Outkast: How ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’ Changed Hip-Hop
Twenty-five years ago, Outkast released their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmusik, and it changed the landscape of hip-hop and the way that the hip-hop community views the south. With funky production and sharp and clever lyrics, Outkast let the world know that “the south got something to say.” Andre 3000 and Big Boi have now become icons in hip-hop and popular music. We decided that we wanted to look back on the album’s impact, and we decided to go to a bona fide expert.
Dr. Regina Bradley is the author of Boondock Kollage: Stories From the Hip Hop South and the assistant professor of English and African Diaspora studies at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. The former Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellow (Harvard University, Spring 2016) teaches classes on Outkast, previously hosted Outkasted Conversations to commemorate Outkast’s 20th anniversary in hip-hop, and is currently writing Chronicling Stankonia: Outkast and the Rise of Hip Hop south for UNC Press. Bradley is also currently working on a southern hip-hop podcast called Bottom of the Map for NPR Atlanta alongside music journalist Christina Lee, which drops next month.
The “Bany Girl” as she affectionately calls herself because she’s native to Albany, Georgia, took some time out to chat about her favorite hip-hop group, Outkast’s debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
Glennisha Morgan: What about Outkast has made you so excited, enough to teach a class about them and write a book?
Dr. Regina Bradley: It’s almost as simple as I just love them. They’re my favorite group ever. One of the other reasons that I decided to embark on this scholarly quest of writing about them. No one else has done them justice in giving their music and legacy a serious nod, especially as it relates to thinking about the south. For a lot of folks, music is the way to think about a southern experience and southern culture. In hip-hop, Outkast was one of the first folks to be recognized as doing that. I wanted to pay homage to speak to their experiences through my own work.
GM: You once said during an interview with Very Smart Brothas that southern hip-hop didn’t start in the 1980s in New York. It started in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. Can you expand upon that?
DRB: I’m not trying to have New York people come after me. Of course, hip-hop started in New York. What I was suggesting was that the point of reference for thinking about hip-hop didn’t start with New York. It started with the Civil Rights Movement. So many southern artists paid homage to if not attention to what the Civil Rights Movement did. If not, more importantly, thinking about their own experiences and what a post-Civil Rights Movement era would look like.
GM: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was a pivotal album for southern hip-hop because southern hip-hop was discredited by the culture in the early ’90s. What do you feel like Outkast’s debut album brought to the table?
DRB: It wasn’t just a major moment for southern hip-hop. It was a major moment for hip-hop in general because it introduced possibility to a larger culture that hey the south can do dope hip-hop sh** like we can rhyme. We can have fun with it. We can talk about all of these things at the same time. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the introduction. It was like an introduction 101. One of the reasons that Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is so significant is that it introduced the possibility of an urban south in ways that were previously was pushed to the side. When folks think about urban they think about New York or Los Angeles, and they’re like oh the south is just rural.
GM: “Git up, Git Out” featuring Goodie Mob touches upon selling drugs to survive, but not wanting to glorify it, and not wanting to fall into the trap of not having a life plan, which easily could’ve fallen into the “conscious rap” category. If you truly think about Outkast’s entire catalog, which is very multifaceted, it could also fall into that territory. How do you feel they’ve been able to make “conscious music” in terms of how it’s culturally defined but also not fall into the pit of “boring”?
DRB: On one end it shows you how complicated black southerness is. It’s one thing to be like they’re some country fried Poor Righteous Teachers, but to also incorporate humor and horror to an extent. If you listen to that skit on Aquemini where they become like Dr. Frankenstein. Being able to pull from these multiple elements and make their sound as well as the evolution of how they’re viewing themselves and the world around them that’s what helps them stay fresh. Even now, 25 years later, you can still ride to Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik like it came out yesterday. When you think about songs like “Claiming True” and “Ain’t No Thang” it’s like parables. They give you these little gems of knowledge without necessarily hitting you over the head with we can be “conscious” and we can be “woke.”
GM: On “Ain’t No Thang” Big Boi says, “I’m quick to stop a flow like menopause at 50,” then he goes on and later says, “I’m ready to wet em’ up like cereal.” Then Andre comes in later with, “They know not to test us, test me, do me, try me/tripping with that drama my Berretta’s right beside me.” Can we talk a bit about how Outkast isn’t really known for violent lyrics, but on this track, it was sort of like a message to everyone, not only can we rap, but we’re also about that life?
DRB: Yea, and not to put it up against like an NWA, Ice Cube, or an MC Eiht, these folks who were directly using a gangsta rap aesthetic. It was like no for real, we’ll f**k you up. So Outkast was like we do all of these things but don’t get it twisted. Don’t step to us like you know us like that. It’s funny because if you listen to the skit from Aquemini after the “Return of the G ” song it’s like folks get confused because first, they were pimps then they were woke. It’s funny, but it’s true because it’s multifaceted. It’s not just one direction or pigeonholed. I feel it was more of them showing we know what the hell is going on in hip-hop, but we’re gonna put a southern twist on it, especially after the Source Awards , they were like f**k it. We’re gonna do what the hell we want.
GM: This conversation also reminds me of Nas’ track “Get Down” on God’s Son. He beautifully paints this picture and tells a story, but he talks about the notion that southern folks are slow. As we all know it’s not true, but Outkast as MCs defy this stereotype and idea. How do you think they’re able to beautifully do so?
DRB: They trump originality over anything. They really don’t care about what other people think about what they’re doing, which is why we want to know what happens next. It’s not even just Outkast, it’s also the folks that they work with. The Dungeon Family were just an eclectic group of people that they challenged each other to not just stay in their own late, but to create it, decorate it, and ride.
GM: Let’s talk about the live instruments on the album and its production by Organized Noize. There’s a lot of keyboards, guitar, and bass that creates this really funky soulful sound.
DRB: You kind of just explained it. Sleepy Brown’s dad was a member of Brick, which was a prominent southern funk group here in Atlanta. He took those experiences to dictate his own sound. The thing that I love about Organized Noize is that they take the influences of funk music and the church and remixed them because that’s what southern sounded like. They were taking the ideas of south and southerness and remixing it to apply it to hip-hop. I think Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik plays so beautifully because it counters everything hip-hop is supposed to stand for at that point. Organized Noize was like yo we’re not trying to sound like everybody else. They established a signature sound that centered their own southern cultural experiences, and like you said, made it funky.
GM: I definitely want to talk about “Players Ball.” I’m from Detroit, so when I first heard the song I pictured the way Detroiters get fly for a function and step out in our gators and furs, but there’s something very universally black about that track.
DRB: Detroit’s up south (laughs). It’s not too far fetched for Detroit folks. Y’all are our up south cousins. It’s definitely universally black. To think that was their interpretation of a Christmas jingle. To hear the sleigh bells and everything like that, but also the historical accuracy in that song because there really was a ball that took place every year from all of the hustlers in Atlanta. That was the experience that Rico was pulling on. To be like all the hustlas. All the playas. And then when Andre is like it’s getting to look a lot like what you’re just like okay it’s not going to be your traditional Christmas track. It’s almost like when you come home from college for the holidays and you get to see your people, that’s what you would have in the background playing.
GM: It’s almost as if they were trying to do for Atlanta with that album and their catalog overall what Solange did with When I Get Home for Houston.
DRB: Yea, if you can’t represent and be proud of where you’re from why do it at all? That’s one of the cornerstones of hip-hop is being able to localize where you’re from and make it seem like the hottest sh** on the planet, and that’s what they did. They took the bad, the good, the ugly, and the funky if you will, and that’s where you get Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik from.
GM: How do you feel that Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik holds up to all of Outkast’s other albums?
DRB: It’s the classic. I can’t even stand it up against the others. It was the beginning. It was their first attempt but it still holds significant weight because that was them showing folks what it means to be outcasted in hip-hop.
GM: Where are you at with Chronicling Stankonia?
DRB: I’m trying to do possibly this last round of revisions before I submit it for publication. I’m working on it, but it’s a slow process. I want to make sure that I do it right because I don’t want anybody to come for me.