Outkast – made up of Andre 3000 and Big Boi – released Ms. Jackson in 2000 to critical acclaim, standing the test of time and remaining an iconic track globally even two decades later.
Lyrically, the song covers breakups, separation and divorce, and the animosity felt by a mother for her daughter’s former flame. “Ms. Jackson” actually comes as an open letter to Erykah Badu and her mother – Andre had a child with Badu out of wedlock, and continuously felt as if he was portrayed as a terrible father to her mother. He constantly felt as if his child was kept from him on purpose, and used the song to openly tell the world his struggles. What did Erykah’s mother think? Andre explained years ago: “I probably would never come out and tell Erykah’s mom, ‘I’m sorry for what went down.’ But music gives you the chance to say what you want to say. And her mom loved it. She’s like, ‘Where’s my publishing check?'”Erykah’s reaction was less positive; hearing Big Boi’s verse “hit a sore spot” while her baby father’s “felt very good because his verse was really, really inspiring. He just said how he felt and it was his honest feelings and I always respected that and listened to what he felt and appreciated it.”
At first, the song was created as an acoustic guitar song in Andre’s garage – he loved it so much, he spent painstaking hours adapting it to something more his style, “something people could understand a little bit more”. Sound engineer John Frye had a tough task making this happen, as eventually the whole song is underpinned with a classic Brothers Johnson soundtrack (below) in reverse, giving the ensemble a unique, unsettling feel upon first listen – of course, once you’ve heard it in one too many uni nightclubs, that disquieting feel loosens to one of pure elation.
The music video is nothing short of fascinating. Depicting Big Boi and Andre 3000 repairing a house as Ms. Jackson drives past in a 1947 Mercury Eight, scowling in disgust. Everything you see in the video has meanings pointing towards Erykah and Andre’s failing relationship. Andre spends ever so long trying – again and again – to make the wallpaper stick on properly, to no avail, and tries to patch up all the leaks in a house ready to collapse. Big Boi tirelessly cleans and polishes his 1955 Cadillac Series 62 before a massive thunderstorm. The duo wasted so much time in this video doing things that were doomed to fail from the very beginning – is this Andre’s retrospective look on him and Erykah’s relationship? It’s all a perfect metaphor of trying to keep a bad relationship alive, down to the “here comes the bride” piano melody at the end of the video once they see the light, and the animals possibly representing their love child Seven Sirius Benjamin caught in the storm.The duo performed the song live a number of times to a massive crowd; below shows Outkast at the 2000 BMG Convention Performance, with Andre in a fit putting today’s rappers to shame. On AMA in 2001, Outkast performed once again with backup dancers donning wedding attire while Andre was in a suit with to-the-floor coattails and Big Boi a massive jacket one would see on the streets of Soho today.
Perhaps the most iconic performance of the song comes by way of the 2002 Grammy Awards, where the duo won a number of awards for the song. Andre 3000 once again shows out, in a pink jumpsuit and a long, blonde wig, while Big Boi comes in a sharply tailored suit. Andre 3000 was ahead of his time, dressing androgynous in an era where this simply wasn’t done by hip-hop stars – he really walked so today’s mainstream legends could run.
More on CULTED
See also: A MOMENT IN TIME: JAY Z & KANYE WEST – OTIS