#361: Outkast, "Stankonia" (2000)

1. Halloween, 2000. Three astronautsAmerican Bill Shepherd and Russians Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalevlaunch into orbit for the International Space Station. Yasser Arafat calls for resistance in Jerusalem, and four Palestinians are killed in the Gaza Strip. Outkast releases their fourth studio album, Stankonia. On a folding chair in a backyard in Minneapolis, with the urgings of my friends still echoing in my ear, a face leans towards mine, and I have my first kiss.

2.  It is a tangle of lips, teeth, and saliva. I don’t know what to do with my hands. They hang awkwardly at my side and as my braces hit his teeth, I imagine myself an orangutan. He has hair that he gels into devil horns, and I wear too much lip gloss, and I can feel it stick to his lips when he pulls away. I laugh in a way I hope is cool and run inside.

3.  What I have just written was a lie. Halloween in 2000 was on a Tuesday. The party, and my first kiss, actually happened the Saturday before.

4.  It happens that I lie on occasion.

5.  Stankonia: Coined by André 3000. From “stank” and “Plutonia.” The name of André 3000 and Big Boi’s recording studio in Atlanta.

6.  Stank: Verb, simple past tense of “stink.” To emit a strong offensive smell. To be disgustingly inferior. Or, slang: funky.

7.  Plutonia: Noun. A futuristic city, as depicted on a poster in André 3000’s bedroom.

8.  I know this from Wikipedia, just like I know that Stankonia debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard chart, that it won Best Rap Album at the 2002 Grammys, that it took a year to record, that André 3000 and Big Boi found it liberating to own a studio, able to work at their own pace and rhythm, to set their own hours. I imagine them waking at three in the morning, music tearing through their veins at 155 beats per minute, stumbling out of bed and driving to the studio, desperate to record. Is it likely that they were regularly deep in sleep at 3 a.m.? I suspect this is unrealistic.

9.  I write on Wikipedia: “Stankonia has been credited as the inspiration behind the work of numerous influential writers, including Vladimir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway, and Emma Riehle Bohmann.”

10.  Wikipedia deletes my words.

11.  In the bathroom after the kiss, I press a fist into the flesh of my stomach to calm the butterflies. I reapply my lip gloss. I straighten the neck of my halter top. Is it cold to be wearing just a halter? I have no memory of the weather.

12.  Maybe this is why I lie, or maybe why it started: to fill the blanks in my mind, to live up to the expectation that I remember it all.

13.  Or maybe it’s just an attempt to be funny, to be remembered myself.

14.  Here is one thing that is true about me: I believe I am a good person.

15.  Here is another true thing: At night, I dream I am running, and with every step I take, my knees sink closer to the ground, my back bends until I am hunched double, and soon I am crawling on my hands and knees.

16.  In October 2000, “B.O.B.” is on the radio, “Ms. Jackson” is on the radio, we roam the halls of school saying “Forever? Forever ever? Forever ever?” and AOL Instant Messenger is cool. Entire relationships play out online, emoticons take on lives of their own, confessions fall into the Internet like it’s a bottomless hole, like we haven’t yet realized that anything that exists there will exist forever.

17. I imagine André 3000 and Big Boi in the studio, throwing out rhymes, testing them, André saying, “But you know, I’d just like to, you know, sing a bit,” Big Boi scoffing at him. In truth, many of the songs developed separately, André at home, strumming an acoustic guitar, Big Boi in the studio. Somehow it all comes together: “B.O.B.” has drums, guitar, organs, a choir in the background.

18.  In October 2000, I am just discovering music beyond the Beatles. Outkast explodes into me. At the school dance, I sit on the bleachers in the corner, hoping I am hidden in shadow, while my foot, unbidden, taps along to the music. Someday I will learn to embrace dancing, to let my body take over, to not care, but not yet, not for years.

19.  I am just discovering music, discovering Outkast, and every discovery shows me how little I know. The boy with the devil horns breaks up with me in the girl’s bathroom next to the gym and I think I am devastated, but I’m not.

20.  That is another lie. I am a little bit devastated, but I get over it.

21.  Operation Iraqi Freedom begins a year and a half later. March 2003. The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland join forces to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist government. I am babysitting a little girl who turned a year old just over a week ago. She has curly brown hair and a turtleneck onesie with American flags on it. The TV displays the night sky over Baghdad. I can just make out the outline of buildings and clouds. There are few lights visible in the city, save those of the bombs, just flashes of white on the screen, like shooting stars or airplanes.

22.  I don’t realize that “B.O.B.” is not a new song.

23.  Operation Iraqi Freedom does not make me realize that the things I have thought were important are not really important. I do not evaluate my life, knowing that soldiers, civilians are dying. When students stage a walkout at school to protest, I leave with them and drive with my friends to Opitz, an outlet store in the suburbs.

24.  I have never admitted this before.

25.  I want to say something about Outkast, about Stankonia, about its effect on my life, on the person I’ve become. I am failing at saying this, maybe because it hasn’t. I am trying to make the album fit over my life, and I can’t.

26.  And yet, when I listen to the album, I realize I know every song. That the beat to “B.O.B.” plays in the cadence of my footsteps as I run. My friend owns a T-shirt called, according to the website it came from, “Persistence of Ms. Jackson” that has Salvador Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory” on the front, melting clocks dripping down her front, and the white block print over the timepieces says, “Forever? Forever ever? Forever ever?”

27.  September 2005. Richmond, Indiana. Five years since the kiss, ten years before the T-shirt. The leaves dangle, their stems on the brink of breaking free of the tree branches. I sit with a friend on a wooden swing, our legs pushing idly against the grass, unevenly, so we spin from one side to another. “Don’t you think,” she says, “that Outkast was a little bit precious?” I think about it. I nod. I do think so.

28.  I don’t realize until later that she said “prescient.”

—Emma Riehle Bohmann