Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
OutKast played a major role in putting hip-hop from the South on the map. The duo, made up of ATLiens André “André 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, have won numerous awards, including multiple American Music Awards and Grammys. Before Speakerboxxx/The Love Below brought us “Hey Ya!,” Stankonia brought us “Ms. Jackson.” OutKast’s first single from Stankonia was “B.O.B.”, which didn’t get as much attention as anticipated due to its controversial subject matter. “Ms. Jackson” was the second single, and that was the one that propelled the album, winning the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
The idea for the song came from Benjamin’s experience with Erykah Badu (his baby’s mama) and her mother (his baby mama’s mama). Although the song is upbeat, with a catchy chorus and fast rap lines, it tells a rather sad story, not unlike the later “Hey Ya!”
In my search for the top “Ms. Jackson” covers, I looked for a particular trifecta:
- a strong start with “this one right here goes out to all the baby’s mamas’, mamas,”
- a powerful stress on the “ooh”s after “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson,” and
- the delivery of the crucial line: “forever, forever, ever, forever, ever?”
The Vines cover is good.
The Norm cover is better.
The Sam Naylor cover is best.
The Vines – Ms. Jackson (OutKast cover)
I broke my rules for this cover; it eschews all three things that I went out looking for. The Vines skip the rapping parts altogether, so we miss much of the rich storyline of the original. However, The Vines’ reliance on the chorus of the song to dominate their cover still works. The lyrics are delivered languorously, true to this Australian rock band’s grunge influences. Singer Craig Nicholls’s tone makes him come across as almost numb to the fact that he made Ms. Jackson’s daughter cry. However, there are parts of the song that show more emotion; the most striking line is the echoes of “you can’t predict the weather.” This repeated phrase reveals a more sorrowful and resigned side of the “Ms. Jackson” saga.
The Norm – Ms. Jackson (OutKast cover)
The two frontmen of The Norm, stepbrothers who currently live in Atlanta, pay homage to the Atlanta rappers who formed OutKast. The Norm starts this cover with some ATL pride and deliver the traditional dedication to the baby’s mamas, accompanied by electric guitar and drums. When Ryan Bars starts rapping, you can’t help but be impressed. Bryan Rucker also shows that he can spit some fire throughout, but all the fastest rhymes are saved for Bars.
Although the crowd does a lackluster call and response to “forever, forever, ever, forever, ever,” The Norm rallies. The brothers really live up to their self-professed style of “hip-rock.” About halfway through, the style changes, and the brothers go for an instrumental break that lasts about five minutes. The instrumental break starts quietly and slowly, with some swampy bass and electric guitar riffs. Then the cover escalates into some serious shredding, before being dialed back again. On the surface, the length of the cover might seem excessive, but The Norm commits to making the cover a showcase for their talents, and you have to respect that.
Sam Naylor – Ms. Jackson (OutKast cover)
Don’t be deterred by the poor recording quality. This is a gem from a rather obscure artist. We get some generic intro acoustic guitar, leaving us guessing about what we are listening to. But then, the big reveal: the shout-out to the baby’s mamas. Again, the fast rapping in a live cover is impressive. Naylor even throws in a little “hey ya” in the middle of his cover. We get to the “forever, forever, ever, forever, ever,” line, and the crowd is appropriately appreciative. Laid bare, “Ms. Jackson” doesn’t lose the spunk; the acoustic guitar can still accentuate the rhythm of the song. But where are the coveted “ooh”s, you ask? They come at the end with help from the crowd. The trifecta has been found!
If this post makes you nostalgic for OutKast, Big Boi collaborated with Phantogram in 2015 to create the album Big Grams, and it is worth a listen.