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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"B.O.B": misunderstood frantic goodness

Outkast's magnum opus has taken on quite an interesting life since its 2000 release.


My anger from yesterday has given way to an extremely frantic state of mind.


I assume that's probably from more of a need for me to focus on the immediate, because I still have one more midterm and a couple other important deadlines to hit before spring break. Then there's also the anxiety of returning home for said break, because while I love my family, I'm going to be facing a lot of questions about my future that I simply don't know how to answer.


I also wonder if having dense, fast-paced music stuck in my head is feeding back into my emotional state. I've talked a decent amount in this space about both how affected I can be by the music to which I choose to listen and vice versa — really, those two ideas have been the jumping-off point for each of my last two entries. One, the other, or both are likely behind me picking Outkast's frenetic masterpiece "B.O.B" for my Senior Year Soundtrack today.

I've always appreciated Outkast's uniqueness and willingness to stylistic stretch themselves in their music, and "B.O.B" is as clear an example of sonic adventurousness as one can find in their entire catalog. The awesome organ line is enough to drive a typical track, but add on the funky, Hendrix-like guitars, and you've got something really special brewing. That combination makes sense together as an evocation of 60s and 70s psychedelic rock... and then Outkast and their co-producer Mr. DJ brought their production into modernity. The drum and bass-like beat is something I wouldn't have ever expected, but damn, it works. It brings the track to life in conjunction with the jumpy synth, turning "B.O.B"'s instrumental into a work that can never stay still... and that's even before André 3000 and Big Boi work their poetic magic.


As impressive as it is that such seemingly disparate elements work together in the instrumental, I'm more amazed by the combined lyrical and athletic feat of Outkast pulling off so many different rhymes and schemes in the time and at the pace each of them have. I don't think André 3000 stuck with one scheme for more than four measures, which at the track's tempo of 155 BPM translates to just over six seconds. That's insane, especially given just how much he makes use of every subdivision. It probably took me longer to get this verse's flow right than any other across the breadth of rap I know, and that includes "Rap God."


If I had to pick just two moments out of Andre's verse as my favorites, I'd go with the sixteenth-note syncopation on "Who want some don't come unprepared / I'll be there, but when I leave there," and the enjambment on "...the fence is / Too high to jump in jail." The first is a feat of feeling and manipulating the beat through a less common attack pattern that inherently feels off-kilter; the second is an under-utilized and under-appreciated way to transition between rhyme schemes while maintaining a lyrical idea. Meanwhile, Big Boi's verse tends to give a bit more space between lines, allowing focus to shift toward call-and-response figures and new synth textures.


I could go on and talk about the changes that occur after the guitar solo through to the ending, but for the sake of slight brevity and branching out from musical analysis, I want to take some time and talk about the title. "B.O.B" is short for "Bombs Over Baghdad," so even though it was released before 9/11 and the Iraq War, the song became a battle cry for American offensives in the Middle East. Of course, in "Born in the U.S.A"-like fashion, Outkast were in fact against such action; Big Boi framed "B.O.B" as a whole (with a focus on its chorus) as a message to fellow artists to "make music that has something to say or just get out of the way." The key analogy is that, like most of the music Big Boi was hearing, American bombings in Iraq were halfhearted. Of course, that mattered not to the public, causing a strong bifurcation in the song's life and meaning.


The split is a testament to the superficial nature with which popular music is often digested. People hear the chorus and these big lyrics of "Bombs over Baghdad," and without a second thought they think those couple words tell them everything they need to know about the track. In reality, lyrics and all aspects of music warrant artistic analysis on the level of that given other mediums. The broad reach of music likely makes that societal understanding impossible, but the fact remains that popular music is under-appreciated in this manner. I hope that, through this space, I've been able to demonstrate the various forms of insight one can gain from popular music analysis — and I hope you're intrigued enough to continue reading as I keep growing this space.

 

Postscript — remix: Further connecting to yesterday's post, Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha remixed "B.O.B" back in autumn 2000. It had circulated as a bootleg credited to RATM for years before finally being given a proper release as part of the 20th anniversary of Outkast's release of Stankonia, the album off which "B.O.B" is the lead single. De la Rocha's version amplifies the rock leanings of the original with a guitar-based backing reminiscent of a faster-paced RATM tune.


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