More Juice than Zeus: Celebrating Outkast’s “Liberation” at 20

Steven Louis explores the powerful deep cut from Outkast's 1998 classic.
By    September 19, 2018

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We cannot confirm or deny if Steven Louis is fresh off the dank.

I’m here to make a simple suggestion: go take a walk and listen to Outkast’s “Liberation.”

“Liberation” is the penultimate track on Aquemini, the 1998 opus that turns 20 this month. It features Erykah Badu, Cee-Lo Green and Big Rube. Eight minutes of Dungeon Family communion. It’s a very, very powerful song about Black life and death, African diaspora and the monstrous ghosts of the American South that still haunt from Port Arthur to College Park.

It’s a song that comes with different instructions or higher expectations. Get yourself involved. Shake that load off.  “Liberation” has a lot to say, and a lot of brooding, clandestine energy. It needs more space, to play out as composed. “Liberation” should be heard not just in thought but in full transience. It should grant you temporary boundlessness. It should make an able body match a ruminating brain, compelling you to search for the way out of both. It teases revelation and damnation in equal measure. You need to be walking with it.

Walking to a song about cosmic freedom perhaps makes you more aware of your own sovereignty. Taking an uninterrupted walk is one of the few liberating things we have left. You’re not at the mercy of a series of screens, or a behemoth of technocratic social codes, to achieve your objective. There might not even be an objective, which feels incompatible with modern existence. Time is currency in late capitalism. Keeping some time to yourself is radical, even self-respecting behavior. There’s a big difference between idealized freedom and feeling free.

“Liberation” is a proudly-Black hymn for that torturously human dilemma. Your feet shuffle instinctively; Nathaniel has just prayed and growled for freedom through a collect call. How can you not walk forward? The solemn grand piano undulates from seven light-years below sea level. There’s a fine line between love and hate. Andre sounds like he knows it well. Damn near memorized its contours. Maybe you see that line too, or have at least noticed it before; maybe it’s just actualized before you for the first time. Either way, it’s there, and from the way Three Stacks wails about it, travelers should be wary of both sides of the line.

Liberation is knowing that the line is there. That love and hate are choices to begin with. Walk on. When Cee-Lo evokes “The Footprints Prayer,” and the song hits its tonal peak, your steps land heavier. I’m so tired, been so long, he sings. The jazz loop carries more weight with each repetition.

While the song gracefully introduces its motif around the four-minute mark, and you proceed to shake that load off, Erykah is howling, almost screaming out her ad-libs. Free, free, free, free! It’s wild that although anxiety and uncertainty are such hyper-personal sensationsAndre riffs about perception and trust, Big Boi touches on family, Cee-Lo gets biblical and Erykah goes in on the music industrythe triumph of getting past them feels universal.

The seeds that sow get devoured by the same locusts, cuz it’s a hard row to ho if yo ass don’t move, and the rain don’t fall, and the ground just dry. Big Rube’s recitations sting; the “jackals of Babyl” match you stride for stride, and they’ve been trailing you this whole time. Ronald Reagan used “Footprints,” too.

There’s a full three minutes left, and this is where your investment is rewarded. Shadowbox to southern jazz. The band plays with you, but certainly not for you. Cymbals rustle, bongos ping, the piano gently deconstructs and unspools. Maybe the most liberating feeling is knowing that liberation is close. That your understanding of it can be won, and vindicated. That a version of freedom you can reconcile with is only a few paces away. LIBERTAD.

“Liberation” is a timeless spiritual, a piece of music that somehow both evokes centuries of righteousness and wraps around your most immediate of personal failings. I guess it feels 20 years old, but it also feels brand new, and also, timeless. Like I said, I’m just here to make a suggestion: go walk around and listen to “Liberation.” They let the music keep going so you can do something with it. Now that’s liberation.

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