When OutKast won Best New Artist at the Source Awards in 1995 for their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, tensions were extremely high between East Coast and West Coast rappers. Tensions would eventually reach their breaking point two years later with the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. But at that moment during that awards ceremony, rappers from both coasts found themselves temporarily united in expressing their contempt and dissatisfaction for the fact that two rappers from the South were winning an award, especially when the South wasn’t taken very seriously by either coast when it came to their output in the rap game. The two members of OutKast, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and André “André 3000” Benjamin, were aware of this, and André had no interest in staying quiet about it during his acceptance speech.
“The South got something to say.” These words only fueled the fire at the Source Awards and left most of the audience feeling unimpressed. But those words would continue to ring out, and not too long after that night, OutKast would release their classic albums ATLiens, Aquemini, Stankonia, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and the soundtrack to their film Idlewild. They not only confirmed that Big Boi and André 3000 were two of the best rappers ever to pick up a mic but also helped lead the way for other Southern rappers like Nelly, Ludacris, Master P (and nearly every artist on his record label, No Limit), Trina (a.k.a. “Da Baddest Bitch”), and many others to prove that the South most definitely had to say, and whether you liked it or not, it wasn’t going to be ignored.
Fourteen years have passed since Idlewild, and in that time, André and Big Boi have gone their own way without hostility. Though each of them have made their own guest appearances on albums for other artists, rap fans have waited and wondered if and when there will ever be another Outkast album.
But something strange and delightful happened during that wait, starting in 2019. André 3000 would be spotted in public going about his business at airports, coffee shops, and outdoor yoga classes. At each location, he would be seen carrying a Mayan double flute in hand, which he would usually play for anyone willing to listen. Whenever this happened, it would bring joy to the people who crossed his path.
For everyone saying it’s not a flute- I specifically asked him and he said it’s a double flute— Antonia Cereijido (@antoniacere) June 15, 2019
Andre 3000 back at it again with his flute pic.twitter.com/vFWkcAI6Sq— XXL Magazine (@XXL) December 8, 2020
Earlier this week, it was suddenly announced that André 3000 would release a new solo album called New Blue Sun. That was the good news. The news that had fans doing the Scooby-Doo Head Tilt of Confusion was that this album would not feature any raps by André, but would instead feature instrumental music by André played on his flute, and wit other wood instruments.
Ask him why a woodwind album — and people do — and André 3000 will respond, characteristically, by asking, “Why anything? Why did we record these albums before in my career? It is just kind of: Those are the things that came.” He is aware that people expect something else from him. Or: don’t expect. They want. Millions of people. They would like to hear him rap…And he did try, he says. “I’ve worked with some of the newest, freshest, youngest, and old-school producers. I get beats all the time. I try to write all the time.” But rap is not what comes. “Even now people think, Oh, man, he’s just sitting on raps, or he’s just holding these raps hostage. I ain’t got no raps like that. It actually feels…sometimes it feels inauthentic for me to rap because I don’t have anything to talk about in that way. I’m 48 years old. And not to say that age is a thing that dictates what you rap about, but in a way it does. And things that happen in my life, like, what are you talking about? ‘I got to go get a colonoscopy.’ What are you rapping about? ‘My eyesight is going bad.’ You can find cool ways to say it, but….”
In his life, André 3000 has lost both parents. He’s sent a son off to college. He’s known loss and love and fame. He has a partner in Big Boi, who would get back onstage with him tomorrow to continue where OutKast left off, and every day, André decides again not to do that. “And those are real subject matters. I jot down what’s going on in my life. But to make it into an entertaining song to where it’s just not self-serving or it’s not just—like there’s a part of entertaining someone else too.” He tries, but it’s not there when he looks for it. “And what’s that saying with recovering addicts? They say, ‘The longer I’m out of it, the better chances I have of staying out of it.’ ”
In theory, André says, yes, the genre is big enough to encompass old age. To encompass colonoscopies and eye exams and grief and everything else. OutKast expanded the genre’s possibilities, talking honestly about everything in their lives, good, bad, or indifferent. “But look at the greatest boxers now,” André says. “What do they do? They do exhibition fights now and then, but they’re not stepping in the ring. You know what I mean?”
This wasn’t the first time André had alluded to the fact that his well had run dry when it came to spitting lyrics on the mic, and that he found greater joy playing his flute. It also wasn’t the first time that André’s instrumentals had appeared on an album, as four instrumental tracks he had composed and performed were included on the soundtrack album for Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Some people on social media were upset and disappointed with André 3000’s decision to drop an instrumental album, and no longer continue rapping. They felt that everything he’s seen and done since parting ways with Big Boi, as well as his struggles with getting older and wiser, would be amazing material for him to rap about, and that there are other fortysomething rappers like Nas and Jay-Z who are still capable of making tracks that their fans love and enjoy. (I guess they hoped André 3000 would drop something that would give Dave Chappelle-as-The Real Black Sheep a run for his money.) Some of them were even cynical enough to believe that this interview was just 3000 lying to the public about his reasons for no longer rapping, and that he was paralyzed by writer’s block, and by the realization that he’s not as good as he once was, which caused those same fans to state that this was further proof of Big Boi being the superior rapper in OutKast. (If you’re ever bored, and need to kill some time, ask some rap fans who in OutKast is the better rapper, Big Boi or 3 Stacks, and see how well that conversation goes.)
Others on social media were much more understanding of André’s decision to walk away from OutKast, and to no longer pretend he’s the same person we know and love who did “Rosa Parks,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” and “Hey Ya!” Even before he sat down with GQ, it’s been clear that his heart is no longer into rapping like he used to be. And even if he does have a whole bunch of Composition books filled with lyrics that he could easily spit in the lab by himself or with Big Boi, he doesn’t want to do that anymore. We may not like or understand what André 3000 has been doing to achieve peace of mind, but our satisfaction and understanding aren’t needed or required. After six albums, and numerous features on songs by other artists, what more does he need to do to achieve legendary status, and go down in the history books as one of the best and most influential rappers ever? Not a damn thing, because it’s already been done.
The fact that Black Twitter practically did cartwheels after hearing news of a new André 3000 album is proof of that, and the realization that said album would be comprised entirely of flute music did very little to dim that excitement.
Me and the homies listening to that new Andre 3000 pic.twitter.com/ezwYyUsJTf— springwaterpapi (@toneyjetson) November 16, 2023
Andre 3000 got the culture up this morning like pic.twitter.com/Lb4cnb6rTw— Caleb Dume (@ThaCalebDume) November 17, 2023
My neighbors gonna be mad at me once that new André 3000 drops tonight because imma be playing along with him pic.twitter.com/RxuUqAL1Vd— Smitty Werbenjagermanjenson (@ChiddenxNuddet) November 16, 2023
Andre 3000 went and made a breath of the wild soundtrack pic.twitter.com/Gv3J7qwhze— Casey Johnston (@caseyjohnston) November 17, 2023
Andre 3000 dropped an album for those of us that listen to YouTube channels that have graphics like this… pic.twitter.com/sZslyhqO1N— DJ Heat (@DJHeatDC) November 17, 2023
It’s been 17 years since André 3000 released new music. Now, he’s unveiling his first-ever solo project.— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) November 16, 2023
In the inaugural G.Q. Video Cover Story, the rap legend spoke candidly about how he’s changed and why he made a record that nobody could have expected. Dive into the full… pic.twitter.com/bXJBgQrat6
I thought 3k was eating some peanut brittle pic.twitter.com/rKnDRAhBES— 🐶WOOF CLITZER🐶 (@ESPNFrankie) November 16, 2023
New Blue Sun is now available for streaming. The opening track on that album is titled, “I swear, I Really Wanted to Make a “Rap” Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time,” followed by “The Slang Word P-ssy Rolls Off the Tongue with Far Better Ease Than the Proper Word Vagina. Do You Agree?,” “That Night in Hawaii When I Turned into a Panther and Started Making These Low Register Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control … Sh-t Was Wild,” and five other instrumental tracks. It should help his fans, old and new, realize that even if they don’t fully recognize the André 3000 he is now, he’s still André 3000, keeping his heart and playing his part.