When an artist obtains any kind of commercial success, expectations grow as the artist falls under scrutiny. Yet, few artists can be said to have reached the same level of success that André 3000 did in the 90s and early 2000s. As the rap duo Outkast, André 3000 and fellow rapper Big Boi were responsible not only for the creation of the single best selling Hip Hop album of all time, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, but also a hand full of albums which today are considered to be classics in their own right. As a result of his work as part of Outkast, André 3000 came to be known by many as one of the greatest rappers of all time.
Despite all this, after the release of the last Outkast album Idlewild in 2006, André released virtually no new music–the only exceptions being a few sporadic rap features across the years and a two-song jazz EP in 2018. That was until this past November when, out of the blue, André announced his first-ever solo album, New Blue Sun. Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that the album was not going to be a rap album, but rather an instrumental flute album lasting a total of one and a half hours.
The album includes no rap beats, no lyrics, and no traces of hip-hop; it is essentially devoid of anything fans might have come to expect from the Outkast rapper. Instead, the album contains only the sounds of André playing his various flutes which range from a wooden Mayan double flute to a simple digital flute. Sonically, the album is entirely improvisational, flowing from soundscape to soundscape with many songs having long runtimes with one even lasting upwards of seventeen minutes. Musically, the tracks have no singular meaning, granting the listener the freedom to add their own meaning.
The titles of the tracks serve as the only semblance of an attempt to convey any message. They consist of phrases that are at times poignant, poetic, or seemingly random. Most notably, the opening track of the album addresses the listener directly with the title “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.” Besides being a reference to the use of woodwind instruments on the album, the title directly addresses the expectations of the listener and gives a reason for the existence of the album explaining that it is simply a manifestation of André’s artistic urges at this point in time.
The album was conceptualized through the process of following creativity however it may look and in whatever form it may take. Specifically, André did not want to make a rap album. The rollout of the album mirrored this theme as well, with most of the promotion for the album consisting of statements and interviews from André in which he discusses his current disillusion with the genre of rap and the unconventional trajectory of his career.
However, this album’s message is not entirely novel. Just last year, Kendrick Lamar released his first album since his five-year hiatus, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, in which he confronted the expectations placed on him as an artist. Kendrick came to a similar conclusion as André: that he should create art that is authentic to his life rather than what the public might want to hear. In the same way, both rappers at the top of the game, having received both commercial and critical success, chose to pursue what they felt was their truest form of artistic expression despite expectations.
By defying expectations through the release of New Blue Sun, André 3000 was able to create an album that stands as a testament to his character as a musician and works to cement him as a representation of authentic artistry. While the album may not have been what many fans wanted, it stands as a uniquely captivating piece of art through the point it makes alone. New Blue Sun reaches beyond the music and brings with it a deeper meaning, one that is entirely authentic to the experience of the artist and demonstrates the liberation of an artist.
Listen to New Blue Sun below: