When I first found out about Outkast and their song 'Hey Ya!" in the early 2000s, it was one of the most exciting and well-remembered songs that I've ever come across. You'd know what I mean if (or when) you watch the music video on their YouTube VEVO channel, which currently has over 280 million views.
A full ensemble of Andre 3000's singing and dancing I thought were the norm for Atlanta hip-hop duo composed of Andre Benjamin and Antwonn Patton. Even in the music video of the hit song 'Roses,' Benjamin is seen playing multiple different characters, dancing and frolicking about and having himself a mighty good time expressing his fun side.
However, as I grew older, they started to grow apart from me. I started listening to older, New York-based hip-hop (A Tribe Called Quest, Fu Schnickens, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Big L, etc.) and started to dig more into my city's roots. My music playlist began to evolve into more story-telling-based lyrics rather than exciting, kick-down-a-door-while-drunk-in-your-dorm-room party lines. So, Outkast, for me, seemed outdated at the time.
Until I discovered the album "Aquemini."
Released in 1998, "Aquemini" was a concept album based solely on life itself, with many of the songs incorporating live instrumentation. It was a psychedelic 90s sound I've never heard before and was far different from the 2000s version of Outkast.
Almost every song choice had a specific story to tell. It was not the popular 90s New York hip-hop everyone was so accustomed to. It was a pure, Southern sound that made the storytelling of the album that much more compelling to listen to. The song that caught my attention the most was part one of "Da Art of Storytellin'."
Part one of "Da Art of Storytellin'" is lived through the eyes of Andre and Antwonn as they depict the struggles of two female fictional characters named Sasha Thumper' and Suzy Skrew. Suzy's story told by 'Big Boi' Antwonn as she is depicted as a prostitute looking to have sex with anyone in sight.
Antwonn, however, does not pay her with money, instead vying to give her a 'Lil Will CD' and a 'poster.' Prostitution is sometimes common in urban communities like Atlanta and Suzy is treated very harshly by Antwonn. Sasha Thumper's story, however, seems to be the most tragic of the two stories. Andre speaks of Sasha Thumper in a very kind light, remembering her "number like the summer."
Sasha changes Andre's life when she tells Andre that, more than anything, she wants to be "alive" in the future. Once Andre reaches fame, he looks for Sasha, but finds out through her mother that she was with a man "that be treating her wrong." Then, sadly, Sasha is found in the back of a school "with a needle in her arm, baby two months due" two weeks later.
I finally understood Outkast's purpose in rap: they reminded everyone that southern rap can make it in the business. They've gone through struggling times just as much as any rapper had. Their experience seemed fresh to me, although the same things occur around New York. They made me believe that maybe, just maybe, that Outkast are kings of "Da Art of Storytellin'."