OUTKAST / “13th Floor/Growing Old”
“Every time I comb my hair, thoughts of you get in my eyes.” As Jarvis commented last week, that’s the best line from a song full of good lines — Prince’s 1984 b-side “Erotic City.” A year later, Prince dropped a b-side named “She’s Always In My Hair” (available on the Ultimate Prince compilation). I don’t know for sure that the line from “Erotic City” inspired “She’s Always In My Hair,” but it does seem that way. The latter song is a masterpiece of romantic ambivalence that answers the eternal ‘should I marry her?’ question with neither a yes nor a no, but with a shrug. A couple decades later, Andre 3000 picked up the theme with the similarly-titled and themed, “She Lives In My Lap” (from Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), another song featuring a vacillating narrator complaining about how well his girlfriend treats him. But what really got me thinking about Andre was the whole ‘making a song from a line’ thing that Prince did with “Erotic City” and “She’s Always In My Hair.” There’s a song on Goodie Mob’s Soul Food album named “Thought Process.” Andre has the last verse on that song and in that verse he has a line where he says, “Life done sent me through a lot of ups and downs…like elevators.” I don’t know why that line stuck with me, but it did. “I got off on the 13th floor,” he continues, “When they said [there] wasn’t one.” I’ve always found it fascinating that we are technologically advanced enough to build skyscrapers and elevators, yet we remain superstitious enough to avoid something as benign as a number. To this day, almost every time I get on an elevator, I check to see if there’s a thirteenth floor. Anyhow, those couple of lines from Andre eventually spawned not one complete song, but two: “Elevators” and “13th Floor/Growing Old,” both from Outkast’s 1996 album ATLiens. The former song — which happens to be one of my all-time favorite rap records — reverses the meaning of the elevator metaphor from “Thought Process.” Instead of the elevator being a metaphor for the hardships of life, it signifies the way the Outkast duo used music to “elevate” themselves out of the ghetto. “We’re moving on up in the world,” says Big Boi, “Like elevators.” The second song is one of the rare rap songs to ever take on the issue of mortality by aging. (I specify because there are lots of rap songs about dying young; there aren’t many about dying old.) Andre talks about “trees” that were once “bright green” turning “yellow” and “brown,” while Big Boi warns phony rappers they’re eventually going to fall “like leaves into driveways.” It’s both funny and, in a way, inspiring to hear two 21-year-olds talking about growing old. I particularly like that they don’t just pay the concept lip service. They actually extend the autumn/aging metaphor through the entire song. Mediocre MCs would do well to take notes. —Mtume ya Salaam I like Outkast You already know how I feel about that Prince track. Not that that means anything significant or monumental except to say: thanks, Mtume. If it were not for your write-ups, I probably would never have listened as closely to Outkast. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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