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OutKast, Pitchfork, and Being Right by Accident

 

Apologies for the interruption, [Memo to self: Must. Learn. To write. Less. But more. Often.] I've been busy. So have the people at Pitchfork, who've compiled a big list of the best music of the 00s. I dunno - rock mags and their lists, eh? Looks like I'm not the only one struggling to come to terms with the new demands the medium places on the material, if a future-proofed title still needs to resort to such tried-and-tested print-mag-in-a-quiet-week means of drumming up reader interest. Anyway, rather than find fault with their list - that would simply be to fall into their trap, after all - I'd like to applaud it. Or, at least, their Number One selection. Obviously, all such notions are similarly subjective and equally meaningless, but I like the idea of OutKast's Bombs Over Baghdad as the best song of the decade. What I don't like quite so much is that Pitchfork make such a hash of justifying their choice.

I'm not a big Pitchfork reader - I like the fact that it's there, but most of the stuff they cover leaves me cold - but, hey, horses for courses. I was reminded why I don't read it more often, yet still surprised, by the entries on the few of their Top 20 I know or care for. Maybe their approach suits the times, where (I suspect) the most ardent music fans are becoming accumulators of vast collections which they listen to - and I don't necessarily mean this perjoratively - more superficially than one would to a collection where financial resources constrained its breadth and size. But I find the concentration on sound and style over content to be bizarre. Is it really enough to just talk about music in such surface-level terms? Are we really content to claim life-altering brilliance for records we make such limited attempts to engage with in any depth, such scant effort to understand?

Example: in his entry about Jay-Z's 99 Problems (No 14), Mark Pytlik discusses the record in the context of Jigga's evolution as a mainstream figure, but doesn't look at all at what the song means. Fair enough, there's only so much space and it's not a review, but that's one of Jay's finest, most expertly crafted lyrics, and it seems perverse, when making the case for its greatness as a piece of music, to ignore the words. Another example: Matthew Perpetua rightly raves about Crazy In Love (No 4), but praises the sonics without acknowledging that the whole thing's just a sample from a relatively obscure early '70s song (which in itself was a complete rip of Sly Stone's steez): you'd have thought the fact that the fourth-best record of the decade being solely reliant on an unfeted moment from 33 years prior might have merited at least half a sentence.

I'm sure Pitchfork know their audience, and it's an audience sizeable enough to justify their decisions about scope and tone. But I still felt that Stuart Berman's piece about B.O.B. could have made its case much more strongly if it had looked at the song less in terms of its genre-spanning ambitions and more about what it actually means. It's by no means 'wrong' to talk about the "synapse-bursting stream of ripped-from-the-headlines buzzwords", but to imply that that's all there is to that dazzling lyric demeans the song.

Thanks to a bit of Twitter chatter with Dorian Lynskey about B.O.B. and what it means, I looked up the transcripts of interviews I did with Andre 3000 and Big Boi in 2003 a couple of months before the release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (they were, at that stage, conducting their interviews individually) because I remembered both of them discussing that song. Big Boi talked about it in a more immediate way, but in passing - as part of the build-up, politically and conceptually, to the strident anti-war, anti-Bush lyrics of his own Tick Tick Boom. (And it's worth bearing in mind that when he was saying this stuff - August '03 - it was still all but impossible to find a maintream American musician speaking in such strident terms, either about WMD or about the 2000 election.) Andre explained how sound and subject came together in the song, and talked about how and why he wrote it. So I thought I'd publish that material here, as my way, maybe, of endorsing Pitchfork's choice, even if not finding myself persuaded by their reasoning.

 

[Click the DVD cover for the B.O.B. video: sorry, haven't worked out how to do embedding yet.]


Big Boi: At the time that I wrote Tick Tick Boom, the whole election was going on with Gore and Bush, and I sat there and watched such a big scandal. Every day on CNN, on Fox News Network, on News World International, just watching the controversy, and just watching the election basically be snatched. And I was outraged, because, after that, it seemed like September 11th happened right after that, took all the focus off it, and that shit was swept under the rug, so I was mad! I was like, 'Don't these motherfuckas see what's goin' on? I know I'm not the only one that sees it. But... I know what I'll do. I'll go in the studio, my microphone has such a big voice that it can reach the world, so I'll talk about this'. So I talked about it. And not really expressing pros and cons, I'm really just laying shit on the table and saying, 'Here it is, think about it'. And making people think: 'Damn, why he saying this?' The election was took, the Republicans got it, September 11th happened, we went to Iraq because they had nuclear, chemical, biological weapons: we went in, ransacked the country, and we didn't find shit! Nobody's sayin' nothing! What the fuck's going on? I'm like, man, more people have to talk out about stuff, man. Because the whole basis for them going over there was to find weapons of mass destruction, and they found nothin'.

AB: How did you feel while that war was going on, knowing you were the guy who made Bombs Over Baghdad?

Big Boi: It was almost a premonition, man. With us, we watch and listen and learn as much as the next man. At the time [B.O.B. was written] we were in Europe, actually. They were bombin' cow pastures and, you know, all this rhetoric about a 'war', and they wasn't hittin' any military targets. There wasn't anything bein' gained from that shit. So we said something about it, sparked a little something, and then your man Bush comes in, 'They got weapons of mass destruction...' We ain't even found Osama Bin Laden yet! Why we gonna go start something else when we haven't even found the first shit that happened?! It's kinda crazy and backwards and now it's really a slap in the face, all the people who supported 'em goin' over to war because they had everybody scared like they were gonna use a nuclear weapon on us, and this, that and the third, and nothing's happened. But we got the oil, though! The first thing they did, before they delivered any food or Red Cross help to the people, was secured the fuckin' oil wells. It wasn't about protecting the people or getting the man out of power at first, they went to secure the oil. I looked at Bush on TV and he said 'Do. Not. Burn. The oil fields.' What the fuck, man! Come on, man! America, are you fuckin' dumb?

---

Andre 3000: "I actually started it on the back of a tour bus. The song was a title before it was anything. It had no music or lyrics, I just wrote it down on a piece of paper and put it in my pocket, because I knew it was a dope title. And the actual... when I first did the track for Bombs Over Baghdad it was called IFOs, UFOs at first. Identified... IFOs, UFOs. And it sounded like Bombs Over Baghdad after a while: it just sounded fierce.

AB: I read you were very influenced by drum & bass.

Andre: Right. The tempos of drum & bass. Actually, we were over in London when I got the title, Bombs Over Baghdad, because it was in the news.

AB: It's a title that's open to lots of interpretations.

Andre: Right.

AB: To me, it's always seemed that that song is basically saying, 'don't front'.

Andre: Exactly. That's what it is. But it was a connotation for music. It had nothing to do with the war really. It was symbolism saying, what's going on in Baghdad where, at the time, the US were bombing Baghdad, but they were bombing on the outskirts - warning shots, or something like that. So that's what I took, that's what ran round my head: warning shots. I felt that's what people in music were doing. They wasn't really doing anything - it was just warning shots. Everybody was kind of like playing around, too easy and too calm and all that type of stuff. So Bombs Over Baghdad was really like a slap in the face, kind of. To wake everybody up. It was, 'Don't pull your thang out unless you came to bang' - Hey, don't get in the ring, don't do this, unless you want to do it. It was a reaction to what was goin' on. At that time it was about, 'We all playas, and we in the club with the champagne'. Everything was smooth, everybody was, like, cool, and I was, 'No, nah, it ain't there'. So it was a reaction to that. I wanted to hear something fierce, and urgent.

AB: Did you ever stop to think, 'I don't know if I'm gonna be able to take anybody with me on this trip'?

Andre: Yeah, but that only happens, like, right now [between finishing the record and release date]. When we're doin' it, when we're actually recording the music and making it, I don't even think about none o' that, but now it's the scary time. Like, right before Stankonia came out, you get terrified, because you always know that you're on the edge, and you can either fall off or you can fly.





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