proper. I became friends with a few people who were older than me, born and raised in ATL, and who would in a heartbeat claim the local anthem to the city to be any track off Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.

Atlanta is obsessed with Outkast.

As time passed it became clear to me that Atlanta, like ATLien Atlanta, like “fuck you, you not from here unless you born in Grady” Atlanta considers Outkast to BE Atlanta. And I quickly realized that the Atlanta that I had been exposed to was not the Outkast Atlanta, but a rapidly deteriorating shell of it. One that had been replaced with climbing rent rates and house prices; one in which Sweet Auburn Market was now dubbed Auburn Curb Market (colonizers love re-naming things). Where Freaknik was declared a menace to the city’s well-being. A well-being which referred to the comfort level of the increasing amount of whites, whose interests were protected by the great black mayor, Kasim Reed.

img_8457Atlanta’s changing and for the residents who have long since earned the title of ATL shawties, it’s not for the better. Despite the dozens of bars and coffee shops that populate the many suburbs of the city advertising a certain brand of relevancy, Atlanta as it was—Atlanta as the capital of the south—is fading. And Outkast—oh, Outkast—they’re the quintessence of the Atlanta. They capture it. Every track. Every beat. For every reference to East Point, Atlanta is stankful. Outkast’s blend of hip-hop and funk is fresh; their lyrics kill it every time. Andre 3000 has been called one of the most talented rappers alive, and, obviously, I agree with that title. They are innovative and able to express complex ideas in an accessible way.

Have y’all heard the song Toilet Tisha? It’s a song about a girl who gets pregnant and struggles with having an abortion because she recognizes she’s too young and doesn’t wish to upset her family.  She is so ashamed, that she doesn’t seek out a medical abortion, so she tries to have one herself, hence the title, “Toilet Tisha”. The chorus of the song, the most haunting part in my opinion, goes:

Toilet Tisha, damn we miss ya

Toilet Tisha is the issue

Damn we miss ya, Toilet Tisha

Damn we miss ya.

Tisha dies.That’s heavy. Real heavy. Not many people would try to tackle that in a song. But Outkast does. They’re real. And relatable. The thing is, I’ve heard many musicians whose words may seem to be more on-point than many of Outkasts’ as far as my leftist-ass destroy-it-all-and-start-anew ideology goes. For instance, later on in the song, the lyrics imply that pregnancies are a blessing, and that they shouldn’t be terminated on those grounds–an idea which is conservative in nature, and meant to shame women from having abortions. But still. Others don’t hit home as hard. Outkast isn’t perfect, but that’s the whole point. No one is and they don’t need to be. There is something about them that is to be sought after; something irreplaceable.

Outkast is able to maintain a fan base so loyal they’ll sell out three consecutive shows within a few moments even though they dropped their last album seven years ago, while simultaneously making songs like Slum Beautiful, The Whole World, and Bombs Over Baghdad. Songs which radiate realness, and for that very reason, capture huge swaths of people—for life. Outkast meets you where you’re at—literally the streets where you grew up—then they turn up on you. They mix words, melodies, beats, in a fresh way that twists up what you’re accustomed to. They do it so often and so well, that you begin to get accustomed to something new, and nothing less-than will ever feel the same. Hence, Atlanta–fresh, unique, proud. And this brings me to my title: towards an Outkast being. Towards being in every moment, real and funky. Towards creating a movement in this place which takes all the good, makes it better, and leaves you begging for more, for different, for change. Towards fire, and the rapidity with which it takes down that which we never thought possible to incinerate. Towards fusing ideas of revolution, love, and ferocity to people who are seeking different. And towards making this a culture. A culture of gasoline dreams, right here in the south. Towards Ferguson, and what’s beyond that. And towards the soundtrack that will illuminate the way.

And when we hear the words, “Welcome to Stankonia—the place from which all funky things come—would you like to come?” let’s know what that means for us, and bring others.  Funk with us.