In an essay ostensibly about OutKast—“Da Art of Storytellin’ (A Prequel)” from our Georgia Music issue—Kiese Laymon pays tribute to his Grandmama. Throughout his childhood, she worked as a buttonhole slicer at a Mississippi poultry plant, slicing and gutting thousands of chickens daily. He writes:
By the end of the day, when the two-tone blue Impala crept back into the driveway on the side of our shotgun house, I’d run out to welcome Grandmama home. “Hey baby,” she’d say. “Let me wash this stank off my hands before I hug your neck.”
This stank wasn’t that stink. This stank was root and residue of black Southern poverty, and devalued black Southern labor, black Southern excellence, black Southern imagination, and black Southern woman magic. This was the stank from whence black Southern life, love, and labor came.
Though the piece develops into a thoughtful consideration of OutKast’s music, the possibilities of lyric art, and the sources of creative inspiration, Grandmama’s experiences at the chicken plant are never far from Laymon’s mind and heart. This makes the essay perfect fodder for our friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Mississippi, where Laymon is the current Grisham Writer-in-Residence. Last month, he read an adaptation of the story to an audience in Oxford at the SFA’s 18th annual symposium. We invite you to watch the performance below.
Before he begins reading, Laymon discusses the mission of the piece and its meaning to him. Primarily, he says, the essay “is about how important black love has been to pop culture production and how that pop culture production has influenced not just a region, but a nation. And really, it’s just about love.” He received a standing ovation.
For even more on OutKast from Kiese Laymon, we encourage you to read his interview with esteemed hip-hop writer Charlie Braxton, whose work originally inspired Laymon to pursue writing. As Braxton says: “by virtue of being born and raised in the South, which is the bedrock of American culture, you are heir to a great legacy of artists, musicians, writers, and emcees who have shaped global culture. That legacy empowers you to be bold and tell your story—your truth, your way.”
We also recommend Laymon’s February 2014 discussion with Regina N. Bradley, the first installment of her Outkasted Conversations series commemorating the group’s twenty years as a presence in hip-hop. Bradley is also a contributor to our Georgia Music issue—she wrote about the rap duo Field Mob and the legacy of civil rights in their hometown of Albany.
The Georgia Music issue is available to order here.