In seriously envy-inducing news, Armstrong State University now has an OutKast course. Who isn't thinking they went to college about a decade too early now? The course is titled "OutKast and the Rise of the Hip-Hop South" and Professor Regina Bradley told the Savannah Morning News that she has "tried to find ways to connect" African-American literature and pop culture, because "often, students get most of their information, their outlook from how they engage in popular culture.”
The course, which will discuss how "ideas about the South and southernness seep into other Southern writers," has been designed to be equally welcoming to newcomers and hip-hop fans alike. Bradley stated about her fully-subscribed class,
“I also don’t want to overlook or shun the folks who aren’t familiar with hip-hop at all. I'm pretty sure I have a couple of folks in there who have no clue who Outkast is or don’t listen to hip-hop at all, which is why they’re there — they want to learn something different.
Aww, could this inspiring professor get any better? She's even outlined what the final assignment she'll grade the class on will be:
“Their final project is doing a paper that’s 12-15 pages … for what I call a ‘nerdy hip-hop review, they’ll take an album of their choice — preferably an Outkast album — and give a discussion of the themes and what they hear.”
Even Big Boi, one half of the iconic duo, tweeted his approval.
So if you were to take this course, which OutKast album should you review? Let me be clear. I'm not stating that the album I suggest here is my choice for OutKast's best album — that's too hard to call. I'm stating which one I'd personally write on in terms of its influence on the "hip-hop south." If you wanted to take the easy option, a mere googling of the phrase of the course leads you to Bradley's own impeccable dissection of ATLiens' wider significance. But I think Aquemini is every bit as worthy of consideration.
After all, The Inkwell, Armstrong State University's newspaper cited Bradley as saying she finds OutKast to be a prime example of "Post-Civil Rights Southern Black aesthetics." If we're considering civil rights and what came after, then an album with the song "Rosa Parks" on it is a great pick to dissect. After all, this was a song, which melded one of the most significant moments in African-American history with a scathing dismissal of OutKast's competition, and led to Parks actually filing a lawsuit against OutKast (and then against BMG, Arista Records LLC, and LaFace Records after they failed to ask her permission to use her name). According to Billboard, the suit was dismissed in 2005.
This song showcases how OutKast emphasized their Southern heritage (you know this, but just in case: Parks refused to give up her seat while on a bus in Alabama) and went right ahead and used harmonica in the song, potentially to emphasize their regionalism. The track shows how they depicted themselves as being a natural result of all the history that had happened before them, criticizing their competition in a way that recalls the indignities of the African-American experience in the '50s ("Ah huh, hush that fuss / Everybody move to the back of the bus.") and made history while doing so, being the "first Southern hip-hop album to earn the coveted five-mic rating from the former bible of the genre, The Source magazine."
The musicians who helped out on the album were as much of a celebration of the South as the songs themselves. Cee Lo Green, who was known for being part of the Southern hip-hop collective the Goodie Mob; Sleepy Brown, who comes from Savannah, Georgia; and the South Central Chamber Orchestra all contributed to the end result.
Despite some epic googling, I can't find any writers Bradley has name-checked to feature in the course — but if I was in the course (have you noticed that I really wish I was in this course yet?), there's definitely a comparison to be made between OutKast's overlap between sci-fi themes and the gritty reality of Atlanta life in the album and Paul Beatty’s recent novel The Sellout, which has a similar juxtaposition between the super weird, ultra real and depressing state of African-American life in post-civil rights America. Just sayin'. Though I've just realized Beatty hails from California, not the South, so OK, maybe I'd have failed this class.
Phew. I might have got too overexcited. But this course sounds incredible and you should definitely, definitely write about Aquemini, OK?