Eras of Influence: 1997-2000 – Outkast

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my introduction, covering the music that moved me in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

***

Like most people, my experience of middle school was awkward. As I moved into 8th grade, just a year away from high school, I remember a growing sense of a need for individuality. To that point in my life, I had no clear idea of who I was. Any interests I had were fairly general and mostly influenced by those around me. I liked basketball and drawing. Music was a safety blanket that I retreated to and was always in rotation, but none of it was solely “mine.” 

But everything was about to change.

If you’ve read the previous installments of this series, you’re aware of the role MTV played in my life from a very early age. In the summer after my sixth grade year, I won a small television from a raffle held during June Fest in my hometown. It wasn’t really big or nice enough to replace the TV we had in our family living room, which led to a crucial opening that would have never presented itself otherwise. There was nowhere else for it to go – why not put it in my bedroom?

After weeks of sprinkling the idea on my less-than-enthused parents, it finally happened, and I still have no idea why they allowed it. The cable man came and ran a new line in my bedroom wall, and before I knew it, I could watch MTV at any time, from the privacy of my own room. So I did just that. I turned the channel to MTV from the moment I got home from school until well after I was supposed to be asleep.

These were the pre-”Total Request Live” days, and while I certainly had an interest in shows like “The Real World” and “Daria”, it was the blocks of music videos that held my attention the most. And it was here that I fell in love with hip hop.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact moment, but by my 8th grade year in 1997, I was obsessed. I would place a blank VHS tape in my VCR and hit record every time a rap video came on. Early favorites included Ma$e’s “Bad Boy”, Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, Juvenile’s “Ha”, A Tribe Called Quest‘s “Find a Way”, and “Hate Me Now” by Nas. Unbeknownst to me at the time, hip hop was in a state of transition as it mourned the deaths of Tupak Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. I was aware of their music and influence, but didn’t understand the genre’s full history and the changing landscape from the two coasts to a suddenly evolving movement that was about to change popular music around the world.

In 1997, hip hop hadn’t fully crossed over into the mainstream. Aside from the scattered Will Smith hit, rap music was still viewed as dangerous by the vast majority of white suburban America. To this day, I still feel fortunate that my mom allowed me to explore the genre in full, something that so many of my friends and classmates weren’t allowed. I don’t think she was crazy about her middle school son purchasing CDs with the notorious “Parental Advisory” sticker, but as long as I could explain why the music interested me, it was always allowed.

For all of the new artists I began exploring with obsession, pouring over every line and every note, feeling as though I was peering through a window into another world, none held me quite as captivated at the time as Outkast – the duo that put Atlanta on the hip hop map and proceeded to change the genre in ways that are still felt to this day.

***

You can buy or stream Aquemini on Apple Music.

While I discovered ATLiens near the end of its cycle, it was 1998’s Aquemini that changed everything for me. I would replay the video for “Rosa Parks” until I wore out my VHS tape, and I still remember the day that the CD, with its iconic cover art and spacey, atmospheric music, arrived in the mail. It must have been nearly a year straight when I listened to the album every day. For as much as I was falling in love with rap, Outkast were on another level. Their music was distinctly hip hop, but it was…weird. No one else sounded quite like them.

All these years later, the yin and yang of Andre 3000 and Big Boi has become legendary. Two completely individual artists seeming to reside on different planes of existence that still somehow combined effortlessly into something greater than their individual parts. My favorite of the two changed depending on the day or mood. My favorite tracks revolved as well, although all these years later, there’s still not a song from that time period that gets me going quite like “Skew It on the Bar-B”.

I can say with certainty that there was no one else within my limited network of acquaintances at the time that was listening to Outkast, which made them distinctly my own. Oddly, this didn’t make me any cooler. Jokes about C-rap were abundant at the time, and I became viewed as somewhat of an odd duck to be immersing myself in music that wasn’t “meant for me.” And maybe that’s a fair critique, but my love of hip hop served as the jumping off point that forever changed my view of the world and opened my eyes to experiences and culture well outside my purview – complete with all of their beauty, and sadly, the societal injustices that sought to suffocate them.

Those are big words to tie to the music I was discovering as I entered high school, but it’s a real thing that forever changed the trajectory of my life, the passions I held, and the causes I associated myself with. It was the genesis in a lifelong journey of learning and responding in kind with action and empathy.

Seeing as how I had no one with which to share the conversation, I made do in a completely new way. By the late 90s, my family had purchased a computer and connected it to a phone line via a modem. After spending two minutes listening to squeals and squalls, I could begin surfing the internet to discover more about the music I was listening to. It didn’t take long for me to find pockets of the internet dedicated to the discussion of hip hop in the form of message boards. Suddenly, I’d discovered an entirely new network of friends from around the world, including a daily pen pal in Australia who was just as obsessed with rap as me, and a group of hip hop heads with which I would go on to share a fantasy football league with for over 20 years.

Up to this time, I had made my new hip hop discoveries from MTV or the newest copy of The Source that arrived in my mailbox each month. Now I was finding new artists daily through conversations with my newfound friends who I knew almost solely by their usernames. It was through my aforementioned pen pal Rachel that I discovered influential albums like Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star and the solo Mos Def follow-up, Black on Both Sides. As archaic as this all sounds now, I can still feel the excitement in the newness of it all. I had found a community. I had found music I could call my own.

***

In the time since Aquemini entered my life, my relationship with Outkast has fluctuated greatly, for better or for worse. My junior year of high school began with the release of Stankonia, an album that immediately took full ownership over the discman I took with me to school and the stereo in my bedroom. But about mid-way through the semester, just as “Ms. Jackson” was becoming a staple on Top 40 radio and MTV, something strange happened. I vividly remember overhearing a conversation about Outkast in my art class. Wait…other people were listening to this?

It was a strange introduction to an experience that would happen throughout my life going forward. The intimate relationship I shared with an artist suddenly vanishes and the secret is out. It’s a strange feeling, similar to have something stolen from you. That moment may have been the primary reason for the next shift in my musical journey that was about to take place, as well as the reason that I largely missed out on the joy of 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Fortunately, the passing of time has given me better perspective on moments such as these. Why wouldn’t I want more people to experience the joy that I had discovered? Things would come full circle at Forecastle in 2014 when I was able to experience Outkast in person for the first – and likely last – time. That night, you could feel the energy of the crowd rise as the duo entered the Aquemini porton of their set, rattling off the singles in succession. It wasn’t just me after all back in the fall of 1998. The sound of Atlanta had spread to the plains of Kansas and very much beyond.

Second Tier: Ma$e, Nas, Juvenile, Jay-Z

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Our Most Anticipated Music of 2021

In many ways, it’s harder than ever before to know what to expect from the world of music in 2021. Did our favorite artists use quarantine downtime to create? Will there be live shows? Who knows! But we’re here to speculate.

Kiel Hauck is joined by Nadia Alves and Kyle Schultz to discuss the music they’d most like to hear in the new year, including new albums from the likes of Weezer, Kendrick Lamar, Julien Baker, AFI, Travis Scott, Lorde and more. They also discuss the difficult nuances around creativity in the midst of depression and why many artists may need more time to bounce back. And finally – what are the chances that we’ll be able to safely attend a live music even in 2021? Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Eras of Influence: Exploring the Sounds of the 1990s

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. Check out the introduction to the series here.

1990s: Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, No Doubt, Boyz II Men

As the 90s rolled around, I started to gain a little more autonomy. On occasion, my mom let me choose the radio station. On the schoolbus, someone might talk about a cool new song that had just hit the airwaves. And I would use these moments to begin stretching my wings into new sounds. To put it plainly, I grew a very quick interest in anything that had a guitar.

And the sound of a guitar in the 90s was distinct. While I didn’t yet have the chops to distinguish between different styles of rock, I frequently used the term alternative to describe my tastes. Alternative to what? I don’t think anyone my age really knew. But it was a sound and it made me feel cool. My mom didn’t listen to Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins. She feigned interest in No Doubt’s breakout single “Don’t Speak”, but not enough to explore the entirety of Tragic Kingdom. I held my cassette tape of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in special esteem. It had a swear word!

I remember how early sounds of the decade, in the form of groups like Ace of Base and TLC, blended the fleeting influence of the late 80s with something fresh and new that helped define the pop music of a new decade. A new wave of R&B sounds hit the radio in the form of Boyz II Men and All-4-One. The former’s third studio album II was owned by nearly everyone in my middle school.

During this period, my lawn-mowing and leaf-raking money was used almost exclusively on music – first on cassettes, then on CDs. My first compact disc, purchased in conjunction with a Discman, was Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere (yikes). Did I have to sit perfectly still to avoid my favorite songs skipping? Of course. But the days of rewinding and fast forwarding were over.

As much as I was able to stretch my own wings through the early and mid part of the decade, I still hadn’t found something that was quite my own. I was open to anything, by hadn’t quite pinpointed a sound or a scene that would engulf me. That would all change in 1997, which we’ll explore next time as my first clearly defined era of influence.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Eras of Influence: An Introduction to the Artists that Define My Musical Journey

If you’re a regular listener of our podcast, you’ve heard PopMatters’ Evan Sawdey speak about his concept of the “Imperial Period.” Essentially, the idea is that all great artists have a specific period of time in which they are not only creating their best art, but are also holding their greatest level of influence and general popularity. It’s a fun exercise to map out the imperial period of our favorite artists, but at some point during the doldrums of 2020, I began expanding the concept in a more personal direction.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve obviously developed a longer tail of musical interests. Music that was precious to me at one point in time now feels like eons ago. But nevertheless, my passion and interest in new music has followed me along. When looking back, I can define specific periods of my life by one central artist. Not that I listened exclusively to this artist, but that their music and influence rippled out in such a way that a specific sound or sentiment provided a sort of emotional arc to that stretch of my life.

And that brings us this inherently dumb exercise. What else are you supposed to do when you can’t leave the house?

Starting current day, I worked my way backward to dissect chunks of my life that feel tied to a specific artist. For example, when I think of the past five years, I can’t separate my interests and experience from Halsey. Her music, her art, her personality, her sound serve as the epicenter of influence for this period of my life, From there, my other main interests splinter out from that point. It’s not a math equation, but it’s definitely a real feeling that I can define when I close my eyes and think about how my mood moves me from song to song and artist to artist.

I’ve broken down the years of my life into chunks that can be defined by an artist, along with “honorable mentions” that serve as a kind of a second tier. The early years of my life have no central artist, because I was simply exploring music through the interests of my mom and eventually my friends. My first personal “era” began in 1997, which we’ll examine in full in a later installment.

For now, we’ll begin with the early years, which set the table for my own personal exploration. Many thanks to my mom, whose love of music (and sharing the music she loved) undoubtedly molded me into the person I am today in so many ways. So, without further ado, here goes nothing!

The 1980s: Michael Jackson, Genesis, Queen

My first memory of listening and enjoying music involves a cassette tape of Knee Deep in the Hoopla by Starship (formerly Jefferson Starship, formerly Jefferson Airplane). According to my mom, she purchased the tape after I continually showed interest in the singles “We Built This City” and “Sara” when they played on the radio. I remember playing the tape on a Walkman that my mom and I shared, rewinding to listen to “We Built This City” again and again. If I close my eyes, I can still almost feel the scratchy, puffy headphones over my ears and the gentle hum of the Walkman in my hands.

Those early years of my life were solely influenced by the music that my mom played. And she played music a LOT. In the house, in the car, on a boombox while we lounged in the backyard. The albums I remember the most are Bad by Michael Jackson, Invisible Touch by Genesis, and Queen’s Greatest Hits album. I remember how she used to play “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” as she drove me to tee-ball games.

In those early days of my life, I stayed at the home of a babysitter while my parents went to work. The woman whose home I stayed at had a teenage daughter. She would burst through the door each afternoon, drop her backpack on the floor, hop into a recliner, and turn the television to MTV. It was there that I saw the video for the aforementioned “We Built This City”, Jackson’s “Bad”, and his sister Janet’s “Rhythm Nation” and Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”. 

I soaked up every line and every note like a sponge. There was no going back and no alternative. Music wasn’t just going to be background noise in my journey through life. It was going to be an obsession.

Next, I’ll examine how the 90s helped me spread my wings and discover music I could call my own.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Tigers Jaw Finally End the Wait

I sit at the feet of Tigers Jaw, waiting patiently for the day they decide to toss an album into my eager, outstretched palms. Brianna Collins looks down at me in disgust; it has been three years of this waiting game. I Won’t Care How You Remember Me comes out on March 5th, so I will sit at the gates of the Tigers Jaw kingdom for two more months, hungrily feasting on each single and promotional photo they leave for me, the lowliest of listeners.

This is absolutely my most anticipated album of the year, and I’m glad that it’s a guaranteed release because I can’t take any more disappointment. I often insert my pipe dream albums in the most anticipated segment of the year, and it almost always ends up backfiring on me, so I’ve tried to stop. Tigers Jaw is one of the few bands that make my pipe dreams come true — a solid album every time. They have production god Will Yip on their side and that has always been to their absolute benefit.

Dramatic monologue aside, you obviously all saw this coming. I’ve seen Tigers Jaw play several shows and with each performance my love for their infectious pop rock grows. Each album is better than the last, and Spin (2017) has remained in my frequent listening pile since release day. Hopefully the latter half of 2021 will allow me to see them play the new tracks live, but who can even have any hope at this point? You can watch the videos for “Cat’s Cradle” and “Lemon Mouth” now, and the third single, “Hesitation” dropped on January 7th.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Lorde Travels to New Heights

Here is my biggest secret-not-a-secret of the past three years: I need Lorde to come back and grace us with another electro pop masterpiece. She was robbed of her Album of the Year by Bruno Mars (I wanted to jump through the TV and pull a Kanye, not gonna lie) after 2017’s Melodrama, and we have waited with bated breath to see what she would do next. 

She announced in November that she was releasing a book, Going South, a travel journal inspired by her trip to Antarctica in 2019, and one can’t help but wonder when a new album will follow. It sold out before I could even look at the preorder page, but I intend to pick it up when I can.

The proceeds for the book are going to fund a scholarship. I didn’t fully appreciate what we had in Lorde when Pure Heroine came out; I figured she would be another one-album-pop-star, but her music truly transcends genre, and I now consider her music timeless.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Weezer Become Kings of Rock

It can be tough being a Weezer fan sometimes. While they have some of the best rock albums of all time, there is a considerable amount that are not as good (looking at you, Black Album). However, the imminent release of Van Weezer and the rescheduled Hell Mega Tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy seems like a ripe time for the return of the glory days of Weezer’s guitar-heavy rock music.

Despite the clear inspiration of Van Halen on their sleeves, the singles released from Van Weezer offer a haunting return to the glorious “rock god” status of past albums. Lead single “The End of the Game” somehow uses a Van Halen-esque opening guitar riff to call back to the sound of past Weezer albums like The Green Album and Maladroit. 

If the rest of the album can maintain the energy and writing of the singles released so far, Van Weezer may be the best album the band has released in years. Weezer take a lot of big swings in their career, and while not all of them land, it’s always worth seeing what they’re doing. When one of their swings is purely to rile their fanbase into a moshing frenzy, it’s a moment that demands that fans remember just how high Weezer tower over the genre.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is staring deep into the eyes of a pinecone owl.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Travis Scott Blasts Off

It’s crazy to think that we’re over two years separated from Astroworld, the album that transformed Travis Scott from a rapper on the fringe of the zeitgeist to one of the biggest and most exciting voices in hip hop. It’s an album that somehow still feels underrated, despite its influence and omnipresence as a new summer staple. Scott has seized the opportunity to transform from musician to cultural icon. Did that McDonald’s thing actually happen? Yes, it did.

We do have an idea of what comes next, we just don’t know the exact time it will arrive. Scott announced Utopia last October, which has already seen singles in the form of “Highest in the Room” and “Franchise” featuring M.I.A. and Young Thug – one of the most unsung tracks of 2020. We can expect that Scott will bring the house down with Utopia, but what are we to expect in terms of tone? Astroworld dazzled in its theme park presentation and could easily exist as a standalone effort in that regard. Could Utopia trend darker?

We’ll have to wait to see, but hopefully not too long. Although we’re just in the beginning of the cold winter season, we’ll soon be looking for some spring and summer soundtracks when we’re all hopefully be able to, like, go outside and do things again. And when it happens, I can’t wait to play Travis Scott at full blast.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Panic! At the Disco Claim the Dancefloor

Check out our podcast episode breaking down our most anticipated music of 2021!

It’s been almost three years since Panic! At the Disco released the absolutely stellar Pray For The Wicked, but Brendon Urie isn’t one to sit idle for too long. Coming off the high of what is arguably Panic’s best record, it’s hard to imagine that anything can top Pray For The Wicked. 

Fortunately though, Brendon Urie is full of surprises. Having brought Panic! back from the brink of collapse, expanded the band’s sound in unimaginable ways and lifted the group to become one of the world’s biggest acts over the last decade, he isn’t one to take lightly. With each album carrying a distinct and unique persona and sound, it’s hard not to be excited for whatever comes next.

Panic! At the Disco is a band that universally delivers in a way that almost no other musical act can. Whatever Urie has planned for the band’s seventh album, it’s destined to once again push the band’s boundaries and force other pop acts to up their game just to keep up.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and sneezed, then his cat sneezed, then he sneezed again. A sign of the end times or just exceptional timing between man and beast? The answer, is yes.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Julien Baker Brings Healing

Phoebe Bridgers gave me my album of 2020, so her friend Julien Baker has some shoes to fill with Little Oblivions, slated for February 26th. Her gentle instrumentation and grating lyricism in the first single, “Faith Healer” is a great first taste of what we can expect from her third studio album. She plays almost every instrument this time around and I’m interested in hearing her perspective with a richer sound.

Having recently been thrown into an unexpected time of loss, I’m excited for the balm I know Julien’s album will be. Her juxtaposition of religion and reality has always been grounding and a good reminder that it will get better, whatever “better” ends up meaning.

Her music, while deeply personal for her, has been a great source of what I think of as “responsible escapism” — the idea that leaning into media and art that that highlights our emotional state is paramount to healing.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.