Excited to share thoughts with you about poetry & "getting low"...
An amazing verse from Outkast's Andre 3000
Hi all, Ari here. Here’s my Friday post. And you can subscribe here:
Andre 3000’s Poetry
Today I want to share with you a breakdown of poetic lines from one of the greatest lyricists of our time, Andre 3000, one half of the Atlanta group Outkast.
Andre has many great songs of his own; this particular verse is from his guest feature on the singer Frank Ocean’s song, Solo (Reprise).
It’s one of those verses that could fly right by you — a march of seemingly simple rhymes and repetition that blossoms into something much deeper, upon reflection.
It begins with Andre taking the word “Solo,” the song’s title, and bending it, first sonically, then metaphorically, until it loops back on itself as a triple entendre that carries the entire verse. I recommend listening along here, as he begins with two meanings of solo and so low:
So low / that I can see under the skirt of an ant
so low / that I don't get high /
no mo’ / when I Geronimo / I just go "heh!”
solo / my cup is a rojo / my cholo, my friend
so low / that I can admit:
When I hear that another kid is shot by the Popo
It ain't an event / no mo’
The poem begins with a fanciful image: Andre feels so low to the ground, he is below an ant, (who happens to be wearing a skirt). It’s an emotionally bleak place to start, mixed with the predatory reference of looking up a skirt — something he circles back to.
And he’s so “low” that he doesn’t get high anymore — playing with those words’ dichotomy, while also offering a literal reading that he is too depressed to feel buzzed.
Andre fuses multiple entendres of the (simple) framework of feeling low. He jumps from that vaguely personal mood to reasons the whole world has him down — that police (“popo”) killing kids in his community is so routine, it’s not even an “event.” His personal sadness suddenly has higher stakes.
Now there’s a hole…
So low / that no more high horses
so [it’s] hard to wear Polo
when I do / I cut the pony off
now there's a hole / where there once was a logo, how fitting!
Andre invokes the rhetoric of arrogantly being on a “high horse,” tying in the horse image from the expensive Polo brand, a logo he removes, if he wears it at all.
As a kid, I remember when my Dad bought sport clothes with logos, he would remove them, reasoning that logos were silly and gave the company free advertising. This may be the one thing my Dad has in common with Andre 3000. So that part could apply literally, and Andre explains there’s now a hole in place of the logo — which are often in the upper left corner of shirts, it feels like a reference to a hole in his heart, “how fitting”! (A hole in your heart tends to keep your mood… so low.)
Andre continues with skepticism towards commerce and trends:
So low / that I can give a f--- about what is “trending”
tryna cut down on my spending
regardless of winning / instead of pretending…
[women] want something real from a man
just saying it / we being real persons
I hate that it's like this / I feel for you, ant!
I don't know / what it's like with a skirt on
so pardon me / if I am being insensitive
but darling / this only worsens
Andre explains even if he’s “winning,” he’s trying to spend less and ignore trends. Then the insect from the first line returns; he suggests a sexist culture might make women feel as small as an “ant.” The skirt is now something he tries to relate to, while also admitting he has no idea what it’s like to wear one, let alone be a woman, and he finds himself apologizing.
Looking at the other kids…
Then Andre goes from his apology to dig deeper, sharing how he can still feel like a lost child in this industry, alone and disoriented even amidst his success:
So low / my halo stay way low /
it feels like it's bent…
Solo — that I am no rookie / but feel like a kid
looking at the other kids / with astonishment /
while I'm on punishment
watching the summer / come close to an end
after 20 years in / I'm so naive / I was under the im—
—'pression that everyone wrote they own verses
it's coming back different and / yeah / that sh— hurts me!
I'm humming and whistling / to those not deserving
I've stumbled and lived every word / was I working just way too hard?
This is so deep — ending an entire track that runs just 80 seconds.
Andre’s been hammering this word to connote loneliness and feeling low — solo, so low — this may the first time the song flips it to a third meaning — being a Solo Act in music.
Many rap fans celebrate Andre more for his work in the group Outkast, than for his solo career, where he has receded for years (and talked openly about his struggle to recharge creatively). It sounds like Andre is opening up to fans here. He knows many say he’s one of the greatest lyricists of all time, but lately, he feels more like a fallen angel, his halo low and bent.
He realizes he’s no rookie, but he’s confessing he still feels like a kid — a round of hip hop “imposter’s syndrome” — as he eyes the “other” kids’ antics.
Then even within this confessional, he levels scorn for the kids, or fellow artists, who are gaming the system with ghostwriters (a major controversy in rap).
Lived every word…
Andre is aghast to learn his peers secretly took shortcuts, or passed others’ work off as their own, all while he hummed along! That hurts him, to watch the undeserving gamed the system. To him, passing off another’s work is like stealing the valor of someone’s life — he had his stumbles, but at least they were genuinely his — “I've stumbled and lived every word.”
Then, the doubt creeps back in — it suffuses the entire verse. So even amidst his outrage, he second-guesses his own stated principle — is he just the sucker, was he working “just way too hard?”
It’s a question that might leave you feeling low.
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Do you think Andre is emotionally open in this verse?
Tell me in the comments and I’ll reply to some, per usual…
Thank you for explaining the lyrics. I’ve never been a fan of rap but you are teaching me to appreciate it. I love your show and watch daily. At 69 I need help understanding the current music. Thanks again.
Thanks. You gently lowered me to understanding the depths of exclusion. I am 84 and follow your MSNBC political analysis but seldom continue on to your “fall back” rap and cultural comment. I’m tempted to sample a little more now. Dean