Ms. Jackson: I’m sorry, but physical media is the real deal

Outkast’s Stankonia was released during the pinnacle of Napster’s popularity on October 31, 2000. The Halloween release was well-timed, as anticipation for the album had been growing since the release of Stankonia’s first single, “B.O.B.”. American society had a now-unimaginable patience with regards to entertainment consumption. B.O.B. had been out for an entire two months before the album had dropped. This was a musical era before the iPod, where burning mixes on CDs was high-tech, and physical collections were amassed by the population at large.

Any OutKast fan who’s heard their complete discography is well aware this album was far from a best effort. Some very catchy singles caught the mainstream wind and sailed it for several years. Yet Big Boi and Andre 3000 are superb lyricists who could have just as easily been dismissed was it their sole recording. Those who owned a legitimate version of Stankonia know this particular album was memorable not because of the music contained therein, but due to the discs’ highly provocative and visually-appealing artwork.

This disc has shocked and awed millions spanning multitudes of cities during numerous years. That said, even today, a search online for this particular artwork only results in scans of the disc and several partial images. About two years ago, I’d finally decided to research the artwork. It just so happened that the Stankonia disc insert was tucked away deep in an old drawer. Hundreds of contributors are credited on this album from producers, songwriters, beat makers, drug dealers, photographers, caterers, and many more. Graphic design and artwork was credited to a Mike Rush.

A Google search turned up several results for this seemingly popular name including a healthy selection of politicians, musicians, IT personnel, and painters. But the graphical artist remained elusive.  Next step: Bing. My secondary option at the time turned up nil. Moving forward, I tried Yahoo. No matter how many variations of Mike Rush I threw at the search engines, nothing would show up. Even incorporating additional terms such as “Outkast” or “Stankonia” or “graphic designer” proved equally ineffective. Shortly before despair set in, a LinkedIn search proved fruitful.

Listed on the third page of results was a graphic designer going by the name of J. Michael Rush & at the very bottom of his résumé , a stint with Arista Records is listed. His Prosite contained images of the original artwork pre-digitalization.

I contacted him via his now defunct ProSite. He responded via email to an inquiry about his work with OutKast:

“…As for the artwork of the woman, Andre started penciling it in studio and I took it from him. We were talking back forth on what he wanted and he takes it very seriously. He gave me a book about the art of Filmore in the 70s and I decided to give it a fractal black light kinda feel.  He loved it…”

It’s contentious whether a singular point can even be deduced from this chance encounter. Numerous observations could be made here regarding the benefits of purchasing physical albums vs. downloading, and the experiences that ensue. A similar argument can be made to the additional dimensions one may enjoy whilst concert-going with other avid fans. Artists will further the divide by suggesting that creating your own art is even more enthralling. Perhaps good fortune or karma brought me in touch with Michael Rush. However it came to be, I am grateful the lady commonly referred to as Ms. Jackson now adorns the wall above my love couch in splendid 18 x 24” glory.

Michael Rush is now the Art Director with Wine & Spirits Magazine. More information on him can be found on LinkedIn.



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