The Ideology of Trap Hits Higher Ed
By Dr. Joycelyn Wilson
"I always wanted to go to college," professed Outkast’s Antwan “Big Boi” Patton while settling into a chair in a classroom at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He smiled, opened a bottle of Dasani water, and said, "I had to come see who's digging the 'Kast."
It’s spring semester 2017, and 25 Georgia Tech students are diggin’ the ’Kast. These eager students registered for a wait-listed humanities course I piloted called “Engaging the Lyrics of Outkast and Trap Music to Explore Politics of Social Justice." Some enrolled to fulfill their humanities credit, some to meet requirements for their minor in social justice, and others, just because they could.
Undergraduate majors from areas such as public policy, engineering, business, and media made it a point to show up for a three-hour seminar on Friday afternoons for 13 weeks. Freshmen and graduating seniors. Black, white, and in between. African to African-American. Asian to East Asian. European American to Canadian. Bankhead to Buckhead to Bartow County, all diggin’ the ’Kast. Some weren't even born in 1994 when Big Boi and rap partner Andre "3000" Benjamin dropped the culture-shifting album “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.” But still, they dig the ’Kast. In fact, most of them learned hip-hop and Outkastian ideology thanks to songs like "Rosa Parks,” “Bombs Over Baghdad,” “Hey Ya,” or “The Way You Move.” Amid these students’ racial and intellectual diversity, they had absolutely one thing in common: a love for hip-hop and a special affinity for the ’Kast.
Big Boi stopped by last Friday to culminate a semester filled with listening assignments, essays deconstructing Outkast lyrics within a rubric of social justice principles, discussions about the group's contributions to the rise of trap music, and guest speakers such as Shanti Das, Dee Dee Murray, Kawan Prather, and Maurice Garland. Big Boi surprised these Tech students with a private, hour-long question-and-answer session. Honestly, he seemed just as excited as they did as he reflected on the global impact Outkast’s music had on hip-hop and all of popular culture. Donning a Falcons fitted and a pair of Jordans, Daddy Fat Sacks spoke with transparent confidence about how he and 3 Stacks (Andre Benjamin) met, how the dictionary was their go-to text to find their group name, how he graduated with a 3.68 GPA and decided to pursue a rap career rather than a college degree, and how he has continued to tour and make new music that brings people from all backgrounds together.
The students left with a set of Outkast'd lessons — what Big Rube referred to as “fundamental truths and basic principles” on Outkast’s “True Dat.” In a matter of minutes, Big’s visit brought full circle the primary mission of the course: to engage students in learning opportunities that enhance their social justice capacities and empower them to use their educational privilege to make the world better despite — as Rube put it — “Operating Under The Krooked American System Too-long.” Outkast.
Reflecting on his humble beginnings, Professor Patton schooled the students on the challenges he’s faced along the way and where the journey has him now. He highlighted some important lessons:
Practice and commit yourself to what you want until the universe responds
Whatever you do, make sure it not only fulfills you, but also enhances the lives of others.
Be a student of the culture, but listen to more than just rap.
The journey has levels, so don’t be afraid to capture the moments along the way.
Outkast is perhaps the greatest musical duo of all time. For real, for real. Not only has their work found its way into higher learning, but they've also sold millions of albums and created the movement that shifted the origina, New York-centric focus of hip-hop to its Southern roots. They have built a legend for themselves. Ultimately, my hope is more courses like the one Big visited will find their way into the registration books of Southern colleges. Why? because Outkast’s textual and visual art have the same universal appeal as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
"It's about bringing together people from different backgrounds,” Big told the class. “I remember the first time we went to Europe and overseas. I was like, wow, the people don’t even speak the language, but they understand the music to sing it word for word. It’s all cultures, all races, all religions bringing people together. That’s what Outkast is about. It’s about hope. It’s about freedom. It’s about righteousness.”
What better way to close out the semester?