OutKast: Call it South Side Story

Review

Andre 3000’s The Love Below gang and Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx crew – a hip-hop version of the Jets and Sharks – will square off in a contemporary retelling of the classic musical “West Side Story.” Their battle is the centerpiece of OutKast’s new video, “Roses.”

“It’s about a rivalry between two high school crews,” Andre told MTV on the video’s set recently.

“We’re pretty much after the same girl, Caroline, and she’s in a girl group called Roses, with pink jackets.”

“We’re battling for her attention,” Big Boi continued. “I sent Caroline a love letter asking her to be my valentine and she puts ‘Maybe.’ So I get enraged and me and the fellas come across town to (Andre’s) school to wreak havoc.”

Big Boi confronts his rival in the school auditorium, where Andre’s gang is putting on a play.

“We’re performing onstage, trying to win over Caroline,” Dre said. “And Speakerboxxx, they bust into the auditorium and disrupt things and we get to fighting.”

Andre and Big Boi were originally supposed to release separate singles to follow up their Speakerboxxx/The Love Below smashes, “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move,” but were only budgeted enough money for one video.

“We were supposed to do ‘Prototype’ and ‘Church,’ but it fell into place for us to do ‘Roses.’ It seemed like the right thing to do since it’s one of the only records with us together, and the fans want to see us together again,” Big Boi told MTV last month. “And the song jams.”

OutKast is already working on the follow-up to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as well as a movie for HBO.

In a probably inadvertent but unfortunate move at the Feb. 8 Grammy ceremony – where OutKast won three major awards – the drumming of a sacred Navajo prayer played as an intro to a performance by Andre.

Then he and several members of a dance troupe swirled wildly around a green teepee as he sang the hit, “Hey Ya!” Costumes included war paint, feathers and fringe.

“I like OutKast. I like their music,” said Tom Bee, an Albuquerque record producer and musician who was nominated for this year’s Native American Music Grammy.

“But I thought the show was not correct. It was degrading.”

Many Indian groups were upset by the performance, which they say was disrespectful to their culture and a perpetuation of tomahawk-and-teepee stereotypes.

After the opening chant, they went to teepee and feathers, which belong to another tribe, and the costumes, while clearly “show biz,” evoked bad feelings about how Indians have been stereotyped.

Undoubtedly, OutKast planned the performance with good intentions. However, if they were more informed about what they were trying to support, they wouldn’t have equated two very different cultures as simply “Indian” or have used sacred material without showing it the respect it deserves.

Many who expressed their feelings on Native American websites agreed with a petition signer named Megan Jones who wrote, “I don’t think you meant to offend, but you hurt us.”

The author can be reached at crummel@pww.org.