Words by:

At the end of last week, news emerged that a college class about OutKast was being offered at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia.

Languages, Literature and Philosophy professor Dr. Regina Bradley is offering the course which is entitled ‘OutKast and the Rise of the Hip-Hop South’. Savannah is also the birthplace of Big Boi so there is a particular relevance to the course at this college. In a recent interview, Big Boi told Creative Loafing that it was “an honor to be studied.”

As we aren’t in a position to emigrate, apply and enrol onto Dr. Bradley’s class, we spoke to her about the ideas behind the class and what made OutKast cast such an enduring Southern spell.

Hi Dr. Bradley! Give us a little background on your ‘OutKast and the Rise of the Hip-Hop South’ course…

The class is slated as an upperclass ‘Special Topics in African American Literature’ seminar course. I initially pitched it as a means to stay on track with completing my book on OutKast. We will be exploring how OutKast’s body of work can be used to help us update social-cultural conversations about Southern black experiences in the American South after the Civil Rights Movement.

How do you think the southernness of Andre and Big Boi impacted the Southern writers and rappers that came after them?

First, André gave the rallying cry at the 1995 Source Awards – “The South got something to say.” That opened the door for southern artists to show and prove what exactly that meant. He didn’t say “Atlanta got something to say.” He said the South. As OutKast developed their sound and their work progressed, they moved away from thinking about the south as a physical space and moved more towards southernness as a cultural concept. I think this is how they continued the literary and cultural trajectory of southern writers: southernness is mobile, malleable, and open to interpretation according to one’s particular experiences.

How, if at all, do you think OutKast have influenced the “New Atlanta” (Migos, Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan et al)?

I’m actually thinking through this question as I wrap up my book but the whimsicality and experimental nature of these artists, especially Young Thug, can be traced back to OutKast’s experimentation with fashion, sound, etc. 

Could you tell me a little bit about the final project for students in the course?

Because the course is an upperclass English seminar, students will submit a 12-15 page original research essay that addresses the themes of the course. Students will follow an abbreviated model of traditional academic peer review – the submission of a research prospectus, blind peer review of their work, and a workshop to help them continue to develop their paper into a publishable essay.

From a linguistic point of view, what do you think makes OutKast so distinctive in the landscape of African American literature?

I’m not a linguist, but their regionally-oriented use of language, particularly the use and creation of Atlanta slang, demands attention. As a cultural and literary scholar, I am interested in how they challenge popular conceptions of southern blackness as rural, backwards, and tragic. They often parody these elements in their music via skits, their music videos, etc. OutKast is important because they blend and bend southernness as a cultural concept. They complicate what it means to be southern and black.

What sort of role do you think OutKast’s music can play in the lives of young people hoping to become more politically engaged?

I love that OutKast showed balance in their work: they could be serious and address issues of class and racism and turn around and rap/sing about joy and having a good time. Black joy is also protest and resistance. 

What’s your personal favourite OutKast track or album? Tell me a little bit about your personal relationship with their music.

For the record, I hate this question! 

When I’m down, it’s In Due Time or Liberation. If I wanna ride, I love Hootie Hoo and Gangsta Sh*t. I cheat between ATLiens and Aquemini as my favorite albums. When I did my online series OutKasted Conversations, the question I asked my guest was “how did you become OutKasted?” Well, I became OutKasted at the age of 14 upon moving to Albany, GA, a small city in the southwest corner of the state. Most of my classmates were listening to OutKast and Goodie Mob and I had no clue. I got familiar by listening to the radio and just listening to them talk about how dope they were. 

What are you hoping the students who take the course can learn?

The top thing I hope students take away is the understanding that literature is more than just prose. Anything with a message can be a text, including music. 

Finally, please tell us a little about the book you’re working on!

The name of the book is Chronicling Stankonia: OutKast and the Rise of the Hip Hop South. In it, I centre OutKast as the founders of what I theorise as the hip hop south, the social-cultural landscape in place from the past 20+ years. I explore their influence on southern popular expressions like literature, visual culture, and music.

Find out more about Dr. Regina Bradley’s publications and work here