How Kate Bush changed the course of hip hop

It makes me very happy that Big Boi (formerly of OutKast), one of my favorite rappers, is a huge fan of Kate Bush. I can’t help but smile as I imagine 13-year-old Antwon Patton walking around Atlanta with "Babooshka" playing on repeat on his walkman, utterly lost in his headphones.

I always love hearing musicians talk about their influences, because so often they mention artists you wouldn't expect them to listen to — artists from totally different genres or styles. Banjo players who love metal. Metal guitarists who love opera. And, well, hip-hop prodigies who love experimental glam-rock.

This makes me think a bit about how my own horizons of taste are sometimes a bit too close. For instance, I'm afraid I've always had a pretty strong dislike for the music of ABBA. I don't know why, exactly, but I just can't get into their stuff. I guess it's just too far outside of my own interests and the things I consider part of my identity as a music fan.

But every time I've ever mentioned this to a musician friend, their reply is almost always the same: Give it a little more time, they say. You gotta listen to (list of three albums), and pay attention to how they handled the vocal harmonies. Nobody else was doing that back then, and The New Pornographers totally wouldn't be here without them.

So, where I dismissed ABBA on the first listen, my more talented friends instead tried to understand. They were curious. They found a way to connect to it, and then learn from it. In the end, I think, that's how an artist grows.

I'm realizing, more and more, that being a musician, or writer, or designer, or whatever — somebody who makes things — is as much about how you experience others' work as it is about your own craft. It's a willingness to see everything as grist for the mill, a kind of relentlessly open attitude. A desire to understand and connect rather than criticize, no matter how different or strange.

I love that, to musicians, it's all just music. Where more casual listeners might 'wear' their music taste like clothes, musician are so often eager to try on as many outfits as possible.

I'm not that familiar with Kate Bush, unfortunately.1 But I listened to a few tracks this morning and all of a sudden I started to hear it: certain similiarities, certain little echoes of her music in Big Boi's work. I could see some of the connecting threads.

So Kate Bush, it turns out, influenced OutKast, and then they've influenced hip hop ever since. Who knows what kid might be walking around right now, listening to Outkast on her phone, absorbing it, digesting it, letting it guide her as she starts to do her own work? Maybe this kid is, I dunno, a student of the pipe organ, and her love of classic hip hop is going to change church music forever. I could totally see it.

  1. Here's a nice primer if you're not familiar either.