André Benjamin, aka André 3000, has gone to a very different place with his new full album (his first major release in nearly 20 years). He is not necessarily interested in taking his hip-hop fans along with him. You’ve never heard this . It’s time to get re-introduced.
(For the unaware) André 3000 and Big Boi claimed the hip-hop landscape as Outkast in the 1990s and early 2000s. The group repped Atlanta and the Dirty South and their hits are stuck in your head. After “Idlewild” in 2006, André 3000 left Outkast, hard. There were numerous collaborations in the meantime, as well as television and film projects. But this latest turn has fans wondering why they waited 17 years for something so different from Mr. A3K.
“New Blue Sun” offers no beats. No rhymes. No funky hooks. No party shouts. But there were clues along the path.
Serious Outkast fans may recall of hint of A3K’s obsession with native flutes from the opening notes of “Elevators (Me & You).” He played some sax on “The Love Below” album. In 2018, Mr. Benjamin gave us a taste of his reed travels with the self-released “Look Ma No Hands” on Soundcloud, where he explored the bass clarinet in a strong free jazz way. Apparently, he’s been a serious student of various flute forms, performing on the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning 2022 film “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
“New Blue Sun” (eight tracks, with six of them longer than 10 minutes) is an instrumental showcase for Benjamin’s flute work across hand-crafted contrabass and Maya flutes (by Master Craftsman Guillermo Martinez), digital wind instruments, wood and bamboo flutes, pedals, and panther toning. He confessed to NPR’s Rodney Carmichael his long love with Coltrane’s sound. (NPR/André 3000)
Radio hosts and music critics look at his collaborators to discern the tone of any record project. The crew on “New Blue Sun” was the perfect complement to his current cosmic destination. California-based percussionist/producer Carlos Niño used his radio show on KPFK – Los Angeles to pursue and celebrate Psychedelic, Electronic, Folk, New Age, and World Music. He co-produced this work with Andre 3000 employing all those genres in mind.
Guitarist Nate Mercereau (with multi-instrumental credits including Leon Bridges, Camila Cabello, The Weeknd, and John Legend) provides notes, strains, and sampling to the session. Atlanta-based “now-wave/avant-garde/experimental” drummer Deantoni Parks lends suggestive percussion to one track. Keyboardists Diego Gaeta and Surya Botofasina provide layers of keyboard and synth atmosphere. The mood throughout the album suggests the ether-world harmonics of Alice Coltrane. Her Vedantic beliefs are in the room. Jesse Peterson and Mia Doi Todd (Flying Lotus) are in the mix. DJ Matthewdavid and V.C.R (Leaving Records) also contribute to the community.
An artist of his stature can write his own apologetic. The opening track on the 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.” Other titles pique the curiosity, like, “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.”
I gave it the weekend, ‘cuz I didn’t know what to think of this radical shift in direction, or how it would be received by a whole generation of Outkast fans. Social media and Black Twitter (now called “X”) to the rescue. Responses from the people are three-fold:
- DJs and producers will begin sampling Andre 3000’s flute work IMMEDIATELY and without reservation. The dreamy, indigenous waves of sound are just the new audio texture they’re looking for.
- Stressed and distressed, war-weary and beaten down by old-school racism and new-threat global warming, more than a few of the folks are ready for some meditation vibes from Mr. A3K.
- I want my Outkast back. (Key & Peele’s comedic sketch on “Why You’ll Never Get that Outkast Reunion is now considered prophetic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U9rMkgoGL8)
Straight outa ATL, Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s raps, production and style always showed a fearlessness. The psychedelic notes, the irresistible grooves, the funky beats, the effects, the voices, the collaborations, the costumes. Even the visual stories, while grounded in the required sexy dancing, cars and bling, stretched out as the band gained the confidence that comes with millions of units sold.
After the second listen, I can tell you “New Blue Sun” is a long-distance trip, as in “pack your Louis Vuitton bags, we won’t be back for a while.”
The Cadillac won’t get you on this voyage. Surrender your need for verbal bars at the screening table. At the very least, you’ll need to upgrade your Escalade with warp drive for this journey. This destination is far beyond Stankonia.
As the publicity photo suggests, Andre 3000’s New Blue Sun is an offering to the universe, straight up, with no stops in between. Are you ready to ride along?
Pictures: homepage/this page top-Kai Regan/Courtesy of the artist; “New Blue Sun” album cover
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