By Kendall Russ, Online Arts Editor
Published September 27, 2013
Outkast’s Speakerboxxx / The Love Below turned 10 Monday.
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Think about that for a second. Sure, it has been 10 years since we’ve heard Outkast’s last great record. But it has also been 10 years since you awkwardly rubbed against a fellow sixth grader to “Hey Ya!” at your first middle-school dance. It has (hopefully) been 10 years since you took to Xanga to spew that hormonal, pre-teen #angst. For most of you, that’s half of your life.
By now, there are plenty of reflections on Speakerboxxx / The Love Below’s importance, influence (would we have Janelle Monáe without The Love Below?) and, ultimately, impact on Outkast’s demise. And while the album plays and feels as well 10 years on as the giant fur Big Boi sports on the album cover, it’s hard to shake the lingering sense of gap, permeating with nostalgia. Forget the music for a moment, and think about your life. Now, are you where you wanted to be 10 years ago?
Is 20 too young to pine for youth? Maybe. Probably. But just reading that makes me wish for a time when I didn’t say things like “pine for youth.” Most of us may be too young to have any real responsibilities, but how many of us still spout pretension, desperately striving for the esteem of others? How many of us fluff our résumés and apply for jobs we morally oppose but think we need to get rich and become miserable in the process? Ten years ago, I may have worried too much about which two popped polo collars I would match with my puka shell necklace, but I always tried to worry about more important things — like whether or not we were having pizza for dinner.
“Baby, take off your cool / I want to get to know you,” Three Stacks and Norah Jones croon on The Love Below track, “Take Off Your Cool.” The song shines in its simplicity, and it’s one that resonates with me today in a way that “Unhappy,” “Roses” and “Hey Ya!” don’t. It’s really easy to fall into a negative feedback cycle of anxiety and inauthenticity, of aiming at that high-paying job both your current and 10-year-old selves would abhor. Take off your cool and be authentic — but don’t be selfish, and don’t succumb to cynicism.
Instead, be honest — with yourself, your friends and your ambition. Big Boi gives us some advice on “Unhappy:” “Let strangers play while you graduate and move on / True happiness is not acquired and you won’t find it for sale.” It’s as true today as it was 10 years ago. We may not have been listening when we graduated elementary school, but we can’t afford to ignore it now.