I propose a new metric for determining if a group is mainstream, called the White Woman Test. I’m not talking about any White Woman. I’m talking about the type of White Woman who, as Patrice O’Neal said, would make national news if she went missing. She wears pastel blouses and white capris. She has over ten syllables in her order at Starbucks and her heart beats to the rhythm of Taylor Swift’s latest record. If this breed of White Woman can sing along to at least two of a group’s songs, then said group passes the White Woman test.
Outkast may be the first rap act to pass the test because of radio hits like “Mrs. Jackson,” “B.O.B.,” “I Like the Way You Move,” “Hey Ya,” “Roses,” and “Rosa Parks.” As a result of the supreme quality of their hits, many of their fans know little of their discography beyond what they have heard on the radio. They are a rare breed of Hip-Hop artists who can rock the house parties of the suburbs while still maintaining an undeniable authenticity.
The other side of Outkast’s fans are the diehards. They tend to be older than the first group. They remember when Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik changed the face of Southern Rap. They remember Outkast journeying from obscure to legendary through the releases of ATLiens, Aquemini, and Stankonia. They shared in the triumph when Speakerboxx/The Love Below became the first Hip-Hop album to win Album of the Year. Their go-to song for setting the mood is “SpottieOttieDopalicious.” When they get dressed up for a night on the town, “So Fresh, So Clean” plays in their head. To them, Andre’s second verse on “Aquemini” rivals anything by Whitman and Frost. They were inspired by the group’s head-on confrontation of black stereotypes. Outkast provided the soundtrack to their adolescence and shaped them into the adults that they are today.
These two factions of Outkast’s fandom clashed at Coachella last week and nobody left happy. The casual fans, tired and dusty from a long day of “festival activities,” were impatiently waiting for hits that came late in the setlist. These casuals distracted the old guard who were displeased with their improper reverence. Andre was uncomfortable and sang most of “Hey Ya” with his back to the audience. Big Boi, a consummate professional, did his best to keep the crowd’s spirits buoyed, but in the end, their performance was drowned by the lofty and conflicting expectations for the show.
Perhaps Outkast did not recognize that festivals come with an inherently diverse crowd. There were audience members who only knew their biggest hits, and Daddy Fat Sax and 3k should have started their show off with these hits in order to placate the casuals and get the energy up. Then, after the casual fans have either been won over or departed in search of other acts, they can plunge into the deeper cuts that the true fans are dying to see.
In this way, there are no casual fans grumbling that “they don’t know this song,” and no diehards grumbling about the grumbling. This style of arranging a setlist does not compromise artistic integrity, it allows for everyone to unite over the love of their music, instead of pitting fans against one another.
The world is a better place when Outkast is together and performing live. Their contributions to music are incalculable, but their prime has passed. In the ten years since their break-up, music has progressed without them. Their albums are no longer ingrained into the subconscious of the youth.
Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones once defined their generations. Then, they aged and the direction of music went away from them. However, they still tour successfully because they altered their live sets to accommodate audiences that did not live through their primes, but experienced their music second-hand.
Andre 3000 and Big Boi must follow in the footsteps of these legends and come to grips with their new place in the music environment, as they near their fortieth birthdays.
In the immortal words of Andre 3000, The South got something to say.
And everyone needs to hear, even the White Women.
Follow John on Twitter @FlynnDecent