On OutKast's "Chronometrophobia", Andre 3000's weaknesses, and the limitations of time
“Chronomentrophobia. The fear of clocks. The fear of time.”
I've never even imagined a world where I can escape the appeal of OutKast's music. I developed an appreciation for their full discography in middle school, when Limewire was my gateway to discovering music from different eras. I heard Speakerboxxx/The Love Below , got hooked, and started to work my way backwards through their catalog. I would listen to songs like “B.o.B.,” “ATLiens,” “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” and “Humble Mumble” after track practice when I needed a break from my obsession with Lil Wayne’s mixtape escapades, the various phases of Kanye West, and the lyricism of peak Lupe Fiasco.
Idlewild dropped in August 2006. It was the first OutKast project that I was able to fully absorb and appreciate as a new release. I appreciated the comical, frenetic absurdity of “Makes No Sense At All,” the bluesy ambience of “Idlewild Blue,” Janelle Monae's vocals on "In Your Dreams," and the opening line of “Mighty ‘O’.” My favorite track? “Chronomentrophobia.”
I didn’t give a damn what the word actually meant. It had about three syllables too many for 16-year-old me to even feign interest in exploring its definition, which I’m sure would have disappointed the teachers in all of my advanced placement courses. My disinterest in advanced vocabulary didn’t stop me from jamming to two minutes and twelve seconds of Andre vocals coupled with somber, funky, ATLiens-approved instrumentation.
I appreciated the song without much thought to context, or intent, or its connection to its creators. It took me years to come back around, listen with newfound perspective, and find meaning in the song’s lyrics. The beauty of creating timeless art is that consumers can come back to it, years later. That’s exactly what I did with this record.
“I ain’t got much time left. I got to funk you now.”
"Chronomentrophobia" feels like one of the final chapters in a long journey. We can hear the fatigue, steely resolve, and sorrow in Andre's voice. It cracks as he sings and raps about the fear of time passing him by. He doesn't pretend to have solutions, but chooses to openly wrestle with the questions in his head. It's evident that his experiences have molded him. He knows that there isn't much time left, and admits that he's afraid . He reflects on how hard he had to work to get to this point, and reflects on the complexities of the problems he's still facing.
In a rare October 2017 interview with GQ magazine, the elusive Mr. 3000 spoke to the effect that time has had on his creativity as an emcee:
“I don’t have the pulse anymore. Rhythms change every generation. The intensity and the drums change. And I’m not on the pulse. I can’t pretend. It’s kinda like watching your uncle dance. So the only thing I can do is this kind of novelty, off thing for them.” In the same interview, he stated: “hip-hop is about freshness. You can always hop, but you won’t always be hip. At a certain point, you just won’t. And this is how I know: All the people I grew up with, none of them, not a one, is thriving. Not a one. So that tells me something. I gotta watch that, as someone that’s come in the game and has loved these guys. I mean, loved them. Loved them. But the potency just moves on.”
Andre's fear of time running out became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Years after he sang about his fear of time, he sat and reflected on how time has taken away one of his most powerful gifts and made his peer group irrelevant. None of us one can escape the limitations of humanity - not even our heroes.
“Revelations gettin’ impatient and now I'm dead. Remember what I said, I'm gone, bow ya heads.”
OutKast might never release another project. Andre might never feel like he has the pulse again. That won't take away from the legacy that they've already built. As a duo, they’ve already ensured that their music will have a place in history. OutKast music will still get spins for decades to come. Their albums will be heard and studied by future generations. It will influence future emcees, storytellers, and musicians. What they've created will outlive them.
That GQ interview gave me new perspective on OutKast's success, Andre's elusive nature, and the effects of time. OutKast’s success became even more impactful to me, because I stopped regarding them as some sort of mythical, magical duo from another dimension and started thinking about what they'd accomplished as two human beings from East Point, Atlanta, Georgia. No matter how much fame, success, or acclaim is bestowed upon someone, they're no fundamentally different than the rest of us.
Remembering that our biggest heroes are still human should be encouragement. Celebrating their humanity should push for us to continue to sharpen our skills. We should be striving to create our best “things” - whatever those things might be. The people who we look up to, admire, and put on pedestals are humans just like the rest of us, and they found a way to achieve greatness. We can too. We can do so many different things with our time on this earth. All of us.
Listening to “Chronomentrophobia” as a 16-year old in 2006 gave me something to nod my head to on the way home from school. Listening to “Chronomentrophobia” in 2018 reminds me that we have the power to create things that can stand the test of time, despite our fears. Lord willing, I’m excited to return to this record with new perspective in 2030 and 2042. In the meantime, I’ll be focused on expressing ideas and building communities that can stand the test of time.
Here's a video of me making fun of myself on YouTube.
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