Rising to fame as a member of the iconic hip-hop duo Outkast in the early 2000s, rapper André 3000 has delivered New Blue Sun, his debut album formulated some 17 years after the outfit’s dissolvement. In typical “keep you on your toes” fashion, the project features no bars, no 16s—no rapping, period. Instead, it’s a showcase of André Benjamin’s other love—the flute, and an incredibly meditative and sprawling one at that.
An Almost Two-Decade Process That Led to André 3000’s New Blue Sun
Hop onto any rapper’s Instagram, and you’ll see that the current state of rap fandom is one of absolute voracity. No matter how prolific an artist may be, any public comments from them that can be commented on will lead to inevitable jeers like “drop x” or “when are we getting y project.” The fervor that even a year off from music can cause amongst many fanbases can make you forget that there is a litany of releases we’ve been waiting decades for, and atop the list has always been a solo André 3000 album.
Amongst the most eclectic and reclusive figures in the industry, the Atlanta rapper has sparse in terms of public appearance, and even sparser when it comes to the studio. Since an especially active 2016 where he contributed vocals to the likes of Vince Staples, Kid Cudi, Travis Scott and Kanye West, a 3 Stacks verse has been incredibly hard to come by—just five have officially released, including a spot on Killer Mike’s MICHAEL, dropped earlier this year. And for better or for worse, his debut album doesn’t reverse that trend.
3 Stack’s Decision to Forgo Rapping…
In an interview with GQ, André 3000 explained the new bounty of inspiration that learning the flute has given him. Frequently cited as one of the best rappers alive, his relative inexperience with the instrument was a novel experience: “It’s interesting to listen back to these sessions where I’m a baby with something again.” He also addresses the “why” of choosing to eschew traditional hip-hop for his official debut. “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 […] there’s a part of entertaining someone else too. […] The longer I’m out of it, the better chances I have of staying out of it.”
Instead of typical lyrical expressions, the Atlanta artist opted to let that particular creativity shine through in the song titles here. The first is “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time,” another disclaimer as to what you’re getting into when pressing play. André 3K’s flute doesn’t come in until about midway through the track, almost 6 minutes in. And when it does, it only lasts for a short, fleeting burst, one of many “theme and variations” like progressions that layer over top of the spread-out ambient background.
…And Head Into the World of Ambient & Neo-Jazz
Each track has pretty much the same shape as the intro, but it’s the pieces that comprise it that change as the album progresses. Track 2, titled “The Slang Word P(*)ssy Rolls Off the Tongue with Far Better Ease Than the Proper Word Vagina . Do You Agree?” goes in an electronic and industrial direction. A distant and ethereal synth sets the melodic pace, but harsher, buzzing tones move the track along sonically. Equal but opposite is “BuyPoloDisorder’s Daughter Wears a 3000 Shirt Embroidered,” which takes a classical, folk approach by incorporating pan flutes and drum circle percussion.
Even if André 3000 intended to go an avant-garde route with New Blue Sun already, it’s impossible not to see the influence of his collaborators here. Among a vibrant list of playing partners are Carlos Niño, a long-tenured veteran of psychedelic genres; Matthewdavid, a notable name in the LA electronic scene; and Mia Doi Todd, cited as a premier “connecting [link] between other musicians” by Dusted Magazine.
Among a tracklist full of meditative pieces, the closer, “Dreams Once Buried Beneath the Dungeon Floor Slowly Sprout into Undying Gardens” stands out as the most spiritually minded. It’s a 16-minute epic where a somber chord progression is accented by gongs, distant synth lines, and of course, André’s flute.
Steeped in the tradition of new age and jazz music, André 3000’s New Blue Sun will present a challenging listen to those tuning in expecting anything resembling his Outkast output of old. But even in this new genre, 3 Stacks holds onto much of what made him such a tour de force on the mic. Instead of dextrous wordplay, the array of instruments here bend and contort- a closer comparison to Floating Points than Big Boi. You can find New Blue Sun on streaming platforms everywhere.