Will We Listen?
Appendix Three – Walking through the
Step 1: Prepare to walk through the
This walk is through the story and music of Outkast, a duo playing hip-hop music that’s moved into the mainstream of the popular music world. In this walk I’ve looked to isolate the major themes found in the pair’s music.
Step 2: Close your mouth. Open your ears and eyes. Walk around Outkast
Every elementary school playground has its pariah. It’s the lonely kid who unjustly gets pushed aside by insensitive peers who see no place or reason for including the kid who is “different” in their fun and games. The forgotten one is only remembered when someone needs a convenient target for their taunts and insults. Life as an outcast – one who has been been rejected or cast out by others – is anything but happy.
Why then, would someone choose to label themselves as an “outcast” and pursue such a life? Andre Benjamin is a young man who’s stamped himself with the moniker. He sees himself as “somebody who doesn’t fit into the mainstream – someone society looks at as different.” (
Benjamin and Patton have almost single-handedly breathed fresh new life into a music industry that’s become stale and stagnant. They’ve deliberately pursued a risky path that busts established musical and lyrical paradigms and in the process, taken their unique brand of rap to a growing audience of millions that spans every possible demographic from age, to race, to socio-economic status.
The Outkast story
It’s impossible to fully understand the music and message of Outkast without first knowing the duo from
Twenty-nine year-old Antwan Patton was born in
Andre Benjamin is the 28-year-old whose artistic, flamboyant, and eccentric ways have led many to compare him to Prince. Benjamin grew up in a single-parent home, moving from place to place until he turned 15 and he went to live with his dad. During his teen years he turned to living a more negative lifestyle in an effort to survive the streets of urban
The pair that says they love each other a lot signed a contract with LaFace Records before graduating from high school. They were “discovered” after being featured in a remix of TLC’s “What About Your Friends.” Their first hit single, “Player’s Ball,” topped the charts for six weeks in 1994. One year later, they won the “Best New Rap Group of the Year”award at the Source Awards. From that point on, their history has been one musical success after another. Today, their influence extends far beyond their own music as they own a clothing company (Outkast Clothing), a recording studio (Stankonia Studios), and a record label (Aquemini Records). Their growing musical circle is known as the Dungeon Family. And in a day and age when much of rap music is accurately accused of promoting violence, Outkast spent time on their 2001 tour giving grants to stop youth violence in cities where they performed.
The massive popularity of the band can be attributed to the unique, signature sound of their music. While some have said that no single word can adequately describe the Outkast sonic package, there are several words when used in combination that capture the essence of the band’s sound: outlandish, intelligent, eclectic, creative, innovative, humorous, ground-breaking, ambitious, and futuristic. They’ve been described as “the most creative duo in hip-hop today” (Anthony Bozza, Rolling Stone, 11/23/00) who make music that’s “a far out concoction, a swirl of drum-n-bass beats, rock noises and surreal imagery.” (
Lyrically, Outkast takes an almost comical approach by taking on the seriousness of those in the hard-core rap establishment. They use lots of puns, wordplay, and sexually explicit analogies and metaphors. Above all else, they strive to be real through their music. As a result, the music has a depth that must be seen and understood. Andre says the music expresses the way they live: “you just talk about it, talk about the lessons that you learn and pass it down to other people through your music.” (Ebony Man, 11/96). On their debut album they include a spoken interlude piece – “Tru Dat” – that explains the group’s name and musical mission: “Operatin under the crooked American system too long/OutKast, pronounced out cast/Adjective meaning homeless, or unaccepted in society/But let's look deeper than that/Are you an OutKast?/If you understand and feel the basic principles and fundamental truths contained within this muzik, you probably are/If you think it's all about pimpin hoes and slammin cadillac do's/You probably a cracker, or a nigga that think he a cracker/Or maybe just don't understand/An OutKast is someone who is not considered to be part of the normal world/He is looked at differently/He is not accepted because of his clothes, his hair/His occupation, his beliefs or his skin color/Now look at yourself, are you an OutKast? I know I am/As a matter of fact, f___ being anything else/It's only so much time left in this crazy world/Wake up niggaz and realize what's goin on around you/Poisonin of the food and water/Tamperin of cigarettes/Disease engineering control over your life/Take back your existence or die like a punk/This is Big Rube, sayin right on to the real, and death to the fakers/
Their creativity carries over into their elaborately staged live concert performances and music videos. On reviewer describes an Outkast concert as a “frenetic carnival of high-concept party music.” (Steve Appleford, Rolling Stone, 8/22/02).
No doubt, the duo are musical risk-takers, and judging from their popularity, taking risks has paid off. With each album released, they set the bar of creativity higher. “We go into the studio like we never even put out another record, almost like we’re making a demo for the world.” says Big Boi of their writing and recording process. “You can’t rely on your old hits to make new songs. We got good ears, and we know what kind of sounds we want. It’s just like, ‘Can you dig it?’ You gotta go left field sometimes.’” (Rolling Stone, 4/13/00).
Outkast’s move into left field began in April of 1994 with the release of their debut album, southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Recorded and released while Big Boi and Andre 3000 were still teens, the disc’s title introduces their new southern style of rap music to the world. The album put the south on the map as a hip-hop force, made it to the top 20 on the charts, and has sold over 1.2 million copies to date. Described as “subtly hypnotic and exquisitely bumpin” (Billboard, 5/14/94), the album stepped out of rap music’s rut of dependence on sampling and featured lots of live instrumentation. The duo used the album to tell listeners about their lives on their neighborhood streets and to describe the “southern player” (or multiple-partner, Playboy type) lifestyle. Today, they look back on the braggadocio-filled album as being immature and selfish.
Their autobiographical sophomore album, ATLiens, was released in August, 1996, debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts, and has gone on to achieve double-platinum status. The title references their home-base of
The critically-acclaimed Aquemini (A-kwem-in-eye) stretched the possibilities for the rap genre and was seen by many as the quintessential hip-hop album. While the disc produced no hit singles, it debuted at #2 in October, 1998 and has gone double-platinum. Described as “a hip-hop, street, spiritual, and musical journey” (hiponline.com), Andre 3000 says “Aquemini is the meeting of two worlds. The worlds of Aquarius and Gemini (the duo’s respective astrological signs). It’s simply that two people can come together and create.” (hiponline.com). The balance the two envision between themselves is the melding of Big Boi’s bent towards the more hardcore world of the streets, and Andre’s creative extraterrestrial nature. A secondary blending occurs as the two see the album as a blend of the heavy music off their first album, and the heavy lyrical content of the second. Above all, Aquemini is intended to be a very “real” album that tells stories.
Released in October, 2000, Stankonia is a satirical examination of the Constitution that debuted at #2, won the 2002 Grammy for “Best Rap Album,” and has proceeded to sell over 4 million copies. The musical potpourri includes a number of diverse musical styles featured in songs that grew out of the group’s improv sessions in their Atlanta-based Stankonia Studios. The title refers to an imaginary planet buried somewhere deep within the earth – a planet where the music is creatively funky and the lyrical elements are highly imaginative. In a telling cover photo, the pair stands in front of an American flag that is black and white in color, rather than the normal red, white and blue.
Stankonia’s meteoric success was followed up with Big Boi and Dre Present. . . Outkast. The December, 2001 release was a collection of the group’s greatest hit, with the addition of three new cuts, one of which – “Whole World” - went on to win a 2003 Grammy for “Best Rap Song For A Duo Or Group.” It’s no surprise that this album also went platinum.
Already cemented in the pop music consciousness as creative hip-hop mainstays, Outkast outdid themselves in late September, 2003, with the release of their “double-album”, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The album, which debuted at #1 and went on to sell 750,000 copies in its first two weeks, is actually two solo disks packaged together. The two hour and fifteen minute long combination album is packaged together since Andre and Big Boi see themselves as a creative pair that continues to work together. However, each disc - which could have very easily been released as solo albums – features one of the pair performing and singing in their own unique, signature fashion. On Speakerboxxx – which includes lyrical elements that could easily be rated XXX – Big Boi gets political in music that’s more mainstream rap in style. He describes his half of the project at “my voice to the world.” (muchmusic.com). The title has two meanings. First, it’s a reference to the larynx or voice box. Second, it reflects how Southern style rap is characterized by a signature bass sound that resonates at the low end of a speaker, particularly when it features the Roland 808 bass guitar. Andre 3000 is more musically experimental as he “explores the nexus between love and lust” (Outkast.com) on his half of the package, The Love Below. Originally titled She Lives In My Lap, this half of the album is a series of songs that serve as short vignettes that feature Dre as a man in
Step 3: Look for cultural characteristics and distinctives, including values, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, changing pressures, problems, choices, etc.
Since Outkast couples lyrical thoughtfulness with highly creative music, their message is coming through loud and clear to a wide and diverse population of listeners – particularly the young. That message is pounded home through the total Outkast “package,” including their lyrics, music, history, and lifestyle. The fact that their music flows out of a culture and experience foreign to most adults shouldn’t be used as an excuse to avoid the difficult task of deconstructing the duo’s music. Why? Because the popular music that finds its origin in the hearts and minds of two young men who grew up on the streets of Atlanta finds its way every day into the homes, hearts, and minds of impressionable young kids growing up in every possible setting in urban, suburban, and rural North America. As a 47-year-old white man living in suburbia, it would be easy to throw up my hands in helpless disgust as I wade through the profanity, sexual metaphors, street-talk, and double-meaning in their music. But we must look beyond all that in order to understand, grasp, and respond to the message. This is the music of their culture and it has become the music of our culture. It is unfair, irresponsible, and flat out wrong to respond without first listening and understanding.
With dozens upon dozens of cuts in the Outkast catalog, it is impossible to break their message down song by song in this limited space. We can, however, isolate certain recurring themes that are unmistakably clear. In true postmodern fashion, seasoned and discerning listeners will be faced with a musical package marked by moral schizophrenia, particularly at the level of ethical and lifestyle issues. But these contradictions are better understood as signs of Outkast’s confusion and search for redemption in a fallen and confusing world. What follows is a brief summary of several key elements – expounded upon in no particular order - of the basic message and worldview communicated by Outkast through their music.
“Who’s ‘King’ of the rap music ‘hill?’ Outkast, now and in the future!”
With it roots in the urban street experience, rap music has always been about survival. Most of the genre’s fare is filled with boasting and braggadocio as performers strive to rise above their circumstances to “make it.” The road to success is filled with pushing and shoving, as rappers “one-up” each other in the battle for supremacy. This approach is evident in the face-to-face rap “battles” that pit one rapper against the other in freestyle competitions. Those who make it far enough to sign contracts oftentimes continue the posturing by writing their verbal barbs and insults into their songs. Right from the start, Outkast worked hard to establish their credibility and place in rap’s pecking order. As the “southern” entry in a rap culture dominated by music from the coasts, Outkast’s approach has been to not only let the quality of the music speak for itself, but they have spoken quite confidently for their music. Their message is simple – “We will be the best and we will outlast others.” Their frequent use of boastful violent imagery is meant to be more figurative (referring to their skills in rap battle) than literal. Right out of the gate they busted loudly onto the scene with some bold and violent pronouncements on “Myintrotoletyouknow,” the first cut on their first album: “If you wanna battle, it’s either that you will or you won’t. . . . Dope, is not what I be slangin on this track/Niggaz don’t comprehend that it be deeper than Cadillacs/You know that, right, you bite, you f_____ up/You won’t be gettin away this time/I’m real as h___, so what’s up?/I rip s___ with pimp s___/I’m flingin it from the south/Talk bad about the A-town/I’ll bust your f______ mouth.” They’ve been restating their promise ever since. In “Call of Da Wild” Big Boi tells those rappers who think they are better, “You can’t hang with this. . . . I show no pity so take off because I’m dangerous.” They get dangerous again in the hit single “Whole World,” which scored a Grammy for Best Rap Song for a Duo or Group in 2003: “Your head I’ll sever from the neck/See ain’t nothing changed hit the stage/Set a date sucka and battle we can engage. . . . rap, roll, utterly rocked with my mouth to the mic/And my hand on my c___/Cadillac Outkast just won’t stop.” They believe they will win: “People and persons on the opposite teams oh, yes it’s curtains/No bullets burpin oh just lyrically twerking.” (“Xplosion”). At times, the pair couch their statements of rap supremacy in language that is sexually violent: “Show y’all soldier ass niggaz/I’m murder city’s Sargent Slaughter. . . . I betcha I’ll drill your heifer like Black & Decker/This p____ wrecker and white water couldn’t get it wetter/I’m guaranteed to leave her swiss cheese for more cheddar.” In hip hop slanguage, “deep” means “a profound statement or thought.” When they titled a song “D.E.E.P.,” the duo was stating that they would bring a new and profound depth to the genre: “Deeper than the page of a book let me look/You let me hit the stage/That’s when I got my folks hooked. . . . I’m getting deeper that that prostitute’s vagina/And pimpin way mo hoes than there’s peoples out in
“Hip Hop music is stale. We’re creatively making it fresh.”
Right from the start, Dre and Big Boi believed that rap was stuck in a rut where lyrical themes, sound stylings, and general themes had become formulaic. On “Slump” – a title that refers to rap’s present state – they say that gangsta rappers “still ain’t did nothing that ain’t been done before.” Rather than duplicate what was already selling, the pair set out to exercise their creative gifts and reinvent the genre – not just once, but over and over again. “Funkin’ Around” captures that spirit and intent: “I’m out here knowing Hip Hop is dead. . . . back to the drawing board can’t afford to lose y’all make me yawn. . . . back up little mama I’m about to react.” Their resolve to never grow stale themselves is portrayed in the video version of “Whole World,” where the duo appear as outlandishly creative circus performers who are willing to attempt things never accomplished before while singing, “We in this to replenish the musical wish list/When it comes to the music we stay relentless/Pursuing all that’s pursuable/Doing God willing all things that are do-able.” In one of their earliest songs, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” they promise listeners that their new and creative style of rap will “get cha high, high.” At the end of the song’s video version, a growing crowd of new devotees leaves the club and follows Outkast to their house, where a party commences as the new following embraces their fresh new music. Judging from the story line of the ATLiens liner note comic book, Dre and Big Boi have set themselves up as the saviors of rap music. On one of the disc’s songs, “E.T. (Extraterrestrial)”, they describe their music as “out of this world like E.T./Coming across ya T.V./Extraterrestrial, straight from ATL.” On “Skew It on the Bar-B” they tell listeners that when it comes to rap, “they (Outkast) done change the rules.” On their latest disc, Big Boi claims that creativity has won out on his song “Tomb of the Boom”: “It’s over for you, cavern-a__ rapper, get out the game/You can fool the record labels but not the street fame/I tell it how I see it nigga, fact is fact/The first verse I ever wrote I got a Platinum plaque.” He goes on in “Flip Flop Rock”: “Original material while you bore ‘em/Your live show consists of everybody’s s___ but yours. . . . You can follow or lead.” Never has Outkast wavered on their intent to take the lead.
“Work hard, persevere, succeed.”
Urban music grows out of a life context where the reality of economic deficiency and oppression instills a deep and desperate longing for freedom from poverty. Many in the urban music scene turned to music as a way to deal with their situation, tell others about it, and find – or make – a way out. Dre and Big Boi are no exceptions as they offer guidance and hope to the oppressed by telling the story of how they were able to get from where they were to where they are. In “Call of Da Wild” Dre tells his story of finding it difficult to make his way out of the ghetto and discouragement he received from those who felt he had no potential and that he wouldn’t make it in life, especially because of some academic struggles: “To graduate is really becoming a very stressful journey.” “Wheelz of Steel” tells the story of how the pair have had to overcome liars, thieves, and cheaters to get where they’re at. Big Boi tells his story in “
“Please see and understand the poor and oppressed.”
Dre and Big Boi go out of their way to take listeners into the reality of their past, a past which functions as the present and future for an overwhelmingly large yet forgotten segment of humanity. They serve as a mouthpiece for the silenced poor: “Now I voice their cries. . . .” (“Liberation”). What are the cries they voice? First, they communicate that poverty is real and something that people are born into. In “Millenium,” Dre sings, “Me and everything around me is unstable like
“Money brings freedom. But to flaunt or not to flaunt. . . . ?”
Right from the outset, Outkast made it clear that their music was going to be different – in sound and message - than rap’s standard fare. When it came to their message, they wanted people to know that it wasn’t going to be about materialism and excess. To some extent, they’ve held true to their intent. In “Gangsta S___,” the pair challenges those in the rap status quo who rap for the money. In the song, Outkast states about their musical motivation, “If it’s for the wealth I’ll stop. . . . wrong reason.” They recognize that having too much changes life: “Your world starts spinning and it’s moving fast/Try to stay sane – that’s the price of fame.” (“Liberation”). Their song “Red Velvet” challenges those who find fortune in the industry to give it away by helping others, rather than flaunting it because that approach will only lead the envious to come after you and kill you: “Cause they know where you live/And they’ve seen what you drive/And they say they’re gonna put one in your helmet/Cause you brag ‘bout that watch/And all them things that you got/Them dirty boys turn your pound cake to red velvet.”
But they’ve sent a mixed message by promoting their belief in the redemptive powers of cash, not just as an avenue out of poverty, but as a road to satisfaction: “Smoke out cuz it’s all about money, money, money. . . . Yeah, real cool, get paid, fat pocks and all that other fat s___.” (“Git Up, Git Out”). They sing about the money they’ve made and how they’ve used it to buy the things that bring freedom: “Me and you, your momma and your cousin too/Rollin’ down the strip on vogues (fancy wheel rims)/Comin’ up slammin’ Cadillac doz (doors).” (“Elevator”). Outkast then invites listeners to follow their example: “The niggas around the Ave. and the hoes, they love me/They wanna be me and my family too/Because the money that I’m making, putting cable up in every room/So follow, the friends, follow my lead through the nooks and crannies.” (“
“If you’re going to make noise, be positive.”
Outkast has always been critical of those in rap music whose music is characterized by negativity. The pair wants to be positive in their music. They believe it’s a message listeners will embrace: “’Cause the whole world loves it when you don’t get down.” (“The Whole World.”). In “Humble Mumble,” they correct the misconceptions of a music critic who has stereotyped the genre as negative while stating their resolve to be positive: “She said she thought Hip Hop was only guns and alcohol/I said ‘Oh hell naw!’ but yet it’s that too/You can’t discriminate because you done read a book or two.” The musical morality play “Knowing” is one example of music Outkast cites as “positive.” It tells the story of a prostitute who robs a customer and he returns to come after her. The singer tells her that she’s compromised and ruined her life by trying to make fast money with her lifestyle, making the point that actions have consequences. While listeners unfamiliar with their approach might easily conclude that the music’s explicit content makes it negative, Dre and Big Boi believe that’s not the case. Instead, they believe the fact that they sing about reality, matters of social consciousness, and the need to break free from oppression is a positive thing.
“Be real and speak the truth. . . . even if people don’t like it.”
As a mouthpiece for the oppressed – who oftentimes only have the resource of their words at their disposal - Outkast strives to rise above superficiality to speak what is true to their experience. They want to paint an accurate picture of life, no matter how ugly that picture might seem. They recognize some might not like it: “My soliloquoy may be hard for some to swallow. . . . two things I hate/Liars and thieves they make my blood boil.” (“Wheelz Of Steel”). They answer those who want to censor their music because of its explicit and straightforward content: “They shut you down when you speak from your heart/Not that’s hard. . . . but I’m speakin’ the truth not dreams/So what in the f___ they mean my lyrics ain’t clean?” (“
“Stop the violence. . . . but use it if pushed!”
As part of their truthful and positive approach to music, Outkast addresses the very real problem of urban violence. At first glance, their basic message is that the violence and violent posturing promoted by mainstream gangsta rap music needs to stop. They admit that violence was part of their own growing up experience. But they’ve moved beyond that to engage in battles that use words, not guns: “Found a way to channel my anger. . . . put my glock away I got a stronger weapon that never runs out of ammunition/So I’m ready for war, okay?” (“Atliens”). With their words they now fight for a turn away from violence: “Everyday, the sun sets just like clockwork/Put the glock to work/And puttin’ the body to standstills/Man it kills me/Taking that life is like taking a s___/Hit or miss/Niggas are playing God.” But at the same time, Dre and Big Boi consistently inject violent threats and imagery into their lyrics. In a classic case of postmodern moral schizophrenia they embrace the very thing they criticize when they are pushed to the edge. “Talk bad about the A-town/I’ll bust you in your f___ing mouth,” they sing on “Myintrotoletyouknow,” the first song on their debut album. “Ain’t No Thang,” the next cut on the disc, gets guns into the mix in a big and boastful way: “3-5-7 to your fo’head/There’ll be mo’ dead/Cuz I’ma po’ kid/So Lord forgive me I got to keep my milli right here near me. . . .my Beretta’s right beside me/One is in mid-air and one is in the chamber/Y’all ask me what the f___ I’m doin’/I’m releasin’ anger. . . . And got my pump under my seat in case these youngstas wanna have some fun. . . . the glock, the gat, the nine, the heaters/See I be bustin’ caps like my amp be bustin’ speakers. . . . Before I shoot you’re a__ and dilute your gut with lead from my hollow clips/I’ll send you to an early grave you f___in slave. . . . don’t even run up on me unless you want your brain broke. . . . I’mma kick you in you’re a__.” On “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” the gun play continues: “Niggaz who try to f___ with me get sprayed like raid cause it ain’t nothin’ see. . . . And under my seat for you suckers it’s your final curtain call/The one two to the gauge P-U-M-P.” The threats on “Claimin’ True” are direct: “If you cross my path/I’ll leave you drainin’ like a fountain.” Making sure you finish the job is important: “What will happen if you shoot that nigga and don’t kill?/He will come back and return.” (“D.E.E.P.”). Outkast’s mixed messages on violence are most apparent in “Gangsta S___,” where they resolve to fight with words (“pull a lick”), but turn right around to posture like gangsta’s themselves: “First nigga run up and try to jack mine/First nigga f___ up to get flat-lined.” They are against violence, unless they need to use it themselves.
“Drugs – good . . . bad . . . both.”
There’s no lack of moral judgment on substance abuse in Outkast’s music. For the duo, drugs and alcohol are both good and bad. Big Boi calls up memories of his own childhood in “Unhappy,” telling listeners how alcohol broke up his home. Now, he realizes that alcohol is an inadequate escape and can never be used to “ease the notion of the sadness.” They put a negative spin on drugs in “Atliens,” as using might hinder their creativity: “No drugs or alcohol so I can get the signal clear as day.” In “Y’all Scared” they discuss the downside of drug use: “At age fifteen they start smokin’ Billy Cling/Now ya twenty-one and wanna know where the time went. . . . Have you ever thought of the meaning of the word trap/Baboon on your back.” In the short skit and anti-drug interlude “I’m Cool,” a crack-using and addicted woman is heard shivering and talking to herself in the winter cold. An angry man yells the unmistakable message, “B____, STAY OFF THAT BLOW!” But their tone changes and substance use takes on a positive spin in other songs. While they discourage regular use in “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”, they see nothing wrong with an occasional kick: “See juice and gin used to be my friend. . . . now I’m just a player sippin sauce every now and then to catch a buzz like a bumblebee.” Drinking alcohol is celebrated as part of the party life as Big Boi comes on to a girl at a club in “Last Call”: “What we dranking?/We dranking it all!. . . . Last call for alcohol make a call for the hay.” While they might frown on using crack and other drugs, they aren’t shy about their attraction to marijuana: “It ain’t s___ to take another hit so hit it/Of the cannibus seteva weed reefer yeah smoke s___/It’s all day any til they label me deceased/So fire up another one and smoke out and f___ the world, peace.” (“Crumblin’ Erb”).
“This world has problems. You must care.”
Being “positive” has motivated Outkast to speak up about oppression, injustice, and social policies they think are misguided or wrong. They see their music as a way to get the word out to the world, serving as a voice to communicate the cries of those who don’t have a voice: “Cackling help in the shackling of your brethren/Happen/Just by rappin. . . . Liberator.” (“Liberation”). They raise issues related to racial injustice, police brutality, black-on-black violence, poverty, and lack of economic opportunity. “Toilet Tisha” tells the moving story of a young teenage girl who becomes pregnant, and in her shame finds it easier to take her life than to tell her parents. In the song, the narrator pleads with her to let him help: “Don’t you dare go away from me girl/I can help you.” Perhaps the duo’s most direct and biting song is “War,” off Big Boi’s half of their latest, best-selling double-album. The anti-war anthem deals with the social problems of post 9/11 America including war, defense spending, and the results of the 2000 election: “Man acting as if he was the Supreme Being/Clocking the souls of men out like he was God and W.A.R./There will be no tomorrow but sorrow and horror will follow/The hollow hearts battle for dollars/Politicians, modern-day magicians, physicians of death/More healthcare for poor health who makin’ us ill?/They makin’ us kill, It’s makin’ me spill my guts. . . . I’ll rap about the presidential election and the scandal that followed. . . . Basically
“We’re all aliens and that’s okay. Let’s celebrate our differences.”
No doubt, Dre and Big Boi’s unique personalities and creative approach to their craft put them outside the box. Those in the box see them that way. The two have deliberately pursued a different path – one marked by creativity and innovation. Their music’s sound and thematic bent are proof they’ve succeeded in living out their self-defined purpose. They’re different by design – thus the name “Outkast” and the related title of the ATLiens album. In two of their videos – “Atliens” and “Elevator” – they depict themselves as a pair of pied piper visionaries, forging ahead creatively while a rag-tag bunch follows wherever they lead. They are pursued by those who see them as different – the pursuers being portrayed as evil forces and the establishment. They are trailblazers and they make no apologies for it. “We different,” they say on “Atliens.” Just as the two are different from each other and the world, they encourage their followers to do and celebrate the same.
“There’s power in unity, cooperation, and teamwork.”
They know the power of unity and teamwork because they’re two very different guys who have worked and stuck together for over 10 years. Together, they’ve accomplished their goals and made it to the top. Their story and music combine to communicate a message that strength is found in comraderie and cooperation. “Now or never/Let’s stick together and overcome,” they proclaim in “Millennium.” The same is said in “Y’All Scared”: “We need to stick together, power is in numbers.” Dre and Big Boi state their unwavering devotion to one another in “Aquemini”: “Even the sun goes down heroes eventually die/Horoscopes often lie and sometimes ‘y’/Nothing is for sure, nothing is for certain, nothing lasts forever/But until they close the curtain, it’s him and I, Aquemini.”, and “Synthesizer”: “We Outkast til it’s over.” When the duo released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, many thought the combination of two solo albums in one was actually a sign that a split between Dre and Big Boi was imminent. The two deny the claim, saying that the choice to release their solo efforts in one package is actually a sign of their commitment to stick together. Big Boi addresses that fact twice in his half of the project, both on “Tomb of the Boom”: “They say ‘Big Boi can you pull it off with just your nigga Dre?’/I say ‘People, stop the madness ‘cause me and Dre be OK’/Outkast, Cell Therapy to cell division/we just split it down the middle so you can see both the visions/Been spittin’ it damn near ten years, why the f___ we be quittin?”, and “Flip Flop Rock”: “Ain’t no uno we’re a duo, deuce, dos, two, a pair. . . .” The team is not disbanding.
“Sex – if you think it, you can do it! There are no bounds.”
The most prevalent and common thread running through Outkast’s musical tapestry relates to sexuality. Feelings – or more specifically sexual desire – justify unbridled sexual expression in the duo’s music. In true hip-hop fashion, Outkast celebrates the lifestyle of the “playa’” (or “player” – defined as a person with multiple sexual partners or as one who can get a girl to do sexually whatever he wants her to). They set out on their journey to free sexual expression and satisfaction on their first album in “Funky Ride”: “Oh baby, would you like to take a little ride with me/Unleash your sexual fantasies.” They justify their attitudes because of the way they were nurtured in the song “Babylon”: “I’m fascinated by the way yo nipples peek at me through yo blouse/Freaky me, freaky you can’t help but be aroused/’Scuse me Lord less for thinkin’/But that’s the way we was brought up/Sneakin’ to watch Playboy at night/We all must be caught up in worldly ways. . . . During P.E. we’d be exploring each other’s privates/Hunchin with all our clothes on/Until we felt excited then, aaaaahhh.” Sex gets “spiritualized” on “Hootie Hoo”: “I never said I was a gangsta but I will do ya/So Hallelujah, Hallelujah.” As with most in today’s culture, Outkast equates having sex or “making love,” with love. An initial visual attraction builds to “love” in a matter of moments on “Slum Beautiful”: “And I’d like to say that I’d love to make love to every molecule of you/And if you want to spontaneously combust that’s what we’ll do in unison.” On “Last Call” Big Boi meets a woman in a club and proceeds to describe what his night with her will be like: “I’m gon’ get some love. . . . I’m gon’ get that fresh fire fade and then I’m gon’ get laid!. . . . Last call for alcohol make a fast call for the hay. . . . You know the story, she bit, the hook, line, the follow/I got my hooks in the back and I’m gonna grind until tomorrow. . . . I’m so pimp it’s ridiculous. . . . We don’t stop and it’s so repeated and continuous. . . . From the club to the Caddy to the Holiday Inn/From the dusk to the dawn we gon’ do it again!” If the sex results in a pregnancy, the girls are told by the guys to not bother calling: “Now playin these b_____ is my favorite sport/But ain’t no game when they be callin’ your name in court. . . . I got up in them hoes and I told ‘em bye bye/About two weeks later she called me with some bulls___/Talkin’ ‘bout her period late, guess what I did?/Click. . . . I ain’t the sugar daddy nigga who will make you/Silly of you to think that I would, but I will lay you.” (“Hootie Hoo”). For Big Boi and Dre, anything goes when it comes to sexual activity. “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)” describes sexual encounters with two different women, one recounted this way: “I caught her in the mall/Wearin’ a real tight skirt/She was fine as f___, I wanted to sex the hoe up/She said let’s hit the parking lot so I can duck your sick.” They fantasize about sneaking away for some intense, long-term sexual activity: “Let’s hit the attic and hide out for ‘bout two weeks/Rick James-ing, no chains and whips, I do suck lips/Till hips jerk in double-time. . . . “ (“So Fresh, So Clean”). Dre enters into a May to December romance with an older, more experienced lady in “Pink & Blue”: “Call me when that big old house gets lonely-fied/And I’ll teleport from here to there/You show me how it’s supposed to be done. . . . Just me and Miss Lady. . . . Teach me something new.” Oral sex is also mentioned in very explicit terms in “Snappin’ & Trappin’”: “Lick my blunts and spit, like she do my d___/Attempted murder d___, for ways I choke chicks/Spit it in her eye make it hard to focus. . . . But f___ that, I’m looking for love all in her mouth/Need her to gobble up j___ like school lunches.” It continues on “We Luv Deez Hoez”: “I made her eat my meat while I was rubbin’ her c_____/Injection in her top and bottom lip straight from her booty. . . . .hit her from the back.” The guys return the favor in “Stankonia (Stanklove)”: “Open up your flower please let me taste your love/Honeysuckle sweet, can’t stop till I get every drip drop on my tongue.” Finally, Dre tells listeners on “Vibrate” that if all else fails and you can’t find a girl to satisfy your sexual needs, just take care of things yourself: “Play with your own score sheet, become the master of your own/And yes, God is watching you, but no need to be embarrassed/For the future is in your hands, no the future is in your hand/Play with your own score sheet.” For Big Boi and Dre, ultimate meaning and self-fulfillment are found in the glorification and experience of sex. Listening to their music leaves the impression that the holes in their souls are bottomless pits. Consequently, attempts to fill those holes with sexual activity is a never-ending pursuit.
“Yes, women are valuable. . . . in the eyes and crotch of the beholder.”
Through the visuals contained in album cover art and their many videos, Outkast gives more than a hint of their view of women. Scantily clad females abound, and their postures are that of a harem, falling at the feet of Dre and Big Boi as they tend to their need for the service of sexual intimacy and attention as they dance and move seductively for the camera. Outkast “loves” women for what women can give to them and they share their “eye candy” with viewers. While numerous examples abound, here are just a few: The cover illustration on “Aquemini” depicts the pair as “pimp” kings being tended to by three ladies. In their music, the guys are lustily staring back and acting on their desires: “Come on lady, dance all around me/You look so fine, look so fine, look so fine/ Drive me out of my mind, out of my mind, out of my mind/If I could, I would just leave with you baby/Ooooohh, ‘cause you light me and excite me/And you know you got me baby.” (“The Way You Move”). Dre sings on “Spread,” “I don’t want to move too fast/Can’t resist your sexy a__/Just spread, spread for me/I can’t, I can’t wait to get you home/Don’t want to come on too strong/I’ll play in you all day long.” It’s not about love and commitment. It’s about sex: “I wanna see ya support bra not support you!” (“Roses”). Ironically, the pair still admits that love and commitment might be what they are looking for: “You make me smile/You’re the anchor that holds me down/When my ship is sinking/You won’t let me drown and I’m grateful/Yo mama’s old fashioned, yo daddy won’t play/You’ll always be this lovely ‘cause they raised you that way/Hallelujah! Thank ya Jesus!/Thank ya Lord!. . . . Sad, but one day our kids will have to visit museums/To see what a lady looks like.” (“Behold A Lady”).
“Marital commitment. . . . .what’s that?”
It can be assumed from Outkast’s previously mentioned promotion of fornication and adultery, that they have a very low view of marriage. In fact, neither Dre or Big Boi have married the mother of their children. This is not surprising in light of their own personal histories, where neither grew up in a home where a healthy marriage was modeled. In many cases like theirs, marriage is a scary thing as commitments – when present - are sure to be broken. Consequently, the reasoning goes like this – “Why enter into something that has no chance anyway?” The theme plays out more frequently in their later albums and songs. In the Grammy winning single “Ms. Jackson,” Dre addresses the mother of his baby’s mama regarding their breakup: “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson/I am for real/Never meant to make your daughter cry/I apologize a million times.” He then goes on to explain his unwillingness to commit by explaining the progression of attraction: “King meets queen/Then the puppy love thing/Together dream bout that crib with the Goodyear swing/On the oak tree I hope we feel like this forever/Forever, forever, ever? Forever, ever/Forever never seems that long until you’re grown.” On “She Lives In My Lap,” Dre further explains his hesitancy to commit, this time to a different woman: “She lives in my lap (Forever my fiancé)/She lives in my lap (Don’t leave, don’t stay)/She lives in my lap (I’ll get the courage one day).” Dre doesn’t even want to meet the parents of a woman with whom he’s having a sexual relationship in the hit-single, “Hey Ya!”: “Don’t want to meet your daddy, just want you in my Caddy/Don’t want to meet your mama, just want to make you cumma/I’m. I’m, I’m just being honest.” In “Dracula’s Wedding,” Dre is a vampire who finds the perfect girl. Problem is, she wants to commit. Even though he’s waited his whole life for her, he’s paralyzed by the thought of marriage: “You’re all I’ve ever wanted/But I’m terrified of you.” Dre sings in “Spread,” “I’m too young to be settling down/Quick to change my mind tomorrow/So now can I borrow your timid torso?” Even in Outkast’s one moment where it appears a marriage is going to happen, there’s a twist. The interlude skit “Pre-Nump” let’s listeners eavesdrop as a man proposes to a woman who excitedly answers “Yes!!” Then, immediately thereafter, he gets serious and destroys her glee by asking her to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. Even where there’s a glimmer of hope for marital commitment, the clear message is that there’s no way it will last.
“Parental Commitment. . . . . it’s necessary.”
In a world where more and more children are being born to single mothers, and fathers increasingly “spawn” children as a sign of masculine power and virility, Outkast encourages their listeners to take responsibility for their kids. “Slump” encourages listeners to turn from the gangsta-thug life, get a credible job, and work (like the duo has) to make an honest living. As the song closes, a baby is heard crying – a powerful reminder of one generation’s responsibility to the next. “SpottieOttieDopalicious” is a narrative describing the scene at an all-night club. The singer describes entering the club, spotting a girl, hooking up, having sex, and getting her pregnant. He then challenges men to take responsibility for the children they’ve fathered: “One moment you frequent the booty clubs and/The next four years you and somebody’s daughter/Raising y’all own young’n now that’s a beautiful thang/That’s if you’re on top of your fame and man/Enough to handle real life situations/Can’t gamble feeding baby on that dope money.” Dre pledges to support his child in Ms. Jackson: “Private school, daycare s___, medical bills I pay that.” In “Bombs Over Baghdad,” Big Boi pledges his support to his kids: “Got a son on the way by the name of Bamboo/Got a little baby girl four year Jordan/Never turn my back on my kids. . . .” It becomes abundandly clear that Outkast’s definition of parental “commitment” is primarily economic in nature. It’s the “gift” of money - not time, involvement, love, etc. - that fathers are to give to their kids.
“God is. . . . on our terms.”
Like most other figures in the world of today’s popular music, Dre and Big Boi consistently give thanks to God in the liner notes to their albums. They even go so far as to mention God in their songs. They pray, quote Scripture, and express their need for God’s help. But the “God” they mention and invoke bears only a slight resemblance –and briefly - to the God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. They claim that God speaks through them and their music: “The world’s a stage and everybody’s got to play their part/God works in mysterious ways so when he starts the job of speakin’ through us we be so sincere with this here.” (“Atliens”). “Church” is about the quest to understand the meaning of life and why we are here. In the song, Big Boi tells listeners to “get up and go to church” if they feel “left behind.” He petitions God when his life gets difficult including being in poverty, feeling stressed, or scoring a bad bag of pot. He does recognize that “he who lives in the Upper Room is never gullible.” Dre asks God, “Why do you even bother watchin’ over me?” (“Claimin’ True”). The most unusual petition comes in a conversation between Dre and God in the interlude skit, “God.” He begins by praying to meet a “sophisticated lady.” He describes her as a lady with a quality rear-end and a “sweet bitch,” someone to be by his side. Halfway through his prayer, he surprisedly reacts to God saying, “Damn, you’re a girl!” Outkast’s “God” is a god made in their own image.
There are some additional lessons to be learned from Outkast’s popularity and appeal.
Urban youth culture is driving today’s youth culture. Hip-hop style and rap music have fanned out from the streets that were once their only home and moved into neighborhoods all around the world. Street style and urban sounds are now universal. They have been adopted by kids in every demographic and socio-economic group. From the kid growing up on the streets of Atlanta, to the white suburban teen, to the teen who spends the early morning milking cows on the plains of the mid-west, the language and style that was once exclusively urban has found a home. The music has moved in as well. Add to that the emerging generation’s sensitivity to issues of diversity and pluralism, and the cross-demographic appeal of Outkast is easily understood.
Outkast has reinvented rap in a manner that’s facilitated mass appeal. Even the highly popular genre of rap music has experienced some stagnation. Oftentimes lyrically and musically repetitive, the genre in its most popular mainstream forms has focused on thematic content that is extremely violent and highly materialistic. Outkast has deliberately set out to change the trend by – as they say – downplaying the more negative “gangsta” or “thug-life” content, and replacing it with new lyrical themes, less repetition, and bold new musical styles. While some critics accurately argue the Outkast hasn’t actually changed rap’s thematic content all that much, there’s no arguing that relative to the rest of the genre’s music, they’ve certainly toned it down quite a bit. On the musical side, their inventiveness is undeniable.
Outkast’s sonic stew of diversity casts a wide net that’s caught an overflow of listening “fish.” Our multi-cultural world is fertile breeding ground for new musical styles that effectively blend multiple genres in inventive and creative ways. The lines between genres are dropping, and Outkast is doing their part to push them down even further. Outkast’s combination of a wide variety of musical ingredients has fostered a broad appeal among younger listeners who value the diversity, and among older listeners whose more established genre preferences are represented in the duo’s music. As just one example, Outkast’s inclusion of 70’s funk and R&B elements grabs the attention of older listeners who might not be drawn to the more edgy and aggressive elements of rap.
Step 4: Look for evidence of a spiritual quest.
Their blatant spirituality connects with a culture that is spiritually self-aware. Big Boi and Dre recognize the spiritual-side of life and are unapologetic for their references to and recognition of that fact. They incorporate elements of Christianty, the Bible, Mythology, Astrology, and New Age practices into their syncretistic blend of music. By doing so, they reflect the spirit of our postmodern world in a self-defined “religious” package that so easily connects with others who worship at the foot of smorgasbord spirituality.
Step 5: Identify “touchpoints” to use as doorways of opportunity for connection, conversation, evangelism, and discipleship.
Outkast has credibility because they’re real. “Reality rappin’, and giving the youth the truth from this booth,” they sing on “Gasoline Dreams.” Today’s millennial kids place a premium on authenticity. Outkast connects because they tell their stories in a manner that is accessible to listeners – listeners who are attracted to stories. Because they’ve opened their lives with a level of vulnerability, fans don’t see the pair as being distant and unapproachable as is often the case in the music industry. In order to connect with students, we must be real as well.
Outkast is a voice for the outcast. Adolescence is a difficult period of life where one oftentimes feels rejected, ignored, and alone. Faced with unprecedented change in every area of life, the young person can easily feel like an outcast. Big Boi and Dre know that feeling themselves. They speak openly about their sense of alienation and disconnectedness to the mainstream. For kids who feel the same and whose lives are haunted by brokenness, Outkast is a voice that says what they feel. If we hope to connect with those who hurt, we must listen to them, understand them, recognize their pain, and then respond with the love of Christ.
Outkast offers hope in a world filled with despair. So much of today’s music reflects the nihilistic and hopeless spirit of our world. Outkast is on a mission to make “positive” music that affirms life and offers hope. The source of their hope is the determined human spirit. They sing openly of overcoming the obstacles in their own lives. By doing so, they give hope to young listeners, especially those who feel trapped in the cycle of poverty and helpless to do anything about it. For Outkast, hope and salvation is found in economic achievement and success. We can connect with the emerging generations by discussing with them their longings for hope.
We must seize the opportunity to climb through the window Outkast has opened into the reality of life for those who are poor and oppressed. The duo does us a great service by helping the world understand the realities of life in the ghetto and the entrapments of poverty. We can’t fully grasp and understand this world unless we’ve lived there ourselves. Outkast helps us go there by telling their own stories and by speaking up for those who have no voice. They help us understand how poverty affects people’s day to day lives, influences their behavior, and shapes their hopes and dreams. The window is open. Our temptation will be to do what we’ve always done – walk right past and not even notice. Our role as followers of Christ should be to not only look in, but climb through into their world as agents of justice and mercy. Outkast issues the church a challenge to understand and address the vicious cycle of poverty.
Step 6: Discern those elements that can be celebrated and embraced, and those that must be challenged and opposed.
We must recognize and affirm Outkast’s creative reflection of the Creator. No, this is not a band that has set out on a mission to overtly bring honor and glory to God. In fact, their lyrical content and lifestyle choices typically move in the opposite direction. But their creative abilities and commitment to using and developing those God-given gifts clearly reflects the image of Himself which God instilled in humanity at the moment we were made. This innovative duo and their willingness to step beyond rehashing old musical formulas is a breath of fresh air. In this way, they bear loud and unmistakable witness to the Creator. Always inventive. . . .that’s an approach everyone in the music industry – both “Christian” music and “non-Christian” music alike – should strive for with reckless abandon. Outkast has provided a strong model.
We must celebrate their resolve to make music that is “positive” in its content. While their musical content does not always reflect those things God has set forth as good, true, honorable and right, we can celebrate their determination to inject something more positive than the standard fare into the collective consciousness of today’s music listeners. Big Boi and Dre know that much of today’s music has become negative, nihilistic and despairing. They have accurately sensed that listeners are hungry for and in need of music that is more uplifting and motivational in nature. We should applaud their determination and resolve to emphasize unity, teamwork, hard work, and social activism. It’s a message the world is longing to hear. Not coincidentally, it’s a message the church has been commanded to model and give.
Celebrate the fact that Big Boi and Dre are exceptionally talented. They write their own music. They develop and deliver lyrical complex lyrical content. And, they are each able to play instruments themselves.
Celebrate their passion for what they do. Big Boi and Dre aren’t just going through the musical motions. They have invested themselves deeply in their craft, and they’ve enjoyed every minute of the ride. These guys love what they do. They’re having fun making music. The resulting celebratory spirit in their music is like a magnet, drawing listeners who might not otherwise be attracted to mainstream rap. It’s this playful passion and spirit that makes a feeling-oriented generation connect with Outkast so well.
We must challenge the fascination with boundless sexuality. Our world is marked by relational breakdown and brokenness. People are longing to give, receive, and experience the intimacy they were made to know. Increasingly, the temporary physical intimacy of sexual activity has become an end in and of itself, replacing the notion of sexuality as something to be celebrated between a man and a woman within the commitment of a life-long marriage. When society sees sex as the path to intimacy and redemption, music that echoes those sentiments will connect. And, when music encourages and allows young male listeners to indulge their lust, those who are learning how to handle their developing sexuality will embrace that music as mentor and guide. We must challenge this belief and behavior by pointing the young to the freedom of a biblical sexual ethic.
We must challenge their embrace of profanity. Outkast’s affinity for profanity has the ability to deeply affect and influence those who listen – particularly young fans. On the one hand, we know profanity is a huge part of the rap music scene. We also know that Big Boi and Dre grew up in a world where this is the way people converse all the time. But on the other hand, we should not allow this to serve as a justification or excuse for its inclusion in Outkast’s music. If we do, our kids will learn that it’s okay to talk to this way. We need to teach and model Godly parameters for the use of the tongue – both in the words we use and tone in which we use them.
Step 7: Choose how to use what you’ve learned in your particular ministry setting with your particular audience.
Outkast challenges us to continue to listen to and understand the ethical relativism of the postmodern mind. In a world void of the possibility of moral absolutes, everyone is free to do what’s right in their own eyes. Moral decisions become a matter of ones’ will based on how they feel at any given moment in time. Discrepancies and obvious contradictions are not at all obvious to those who believe there are no absolutes. Consequently, it’s not at all surprising that even though Outkast set out early on to avoid the sexually degrading, violent, and materialistic content of rap music, that content still exists in their music and they don’t even notice the mixed message. Their moral schizophrenia on matters of drug use, sexuality, violence, and a host of other issues influences developing young minds in powerful ways. As a result, our response to those we know and love who have been shaped by this manner of thinking should not be one of surprise. They are only being true to their worldview. Perhaps they’ve never known anything else. Still, we must prayerfully and thoughtfully develop strategies to undo what’s been done so that their guidance will come from the moral compass of God’s unchanging word.
We must proclaim the only true source of redemption – the search is on! When they seek to satisfy their God-shaped vacumes by indulgence in sexual intimacy and/or the accumulation of material possessions, people always come up empty. Outkast models and trumpets these false avenues to fulfillment through their lifestyles and music. Impressionable young listeners who want to understand their purpose in life are easily influenced by these musical pied pipers. Granted, Outkast is only reflecting attitudes that have been prevalent and present since the fall. But as one of contemporary culture’s loudest voices, they are being heard. We must ask those who are traveling this wide path that leads to destruction if they’re really finding what they’re looking for on that road – is it giving them what they thought it promised? We can be confident the answer is “no.” Then, we must show, map out, and explain the walk on the narrow road that leads to life. Outkast lets us know that even though time marches on, the God-shaped hole in the soul still exists!
We must teach and model the positive, Biblical sexual ethic. Outkast’s skewed and idolatrous approach to God’s wonderful gift of sexuality is one that destroys lives. Our children and teens are passing through a developmental stage where they are either not yet sexually developed or in the midst of experiencing sexual desire for the first time. As a result, they are vulnerable and teachable to messages both positive and negative about how to manage and experience the wonder of their sexuality. Outkast is reaching that young and impressionable audience with a message about boundless sexuality that is appealing, yet destructive. We must “run interference” and be diligent about correcting the errors in Outkast’s message (and others like it) so that our kids can experience the full freedom and joyous wonder of God’s order and design for their sexuality. A key component of that message must be to point young men to the fact that objectifying and using females to satisfy their sexual desires is wrong. We must point young women to the fact that they were created with dignity, value, and worth. Any distortion of God’s will for their sexuality can rob them of each. Our kids need to know that “love” is not something purely physical that can be “made.” Rather, it is unwavering, unconditional commitment.
We must be about the business of developing the next generation of fathers. While Outkast is to be applauded for encouraging listeners to take responsibility for their kids, their message falls far too short. Sadly, that responsibility seems to primarily economic in nature. Responsible fatherhood extends far beyond child support. A good father is active and involved in the lives of his children and a committed husband to their mother. Our culture’s crisis of fatherlessness continues to leave a trail of littered lives that is sure to multiply as a host of fatherless kids who have grown up without good parenting models, become parents themselves. We must go out of our way to identify and embrace the fatherless. Then, armed with an understanding of how father absence affects these kids in the short and long-term, we must prayerfully educate and mentor them into a practical understanding of what it means to be a responsible, loving, active, involved, and faithfully married parent.
We must move beyond the notion that nurture and circumstance can be used as justification for ongoing wrongdoing. From time to time, Outkast leaves the impression that one’s background and upbringing can be used as an excuse for doing that which is wrong. While understanding nurture helps us understand one’s values, attitudes, and behaviors, we must challenge ourselves and others to rise above and strive for change, particularly in those areas where our lifestyles are marked by that which is ethically or morally wrong. Still, those driven by faith to call for change must understand that easy, quick fixes are the rare exception, not the rule. In other words, there may be years of accumulated “garbage” that will may take a lifetime of ongoing struggle to undo – sometimes in a process that never ends. Those who are followers of Christ must incorporate patience and grace into our calls for repentance and change.
Outkast reminds us that to connect with the emerging generation, we must use story. The millennial generation has embrace Outkast for many reasons, including their willingness and ability to lay themselves bare and communicate their message by telling stories. Sometimes, they are vulnerable and invite listeners into their own story. At other times, they employ the third person in songs/tales that talk about life on the street. The Outkast message is brought to life through stories. It becomes real, concrete, and easy to connect/identify to. Their success reminds us of the need to share our faith with young people by telling our story and God’s story. While it is important for them to develop an understanding of propositional truth, doing so exclusively invites kids to shut off their ears and disengage from the message.
Outkast seems accessible. Are we? In reality, Big Boi and Dre have probably only engaged in personal conversation and contact with only a small, small handful of their millions of fans. Still, their personalities and approach to writing and making music has created a sense of closeness and accessibility. While kids don’t know them, kids think they know them. In a world full of broken relationships, kids long for connections with someone who will care about them. The hunger is so deep and the need so severe that “knowing someone they don’t know” is the best they can do. The church must look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are doing what we can and should be doing to create a spirit of accessibility that will allow us to know and be known in deep, real, and life-changing ways. Kids are hungering for relationships. Will we be there for them?
We must remind kids that there’s more to the music than just the sound. Many Outkast fans admit they are drawn to the music by its innovative, creative, and catchy beat – an undeniable fact. Those of us who know and love young Outkast fans must take the time to show them how the music also includes lyrical content that teaches a world and life view. In effect, the music has the power and ability to shape how they think, talk, and act. I suggest that you filter the duo’s music through CPYU’s How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart: 3D Guide To Making Healthy Music Choices (available at www.cpyu.org) to help kids understand and process the message in light of God’s Word. As part of our discipleship efforts, we must teach them how to think critically and Christianly about music and media.
Outkast reminds us to feed the hunger for hope. Their resolve to be positive and challenge fellow “outcasts” to follow their lead and overcome difficulty is a message that’s been embraced by the hopeless. Perhaps the church should be less disapproving and critical of the hopeless, and more intent on embracing and loving them as we demonstrate the love of the one who offers the only true hope. Yes, loving the unlovable and offering hope to the hopeless can be messy business. But it’s time to stop worrying about getting messy. I’m not sure where that came from anyway. Jesus got down and dirty all the time. We’ve got to do the same.
We must correct our culture’s “Christianity confusion” by modeling consistent, integrated faith. When Outkast released their first album, they were a pair of teenagers thanking God for their ability and opportunity to make music. They’ve continued to thank “God” in the liner notes of subsequent albums and in various lyrical references to the Almighty and His word. Yet right from the outset, Outkast’s musical package pays homage to a worldview and lifestyle that is anything but Godly. The pair offers convincing evidence of the spiritual confusion that exists in today’s pop culture. If we seek to answer the question “Who is God?” based on Outkast’s music, the answer is a confusing and contradictory mix that bears only brief passing resemblance to the God who has made Himself known through His Son, His word, and history. In true postmodern fashion, Outkast has created a God in their own image. Of course, they’re not alone. This sad trend confuses our kids as they struggle to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We must go out of our way to proclaim the person, attributes, purpose, and work of the God who calls them to integrate their faith into every area of their lives.