Hip-hop has many great storytellers, but OutKast is one group that have made it an art form. Throughout the their illustrious career, the Atlanta duo of André 3000 and Big Boi have created several engaging songs that deal with everyday life in the ’hood.
’Kast’s very first single, “Player’s Ball” in 1993, is a prime example of that. The song features ’Dré and Big Boi recapping their daily activities in the ’hood on Christmas Day. By their second album, ATLiens, in 1996, the rap tandem started to deliver more detailed storylines in their songs. On “Elevators (Me and You),” ’Dre’ recounts a word-for-word conversation with a fan who asked him about his newfound fame.
Some of OutKast’s storytelling tracks deal with personal struggles, too. Their most well-known song “Ms. Jackson” deals with baby mama drama while "Toilet Tisha" is a grim tale of a 14-year-old girl dealing with her unwanted pregnancy. Both songs can be heard on their Grammy Award-winning 2000 project, Stankonia.
André and Big Boi look inward with their own stories. Three Stacks’ "A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)" and General Patton’s “The Train” are both autobiographical tales of their lives and storied rap careers. In short, Dré and Big Boi are creative storytellers.
On the 24th anniversary of the release of OutKast's second album, ATLiens, XXL takes a look at the dynamic duo's storytelling songs and highlight their striking lyrics that will make you run it back after listening to them. Check them out for yourself below.
OutKast’s 1993 single “Player’s Ball” was not only rap fans’ first induction to the Atlanta duo, but it was also their first of many memorable storytelling tracks in their illustrious careers. The Organized Noize-produced song features André 3000 and Big Boi detailing their daily activities on Christmas Day. For Dré, it’s about hitting the block with his .22 pistol in his waist. “So I begin to piece my two and two together/Gots no snowy weather, have to find something to do better, bet/I said subtract, so shut up that, nonsense about some ‘Silent Night’/I gots it crunk, if it ain't real, ain't right,” he spits.
Meanwhile, Big Boi cruises in his Cadillac and sees what the day will bring. “I hit the parks, I hit the cuts, I'm hitting switches,” he raps. “’Cause I'm switching from side to side looking for hoes and snitches.” “[We talked] about what we do on Christmas, ’cause we really didn’t celebrate Christmas like that,” Big Boi told Vinyl Me Please about the song in 2019. “And we just talked about what we did: be at the Dungeon, go get some bud, make some music, get a bottle, and just kick it with the Dungeon Family.”
"Elevators (Me and You)" is a banger from their second album, ATLiens. From the hypnotic drums to the moody bass guitar, the 1996 song draws you into André and Big Boi's introspective rhymes about their daily lives. Three Stacks' standout fourth verse is the most memorable as he tells a story about his interaction with a fan who questioned him about his newfound fame. Dre explains to the person that although he's famous, he still has to work even harder as the next guy who lives check-to-check because fame does not always guarantee prosperity.
On the 2019 AMC program Hip-Hop: Songs That Shook America, former LaFace Records founder L.A. Reid, who signed OutKast, acknowledged that Andre was always the reluctant superstar. "He understood everything about it," he explained. "He understood what it meant musically, what it meant aesthetically, what it meant as a responsible role model. I think he completely understood stardom but I think he was still a little reluctant to really go. But even with his reluctance, he became one of the most important artists ever and that's what really moves me."
The Aquemini track "Spottieottiedopaliscious" features André and Big Boi recounting their youthful days of getting drunk and going to the clubs in Atlanta. On Big Boi's poetic verse, he recalls a casual meeting with a woman in the club who eventually becomes the mother of his first child. "One moment you frequent the booty clubs/And the next four years, you and somebody's daughter raisin' y'all own young'n now that's a beautiful thang," he states on the horn-blaring tune.
André's verse is more direr as he recounts a night of getting drunk and witnessing a club melee that involved guns and knives. "But in actuality, it's only about 3 a.m./And three niggas just don' got hauled off in the ambulance (sliced up)/Two niggas don' start bustin' (Wham! Wham!)/And one nigga done took his shirt off, talkin' 'bout now who else wanna fuck with Hollywood Cole?/It's just my interpretation of the situation," he testifies.
"This is how the night happened for real: I was so drunk I didn't make into [club] Charles," Three Stacks told Creative Loafing in 2010 about his verse. "So all the stuff I said after that was made up. But I remember saying to Big Boi, I'm so drunk I cannot leave this van. That's the real story."
One of the group's most well-known storytelling track is "Ms. Jackson," from their 2000 Grammy Award-winning project, Stankonia. The song, produced by the duo under their production aliases Earthtone III (with Mr DJ), is André's apologetic ode to his then-girlfriend Erykah Badu's mother for their breakup after the birth of their child, Seven Sirius Benjamin. For the record, Badu's mother's real name is Kolleen Maria Wright, not Ms. Jackson.
In a 2016 interview with Okayplayer, Ms. Wright acknowledged that André was talking about her in the song. However, she didn't know whether he was dissing her or not. "I didn't know what to think," she told the website. "I had to listen to it over and over because first I had to figure out if I was being insulted—I had to figure out what vein it was in! I didn't know, because—with a lot of music during that time—I didn't know where it was coming from, because that wasn't my genre of music. After I listened to it and listened to it I said, 'Oh, this might not be too bad. This might be harmless; this might be apologetic, this may be okay.’ So when I felt that it wasn't being an insult or disrespectful, then I kind of settled into it.”
"A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)"
The 2003 classic double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below features several storytelling gems from both André and Big Boi. On the Love Below side, Three Stacks delivered his autobiographical track, "A Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete)." What is so fascinating about the song is André's poetic rhymes of his early beginnings with OutKast and his love affair with ex-girlfriend Erykah Badu all told in a five-minute verse without a catchy hook or chorus. In his verse about Badu, Dré details how he met the singer at a New York club and was entranced by her beauty. "Now you know her as Erykah 'On and On' Badu/Call Tyrone on the phone, 'Why you do that girl like that, boy? You ought to be ashamed'/The song wasn't about me and that ain't my name," he details on the song.
The subtitle of "Incomplete" is also significant as Dré revealed in a 2012 GQ interview that the song was actually not finished. "We were up like three days straight drinking Red Bull or whatever, finishing that album," he recalled to the men's mag. "I just knew I wanted to put that on there, but it wasn't done, but it was enough."
Big Boi's song "The Train" appears on OutKast's 2006 album, Idlewild. On the melodic, jazzy tune, General Patton narrates the high and lows of his storied rap career. In his first verse, he details his early beginnings as one-half of OutKast. "Then that Southernplayalistic went platinum/Stacks on deck, they ain't tell us to pay our taxes," he recalls on the tune. The ATL rapper then segues into a story about mourning the loss of his beloved Aunt Renee (he also talked about the passing of his Aunt Renee on the ATLiens track, "Babylon."). "And then my auntie passed, she was like my mother, I was feeling it/The first person close to me to die, I needed healing," he eulogizes.
The MC wraps it up on the third verse with his thoughts of possibly hanging up the microphone. "And now it's time to say goodbye, they should've turned me loose/I was all about my team but now I call upon my crew/I'm a family type of person but I'm deadly dolo too," he states. Of course, Big Boi did not quit the rap game. Instead, he pushed forward and built a successful rap career as a solo artist.
"Da Art of Storytellin' (Parts 1 & 2)"
When it comes to the art of storytelling, André and Big Boi are experts at it. On their self-produced song, “Da Art of Storytellin’,” from their stellar Aquemini album, the duo share their stories about two promiscuous women named Suzy Screw and Sasha Thumper, respectively. For Big Boi, Screw was a memorable quickie at a mall parking lot. “I caught her in the mall, wearing a real tight skirt/She was fine as fuck; I wanted to sex the ho up,” he recalls on the song. “She said, ‘Let's hit the parking lot so I can sick your duck’/I said, 'Cool, I really wanted to cut you but this'll do/I gotta pick up my daughter, plus my baby mama beeped me, too."
Meanwhile, Thumper was Dre’s childhood crush who tragically succumbed to drugs. “I kept on singing my song and hoping at a show/That I would one day see her standing in the front row/But two weeks later, she got found in the back of a school/With a needle in her arm, baby two months due, Sasha Thumper,” he raps.
The follow-up track, "Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 2),” features Three Stacks and General Patton spitting some of the fieriest verses of their careers. Both songs showcase the duo's attention-grabbing lyrical skills.
"B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)" OutKast
OutKast’s “B.O.B (Bombs Over Baghdad)” is their bombastic (pun intended) track from Stankonia. The song perfectly blends rock, drum-and-bass and hip-hop to create a sonic masterpiece that will jolt you in your ears. André’s cautionary hooks, “Don’t pull the thang out, unless you plan to bang/Don’t even bang unless you plan to hit something,” are among the memorable lines on the booming track.
While some people view “B.O.B.” as a pro-war rallying cry, Big Boi told The Los Angeles Times in 2003 that it’s actually an anti-war commentary against then-President George Bush, Jr. for his decision to invade Iraq. However, the ATL rhymer conceded that if the song boosts the morale of soldiers fighting in Iraq, he’s cool with that. “You have guys over there with families here, and you have to support the troops and pray for them,” he told the newspaper. “So, if the song helps them keep their spirits up, I don’t have a problem with that.” Produced by ‘Kast themselves, under their production banner Earthtone III (with Mr. DJ), Dré wanted to create a new sound that would get people charged up in the clubs. “If you make it hard, with feeling and lyrics on top, it’s a new type of music,” he told Rolling Stone in 2000. “We call it slumadelic—slum dance music. That way they can understand it.”
Dubbed unofficially as “The Art of Storytellin’ (Part 3),” the narrative track “Knowing” appears on Big Boi's Speakerboxxx side. It's a compelling story about a woman named Wanda who falls victim to the street life. On the second verse, Big Boi recounts Wanda robbing a trick for his jewelry, which ultimately leads to her downfall. “She would charge and rob, pick through your pockets/She got the trick's watch and the silver locket/That he bought for his wife but Wanda left her license/On the nightstand fuckin' with this white man,” he vividly details on the song. “Every action has a positive and equal reaction/Therefore everything that goes around comes around in that fashion/Fast and furiously, there was a knock on the sliding glass door/ (Bitch, it's me!/You thought you was slick the way you hit me for that lick/But you slipped, now I'm getting in your shit!).” The song is another adept display of Big Boi’s flawless storytelling skills.
"Toilet Tisha" is a somber storytelling track on OutKast's Stankonia album. The song details a 14-year-old girl's ill-fated ordeal after she had an unwanted pregnancy. "Have you heard the news today?" André raps poetically on the song. "They say a little 14-year-old girl had a baby on the way/Too much for her little mind to bear/And that type of news to her mama she cannot spare." On the second verse, Big Boi delivers a eulogy for Tisha who took her own life. "You see Tisha had issues/And her decision-making skills were still in its early stages, you know what I'm talkin' about/Therefore she could not properly handle a blessing in which she thought to be an obstacle in her path to adulthood, pause," he states.
Although it's a heartbreaking story to listen to, it's a brilliant piece of storytelling. Dré and Big Boi's solemn words in remembrance of Tisha will hold your attention. "We're just trying to make music for the times," stated André in a December 2000 interview with XXL Magazine. "We're trying to show the subculture. People in the streets losing their minds—that's the tempo."
Another fan favorite from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, “Roses” is OutKast’s engaging tale about an uppity woman named Caroline who “thinks her shit don’t stink,” according to André 3000. “Caroline (Caroline), see, Caroline all the guys would say she's mighty fine (mighty fine)/But mighty fine only got you somewhere half the time/And the other half either got you/Cussed out or coming up short,” he rap-sings on the song. On the second verse, Three Stacks jokingly wishes something terrible would happen to her. Meanwhile, on the third verse, Big Boi recalls his rude interaction with Caroline. “When I met her at a party, she was hardly acting naughty/I said, ‘Shorty, would you call me?’/She said, ‘Pardon me, are you balling?’/I said, ‘Darling, you sound like a prostitute pausing,’” he raps in response to her shitty attitude. The accompanying music video borrows heavily from cult musical films Grease and West Side Story as Dré and Big Boi are high school rivals competing for the affection of Caroline.