OutKast – “B.O.B.”

Released: 9.6.00

Peak: #69 [Hip-Hop/ R&B Songs]

In a decade that sought post facto prophets, a song called “Bombs Over Baghdad” would inevitably tempt listeners to trace tomorrow’s detours in yesterday’s tea leaves. But the intuitive clamor to hear OutKast’s ingenuity as a glimmer into the unforeseeable, a “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” scored for acid-rock guitar and demented gospel choir, is not to invest Dre and Boi with mystical powers but rather to shortchange their awareness of the surrounding world, what you could call (to snatch back a term from mostly lesser lights) their consciousness.

Like much of Stankonia, “B.O.B.” slams with the sensory overload of a hip-hop that remained alert throughout the 90s, as pimps huffed second-hand jeep fumes and backpackers retreated into tongue-tied formalism. Not that there weren’t excuses for disengaged art — the one-two punch of political sanctimony and moderate prosperity had tuned plenty of us out, and the soundtrack of the thinking person became Kid A, that collective dive into the inarticulate, an anti-U2 that only existed in the space between your headphones. Racism, besieged neo-liberal summits, and those all but forgotten bombs, sporadically blasting over Baghdad were dumped into the “ye shall always have with you” bin and forgotten.

Not that Andre 3000 and Big Boi attempted to translate their pre-millennial tension into simplified cant. The impressionist lyrics defy exegesis, with undisclosed threats stomping through “like a million elephants and silverback orangutans” and a sudden storm, summoning both biblical apocalypse and nightly news images of Hurricane Floyd. Both MCs mention touring, and “B.O.B.” unrolls with a sense of life as glimpsed, on the move, through hotel TV sets–Dre even claims to have overheard the title in a CNN green room. And make what you will of the Morris Brown College Gospel Choir chanting “Power music.  Electric revival,” or, as the internet appears to prefer, “Bible music.”

Rarely has chaos been assembled from so few elements. A whispered count-off, over an ominous carillon intro, announces a simple four-four that breaks into angry snare rolls. But the empty spaces throughout are clogged with synth odds and ends — that arpeggio that doodles over Boi’s verse, that spastic guitar poking in from the edges, and everywhere the drums, the drums, the drums, the drums. As Timbaland tweaked the artier potential of drum ‘n’ bass, OutKast revived the hard slamming snares of jungle, which was, perhaps, not a timely move. In fact, after the success of “Rosa Parks,” “B.O.B.” registered as a “failed single.” Then the bombs dropped in earnest, and it got to mean whatever we wanted. Maybe not prophetic, but for sure ahead of their time.

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