Straight Outta Stankonia

20 years of OutKast’s Atlanta, from discography to mythology

“Atlanta gave you OutKast. You’re welcome.”

@stevozone4 (April 5, 2014)

Let’s imagine, for posterity’s sake, that when the history of Atlanta is written 100 years from now, it will be divided into two epochs.

Before OutKast: When the city was progressively known as a Civil War casualty, Margaret Mitchell’s muse, New South gateway, Dr. King’s birthplace, “too busy to hate,” Ted Turner’s playground, and home of the Braves.

And, After OutKast: When a resident species of crunk but sentient beings transmogrified the cultural landscape into rap’s capital city, aka ATL, where the players dwell.

Repping the A is so pervasive nowadays it’s gone from cachet to cliché. But Big and Dre were still teenage music-industry outcasts in 1994 when they put the city on the map. Approximately 68 geographic references to Atlanta are sprinkled throughout Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik alone. That’s 13 shout-outs to East Point, 10 to Organized Noize’s basement studio the Dungeon, eight to College Park, four to Decatur. Bankhead and Buckhead each get a mention. Club Nikki, Magic City, Greenbriar Mall (“Da ‘Bri”); even the Georgia Dome is thrown in the mix.

Beyond giving birth to a generation of ATLiens, OutKast helped engrave the city’s identity into pop’s collective consciousness.

April 26, 2014, marks 20 years since the release of that Southernplayalistic debut. As Big and Dre prepare to celebrate with a 40-festival world tour that kicks off this weekend at Coachella and includes a stop at CounterPoint in nearby Kingston Downs, Ga., on April 27, the time is right to look at Atlanta through OutKast’s kaleidoscope.

Using the duo’s discography and videos as a guide, we searched for the narrative thread between ATL’s past and present. Since the Dirty South is defined by the politics of race, space, and place as much as it is by Georgia’s red clay, an ethnographic mixtape of sorts emerged. One in which old ‘hoods bear new street names and former public housing residents still call demolished projects home. Then there are even more rare discoveries, like the first Dungeon, preserved in its original condition by the unrelated grandmother who lives there today. And found footage of Big Boi’s safe-sex PSA, rapped during his senior year at Tri-Cities High School.

It all serves as a reminder that OutKast, too, gave the world its version of Atlanta. For that, we’re stankful.

— Rodney Carmichael