Song 352: Outkast, “Ms. Jackson” (2001)

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I like thinking about where I was when I first heard a particular song. I don’t remember the exact moment that I first heard “Ms. Jackson,” but I do remember hearing it everywhere I went while I was studying abroad in London. The time that I first listened closely, when I listened to what André 3000 was rapping and singing about, I was in a shoe store near Whitechapel.

I don’t remember what kind of impression the song made, but I do know I noticed just how weird the thing is. Sure, it’s catchy and concise, and there are weirder Outkast songs (the insane “B.O.B.” comes to mind), but there’s something eerie about it. Maybe it’s that keyboard or synth, whatever it is, that sounds like the score from a Vincent Price movie. Or the borderline-operatic piano on top, which makes the song sound like some kind of cinematic melodrama.

What I love most about Outkast, and about “Ms. Jackson” in particular, is the combination of steady beats and synths and staccato, mile-a-minute rapping. That underlying consistency makes the top layer of craziness a little easier to process, and it keeps the whole track from spinning out of control. That foundation frees up André to spit out lines like “I wish I could become a magician to abracadabra all the sadder thoughts of me, thoughts of she, thoughts of he.” It’s all much more interesting than if the song consisted only of speed.

Then again, “speed” is about the only thing going on with the glorious “B.O.B.,” so what do I know? Maybe I should leave these opinions up to the experts and just appreciate that Outkast knows how to choose the right feel for the right song.

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