The lyrics are a message to the mother of singer Erykah Badu. Andre 3000 (Andre Benjamin), one of the rappers in the group, had a child with Badu out of wedlock named Seven Sirius Benjamin. He wanted Badu's mother to hear his side of the story, as he felt he was being portrayed as a bad father. He felt Badu kept him away from their child on purpose.
Andre 3000 explained in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I probably would never come out and tell Erykah's mom, 'I'm sorry for what went down.' But music gives you the chance to say what you want to say. And her mom loved it. She's like, 'Where's my publishing check?'"
"Ms. Jackson" is a name Outkast made up. Badu's mother is really named Kolleen Wright. She knew it was about her the first time she heard it.
An intro at the beginning of the song dedicates it to "baby's mamas' mamas'."
Outkast tried all sorts of tricks in the studio, making many odd requests of their engineer John Frye. "Ms. Jackson" is underpinned with an entire track that was played back in reverse, giving it an unusual, distorted feel to mesh with the disquieting lyric. The reverse effect is most prominent on the percussion, especially the congas.
Outkast performed this at the 2002 Grammy Awards complete with a full band, backup singers, and stage full of children playing on a playground.
This won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by Duo or Group. Outkast also won for Best Rap Album.
So what does Erykah Badu think of the iconic rap hit? Speaking to Rap Radar
in 2016, she admitted, "It hit kind of a sore spot."
Badu added: "I didn't wanna hear that, especially when I heard Big Boi's verse. When I heard Andre's verse, I felt very good because his verse was really, really inspiring. He just said how he felt and it was his honest feelings and I always respected that and listened to what he felt and appreciated it."
How did the real "Ms. Jackson," Erykah Badu's mother, Kolleen Maria Gipson, take being the subject of a hit song?
"How did my mama feel? Baby, she bought herself a 'Ms. Jackson' license plate," Badu said. "She had the mug, she had the ink pen, she had the headband, everything. That's who loved it."
Outkast was well established on the rap scene and had charted a few modest Hot 100 hits, but "Ms. Jackson" brought them to the ears of listeners well outside of hip-hop. The tender, hooky song proved palatable to pop radio, and went to #1 in America. On their next album, they landed two more chart-toppers: "Hey Ya
" and "The Way You Move."
The first promotional single from the Stankonia
album was the far more aggressive "Bombs Over Baghdad (B.O.B.)
," which gave their core fans the banger they were looking for. That one wasn't sold in stores and got little airplay, so it failed to chart. "Ms. Jackson" was released next.