There’s a fine line between love and hate…” Turururu. They are definitely on it. Please, get some headphones and, leaving aside the stereotypical and racial connotations of this image, pass the Courvoisier. More importantly, let this precious opening line with its reflexive hesitations softly mislead you into thinking that you know where the song is going. It is a promising start: it’s liberation, baby, and they want it.
This is an epic song that, in fact, goes to many places for almost 9 minutes with the voices, tones and emotions of the two gentlemen from Outkast, Cee-Lo, Erykah Badu and Big Rube. Yes. A good bunch of people who manage to sound like enlightened southern preachers with plenty of things to say.
I first listened to this song in Chicago back in 2008, loved it right away, but never really followed through. It reappeared a few weeks ago in my favorite spotify playlist (the one curated by a local tomato). I must confess that I don’t know a lot about Outkast and for a long time I never gave them credit outside the dance floor. Like most people, I first heard about them with “Hey Ya” ( http://bit.ly/7k2St6), that radically happy and wonderful song for dancing situations and assumed that they did not have much more to say beyond that. Oh well. Tonight’s bafleo is the 15th song of an album that redefined hip hop in the late 90s. Although I only listened to it more than a decade later, “Aquemini” was released in 1998, a time in which, when it came to hip hop, I was apparently a bit busy discovering the miseducated Lauryn Hill and greeting the nastiness of my beloved Beastie Boys. Perhaps it was good to listen to it after many years to confirm why it is celebrated as a classic.
The album is best known for that musical and linguistic invention called “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” (http://bit.ly/FD0gG). You really have to love folks who come up with such a funky and irresponsible way to name a woman’s hotness. Speaking of “hot chicks”, make sure you listen to the song dedicated to Rosa Parks (http://bit.ly/SfMng) in which they manage to summarize a symbol of segregation (and one of the crucial steps in its formal overcoming) in a charming and funky line “Ah ha, hush that fuss, everybody move to the back of the bus” Turururu. Apparently some crazy lawyers close to Mrs. Parks herself sued them for the song. And speaking of “legal matters”, the album features the one and only George Clinton, the legislator in the only Parliament in which we should believe. The song is called “Synthesizer” (http://bit.ly/I30aJ) and invites us to synthesize in order to understand your synthesizer, man. Good stuff.
Back to the song. The idea of liberation moves in different directions, from a hopeless and exhausted believer, passing through a certain dose of resentment to a sense of freedom that comes from having the choice of being “who you wants to be” (sic). A solid piano and a set of nuanced sounds bring it all together as one beautiful piece. “Sticking together like flour and water to make that slow dough”. That “dough” is also based on the narrative structure: the references to a set of struggles and grievances that end with a calling for a sense of liberation.
Before Cee Lo Green decided to go glittery with the “fuck you” song from which many people will unfortunately remember him, he sounded like a solid dispirited poet talking to God about his loneliness and tiredness after trying, trying, trying. “My feet feel like I walked most of the road on my own”. After the hopeless struggle, the quest for liberation consists in keeping one’s head up. That’s not an easy task.
The song breaks into an almost endless mantra: “shake that load off, shake that load off…”. After we come to believe that shaking it off (whatever it is that we are carrying on our backs) is possible, Erykah Badu shows up. In a “who is your mommy now” attitude, she takes care of things with her amazing and soulful voice: “Folk in your face, you’re a superstar, niggas hang around cause of who you are”. She makes the clearest case in the song: the struggle between artistic expression and the music business. “All you wanna do is give the world your heart”, but the labels make people compromise their art. The quest for liberation here takes place in the simple and brave act of singing a song that manages to give that heart to the world. There is truth in what she sings.
The song makes the right pause after her beautifully elegant voice and ends with Big Rube boasting about his “gangstadom”. His is an angry reflection about being brainwashed, about the price of fame and the burdens of a life of excess (wherever that threshold is). Here liberation is achieved by trying to look at the big canvas of live and “just by rapping: Libertad”.
It’s 12am in Bogotá. Here is to a beautiful first week in the mother ship, a week full of love, hugs, conversations, some dissertational writing, amazing parties and warm reunions with old and new friends. I have felt the love.