Lilian Min
January 07, 2017 9:28 am
LaFace Records / Arista Records

Pop culture and academia always find ways to intersect. For all the people who decry higher education courses on, say, Harry Potter or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth creations, they aren’t playing the long game in public influence. After all, weren’t Shakespeare’s works “just” pop culture during his time?

This is a roundabout way of saying that Professor Regina Bradley’s course on the Atlanta rap duo OutKast is another perfect area of pop academic exploration.

André 3000 and Big Boi were innovators just ahead and yet uniquely of their time. Though rap has always been tied to both technical innovation and social justice, OutKast’s music and legacy stand apart.

It’s not just that they put their vision of Southern rap on the map, or that they invested in weirdo aesthetics when that wasn’t the norm, or that they are the source of some of the most recognizable melodies and lyrics of our modern era of music. It’s, maybe, the fact that they are so wholly fused with their music, their region, and their identities that it’s impossible to talk about them without invoking larger ideas.

This may sound hyperbolic, but listen to a song like “Elevators (Me & You)” and try to imagine literally anyone else putting forward something quite like that:

As Bradley puts it in an interview with Complex:

In particular, André 3000 has become a reclusive rap superhero, dipping in and out of other peoples’ work to add his je ne sais quoi. (Figure A: Beyoncé’s “Party,” which features no other rappers as far as I’m concerned.) (Figure B: Frank Ocean’s “Solo (Reprise),” which is a stunning high point on an album stacked with those kinds of moments.)

Is it too much to go back to school just to enroll in Bradley’s class? (She teaches at Armstrong State University, which is—of course—in Georgia.) Yeah, but maybe a repeated listening of the duo’s discography is in order. (Even Idlewild.)

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