March 23rd, 1999 was the release date of “Rosa Parks”, the lead single off Outkasts’ third major studio album entitled Aquemini. The album title is a combination of each group member’s zodiac signs (Big Boi being an Aquarius + André 3000’s being a Gemini = Aquemini). The song itself samples Curtis Mayfield’s 1972 track, “Superfly” (very well I might add), and its title is a reference to non other than the infamous, civil rights activist Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on the front of the bus was a critical moment in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Given her strength of character, perhaps it should have come as no surprise that back in 1999, Parks sued both Outkast and LaFace Records for misappropriating her name. In their defense, Outkast argued that her name was used simply as a metaphor to imply that the group was leading the charge in overturning Rap’s old governing body. Their intent was not to besmirch her name, but rather use it as a symbol for the group’s mission of paving the path for new sounds in Hip Hop music as well as new styles in Hip Hop culture.
The initial lawsuit as well as a 2001 appeal were dismissed on the First Amendment grounds of free speech. In 2003 the Supreme Court allowed a follow-up lawsuit against LaFace and its parent company BMG, but at this point both André 3000 and Big Boi were dropped as co-defendants in the case. The suit was ultimately settled in April of 2004 with the group, their producer, and the record labels agreeing to pay Rosa Parks an undisclosed amount of money and agreeing to assist the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development in developing educational programs about Rosa Parks’ life and significance in US history.
A great track unto itself, its story truly captures the significance and power of Hip Hop. Who’d a thunk that Outkast’s decision to use Rosa Parks’ name metaphorically would spiral into a Supreme Court case that at day’s end would result in a partnering between the group and her organization to further civil rights education? Phenomenal is the only word that comes to mind, and for that, we here are JP Lime Production salute both Outkast and Rosa Parks (RIP).