Two Loaf Boyz (In a Cadillac): OutKast & Bread Metaphors

Have you ever noticed the number of references that OutKast makes to bread making? Dough. Bread. Cheese. Money  – how it’s made and how it’s spent.

The wordplay makes you chuckle, and sometimes gives you that “I love hip hop feeling”. But Andre 3000 and Big Boi don’t just drop a clever pun every now and then. They weave metaphors into poetic storytelling over evocative production.

So let’s use their breadaphors to explore why OutKast is the greatest duo in hip hop history.

Example #1:Stickin’ together like flour and water to make that slow dough
– Big Boi, “Return of the G”, Aquemeni (1998).

After a jaw-dropping verse by Andre (“Let’s talk about time travelin’, rhyme javelin.” Full lyrics here), Big Boi continues the retort against the group’s post-ATLiens (1996) haters. He uses our first bread-making analogy to explain the stylistic mixture that is OutKast (2:07).

“Stickin’ together like flour and water
to make that slow dough.
We worked for everything we have
And gon’ stick up for each other like
We brothers from another mother.
Kinda like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.”

Flour. Water.  Just compare the typical garb of Big Boi and Dre.

Flour and water. OutKast performing in 2001. Credit: Joe Goldberg.

Put them together. Give them some time. And let the dough roll in. The dough-making ability of OutKast is remarkable actually. I can’t think of any other hip hop group who’ve attained such astronomical commercial success (remember “Hey Ya”?) via albums so creative, honest, soulful, and experimental.

If only there was a song in which they explored this meteoric rise.

Example #2: “Yeast was the street.”
– Andre 3000, “A Day in the Life of Andre Benjamin (Incomplete)”, The Love Below (2003)

Speakerboxxx & The Love Below were technically released together, though they are distinct projects. Big Boi sticks to his traditional southern hip hop bangers. Dre takes a rap hiatus to explore soul, pop, funk, and jazz.

But on the last song on the album, Three Stacks reminds us of his godly lyrical talent.  “A Day in the Life…” gives an autobiographical account of Andre’s music career (full lyrics here). I am still appreciating new layers to this song after a bakers dozen worth of listens.

The bread theme comes in when Andre tells of his decision to give up alcohol and weed, and switch up his musical style. (3:00)

I hadn’t smoked or took a shot of drink
Cause I’d start the second album off on another note.
Now that note threw some n****s in the hood off.
But see I balled out – and ‘for I’d fall out
I’d slow my (Caddi)lac down to a nice speed.
The brain was that fried egg I might need
New direction was apparent (a parent)
I was a child looking at the floor staring.
So changing my style was like relief for the primitive beast.
Yes I was on the rise, yeast was the street.
To make bread – never primary concern.
Just to hop on these beats and wait my turn.
I’d meet Muslims, gangstas, bitches, rastas
And macaroni n**** – im-pastas (imposters).

Yeast producing CO2 bubbles. Flickr photo by treehouse1977, creative commons

[*Science break: Enzymes in baker’s yeast break starch down into glucose, a simple sugar. Other enzymes turn sugar into ATP (energy!), with alcohol & CO2 gas as a byproduct. The alcohol evaporates in the oven, and the CO2 gas bubbles leave air pockets in the leavened bread. Ah, if only there was a rap music video on glycolysis.]

So as Andre switched up his style to something more unique, he rose to new creative heights. And what was the key ingredient in that rise? Yeast was “the street”, the inspiration for the gritty storytelling that made ATLiens and Aquemeni so powerful.

And even though “making bread” wasn’t the primary concern, both those albums went double platinum.  Mainstream rap doesn’t always concern itself with such thematic and stylistic depth.  Are you starting to gather what I’m getting at?

Example #3:  “Street scholars majoring in culinary arts. You know – how to work bread, cheese, & dough.”
-Andre 3ooo,“Aquemeni”, Aquemeni (1998)

Andre’s verse on “Aquemeni” (1:50) is a perfect example of what The Source called the album’s “superb use of the urban narrative” – the yeast that raises Andre’s skill up to hip hop Mt. Olympus. Full lyrics here.

Twice upon a time, there was a boy who died.
And lived happily ever after but that’s another chapter.
Live from – home of the brave, with dirty dollars,
And beauty parlors, and baby ballas, and bowling ball impalas.
And street scholars majoring in culinary arts.
You know, how to work bread, cheese, and dough
From scratch. But see the catch is you can get caught.
Know what ya sellin’ what you bought. So cut that big talk.
Let’s walk to the bridge. Meet me halfway.
Now you may see some children dead off in the pathway.
It’s them poor babies walkin’ slowly to the candy lady.
It’s lookin’ bad, need some hope
Like the words maybe, if, or probably. More than a hobby,
When my turntables get wobbly they don’t fall.
I’m sorry y’all I often drift. I’m talking’ gift.
So when it comes you never look the horse inside its grill.
Of course you know I feel like the bearer of bad news.
Don’t want to be it, but it’s needed, so what have you.
Now question: is every n**** with dreads for the cause?
Is every n**** with golds for the fall?
Naw, so don’t get caught up in appearance.
It’s OutKast, Aquemeni. Another black experience.

Here the culinary arts refer to the drug game. Its a seductive option, offered to youth by the metaphorical candy lady. It dangles the promise of bread, cheese, and dough –  from scratch. But there are risks. You can get caught. Or you can be found dead off in the pathway.

A baby baller, working dough. Credit: Creative commons (Moonsun1981)

This verse (though I could’ve picked a dozen others) sums up Andre’s talent and OutKast’s genius. Beautiful language and imagery. Clever wordplay. A non-judgmental yet heavy-hearted urban narrative. Gripping stories. And thought-provoking questions.

The cautionary tales continued from Aquemeni into Stankonia (1999). And although that album took them to even more commercial success (“Ms. Jackson” & “B.O.B.”), they continued to spit wisdom and bakery symbolism.

Example #4: “I’ma bake my cheese and let my mic flow.
– Big Boi, “Red Velvet”, Stankonia (1999).

On “Red Velvet”, baked goods are the driving metaphor of the entire song, exemplified by the chorus (1:01). Full lyrics here.

“Cause they know where you live
and they’ve seen what ya drive
And they say they gonna put one in your helmet.
Cause you brag ‘bout that watch,
and all them things that you got.
Them dirty boys will
turn your pound cake to red velvet.”

Red Velvet. Photo courtesy of creative commons copywrite via russiansilver flickstream at flickr.com

If you flaunt your wealth, you’re inviting people to rob you violently.

In Big Boi’s first verse, he compares this to his own financial philosophy (0:38):

“For what though?
Some diamonds and a Bentley what you dyin’ for?
Aight ho, I’ma bake my cheese
And let my mic flow.
Priorities to live through.
Tell these other n****s
How you bought yo’ kid some tennis shoes.
Let these brothers know
That your momma she got her house too.
Let these n****s know that your sister wouldn’t have
Finished college without you.”

His message: rather than bragging about flashy status symbols, brag about investing in family. Instead of letting cheese (money) flow, let your mic flow. And bake that cheese in the oven so it gets bigger and bigger. Mmmmm… baked cheese.

Just like in “Return of the G”, OutKast redefines what it means to be gangster – and what it means to be a responsible breadwinner.

***

So if you like hip hop at its finest, dip into OutKast’s back catalogue and give these albums a listen. Carefully and repeatedly. And however you make your bread, spend it wisely.

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