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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Forecastle 2014: Keeping Louisville Weird

forecastle_splash

Keep Louisville Weird. It’s the unofficial slogan of a city that prides itself in being different – championing its local shops and eateries, embracing its odd and quirky layout, and advocating its diversity and idiosyncrasies.

It’s not surprising that the city’s own Forecastle Festival, started just over a decade ago, embraces all of the above. Once the little brother of the summer festival circuit, Forecastle has quickly grown from a small local music celebration to a full-blown art, activism and music extravaganza, complete with bigger names, brighter lights and crazier crowds.

Although the scale of the event has changed dramatically since its 2002 inception, one thing has remained unsurprisingly static: Forecastle is undeniably Louisville.

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forecastle onlookers

The great lawn

As a former Louisvillian who resided in the city during many of Forecastle’s growing years, I was always impressed with the festival’s diligence to keep things local. As Forecastle’s lineups have continued to balloon, marked this year by the inclusion of Outkast, Jack White and Beck, I was intrigued to make a return and observe the fully realized event.

If you were to classify Forecastle in years past, you might be inclined to label the festival’s musical focus as indie, folk or bluegrass. No more. While those genres are certainly represented, the full lineup spans an array of musical sounds, from electro-pop (St. Lucia, Kygo) to hip hop (Outkast) to punk (Against Me!, The Replacements) to country (Dwight Yoakam).

This combination of eclectic music and big name headliners has resulted in larger crowds and increased exposure. However, with crowds flocking from across the country, it’s clear that Forecastle has made no compromises to its overall vision. Instead, the overall feel of the festival itself has been amplified, making it quite possibly the most peculiar and unique summer festival around.

Squallis Puppeteers

Squallis Puppeteers

Louisville’s art scene is in full force, and is not contained to one area, but instead invades the waterfront area from every direction. The Squallis puppeteers venture around the festival grounds with odd creatures and familiar Louisville natives. On day one, a large marooned ship appears to be a prop, but instead becomes an ongoing art project with various artists contributing paint and stylings as the weekend progresses.

Tents are interspersed throughout the grounds featuring artwork for sale, blended with various non-profit and activism opportunities and organizations. The newly added Kentucky Landing offers up the best of Kentucky-made goods and cuisine, putting the best of the Commonwealth on display.

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Bourbon Lodge

Indeed, it’s hard to find another festival with as many eatery options. In place of the typical and often grossly unhealthy fair food found at most venues, Forecastle offers up local eats to satisfy just about everyone (I personally recommend the vegan red beans and rice). Likewise, the drink options are far from scarce. The Bourbon Lounge offers bourbon connoisseurs member-only access to some of the finest whiskey in the area, while Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine serves up options for those more drawn to the sweeter side.

It’s hard to look in any direction and not be drawn to something of a local flavor. This speaks volumes to Forecastle’s overall mission and determination to keep the festival as a beacon of what Louisville has to offer. In truth, the city’s populace likely wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Even though Forecastle is a music festival, one could easily distract himself or herself with the curious surroundings and activities. Nonetheless, the festival’s 2014 lineup is one for the ages and will likely cement Forecastle as a nationally recognized event in the years to come. With an opening night featuring one of the most lauded comeback acts of the year in Outkast, there’s no denying the pull.

Friday’s lineup featured a number of fresh faces for the massive crowd. Against Me! made their first Forecastle appearance with a bang, fresh off the heels of their latest release, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Local Natives followed on the Boom Stage with their catchy, melodic brand of indie rock, led by vocalist Taylor Rice.

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Twenty One Pilots

Perhaps the most odd appearance of the weekend belonged to Twenty One Pilots, who turned the grounds into a dance party with their indietronica/hip-hop hybrid. While not the typical cup of tea for most Forecastle-goers, it’s evident that the festival is more than willing to widen its doors to the pop world and its fans.

However, it’s no surprise that Friday night belonged to Outkast. Recently reunited, the duo promised a slew of festival dates around the globe to celebrate their return in 2014. Forecastle attendees were treated to an hour and 40 minute set that featured every major song in the band’s catalogue and then some. With one of the most impressive live productions you’ll witness, Andre 3000 and Big Boi lit up the night sky on the waterfront and proved why they’re considered hip-hop royalty.

Jack White

Jack White

Other highlights from the weekend included hour and a half sets from the likes of indie rock giants Band of Horses, country legend Dwight Yoakam and a surprise appearance from Billie Joe Armstrong during The Replacements’ set. Not to be outdone by Outkast’s giant Friday night performance was the one and only Jack White, fresh off the release of his latest solo effort, Lazaretto. White shredded through Saturday night with a setlist filled with newer solo material, White Stripes hits and a few Raconteurs tracks thrown in for good measure.

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It’s hard not to be impressed with the sheer scale of this year’s Forecastle Festival. Even more impressive is that the city of Louisville lies at the heart of every move and every moment. It makes sense that this city would refuse to follow in the footsteps of the other major summer festivals and instead blaze its own trail. The fact that it does so with its own residents, artists and musicians leading the way is truly admirable.

So what lies ahead for Forecastle? One could imagine an ever-growing lineup of big name artists while still making room for the usual suspects and local talent amidst an expanding audience. If the steady growth of recent years is any indication, it won’t be long before Forecastle is mentioned alongside the likes of Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. In the meantime, it’s still a wonderful sight to see this hometown festival liven up the Louisville waterfront more and more with each passing year.

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Is Outkast reuniting in 2014?

outkast1

After speculation earlier this week that Outkast might reunite for a performance at Coachella 2014, evidence has surfaced today that Outkast may indeed be reuniting for a full tour next year. Check out the video from RevoltTV below:

Next year marks the 20 year anniversary since the band’s debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Outkast has been on hiatus since 2007.

Believe the news? What’s your favorite Outkast album? Let us know in the replies.

posted by Kiel Hauck