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André 3000's reinvention and evolution: A rap icon's new era

A line drawing of a man crouching while holding a large flute.
André 3000 / Instagram

In the landscape of modern music, few artists encapsulate the essence of transformative artistry as André 3000 does. From his groundbreaking work with OutKast to his latest solo endeavor, “New Blue Sun,” his career has been a testament to the relentless pursuit of artistic evolution and authenticity. This feature delves into André’s journey, exploring his collaboration with Carlos Niño, insights from his interviews with Rick Rubin and NPR, and the profound impact of his move to Venice Beach.

The Outkast era: Prelude to evolution

André Benjamin, known as André 3000, first captured the world’s attention as one-half of the hip-hop duo OutKast. Alongside Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, André pioneered a sound that melded Southern rap with eclectic influences, pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop could be. The duo’s early work was marked by daring experimentation, drawing from diverse influences like jazz, funk and alternative rock. André’s eclectic style was always in flux, a harbinger of the more drastic shifts to come.

Diving deep with Rick Rubin

In a profound conversation with Rick Rubin, André 3000 spoke about his creative struggles and the shift toward instrumental music. He discussed the challenges of creating under the immense pressure of success and fame, likening it to playing in a room where the magic dissipates upon being observed. This interview shed light on André’s internal conflicts and his desire to rebel against the constraints of his past successes.

A key aspect of André’s transformation has been his battle with social anxiety disorder. He described to Rubin how his condition led to a preference for isolation, a state that, while comfortable, often led to a hyper-analytical and judgmental mindset, further complicating his creative process.

André also revealed his shift from mainstream hip-hop to the less-charted waters of instrumental music. This journey began with a diminished focus on traditional songwriting, as André found himself increasingly drawn to the piano, recording spontaneous compositions on his iPhone. Though seemingly random, these sessions were deeply rooted in a rebellious spirit, a desire to break free from the constraints of expectation and genre.

Why did André step away from rap, a genre he once reigned over? It’s a mix of personal satisfaction and a quest for authenticity. André admits to the challenges of finding pleasure in rap, feeling disconnected from the art form and its current landscape. This disconnection prompted him to explore instrumental music as a form of rebellion and self-expression.

Embracing the flute

The flute, an instrument far removed from the hip-hop lexicon, became André’s new voice. Spontaneous sightings of him, flute in hand, sparked curiosity and concern. But for André, the flute was more than an instrument; it was a conduit for expression, a meditative practice, and a bridge to new creative realms.

André’s exploration of the flute wasn’t limited to a single type. His collection, boasting around 30 to 40 flutes, is a testament to his deep dive into the world of woodwind instruments. This collection includes diverse flutes from different cultures and traditions, each bringing its unique sound and history.

  • Traditional Western flutes: These include the standard concert flute, known for its bright, clear sound, commonly used in classical and contemporary music.
  • Bansuri flute: Originating from India, the Bansuri is a bamboo flute. It’s known for its mellow, soulful sound and is prominently used in Indian classical music.
  • Ney flute: This is a key instrument in Middle Eastern music. Made from reed, the Ney produces a distinctively haunting and ethereal sound.
  • Chinese and Korean flutes: These flutes, from East Asian traditions, add a unique timbre and style to André’s repertoire, reflecting the musical traditions of these regions.
  • African flutes: These flutes bring the rhythms and melodies of African music traditions, adding a rich diversity to his collection.

The flute allowed André a new mode of expression, different from the vocal-centric medium of rap. It offered a more introspective and personal form of communication. Playing the flute became a meditative practice for André, a way to find solace and introspection in its serene sounds. Each type of flute in André’s collection represents a different culture and musical tradition, aligning with his love for exploration and understanding of global music styles.

The move to Venice Beach

André’s relocation to Venice Beach, California, catalyzed his creative rebirth. This transition was characterized by an unassuming encounter with Carlos Niño at Erewhon, a chic LA health food chain. This chance meeting led to regular jam sessions in Niño’s basement, reminiscent of André’s early days with the Dungeon Family. This period in Venice Beach opened André to new collaborations and influences, significantly impacting his artistic trajectory.

In his interview with Rick Rubin, André shared insights into his creative process. He spoke about his shift towards instrumental music as a form of rebellion against the constraints of his past. The creation of New Blue Sun involved spontaneous compositions, with André and his collaborators, including Niño, engaging in improvisational sessions, allowing the music to flow organically.

The genesis of a new sound

André’s first collaboration with Niño was pivotal in his musical evolution. A respected figure in the experimental jazz scene, Niño has a rich pedigree as a California-based producer, composer, arranger, and percussionist. His work with artists like Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Madlib showcases his versatility and deep connection to the alt-jazz world.

The collaboration on the track “Conversations” from Niño’s album (I’m Just) Chillin’, On Fire signified André’s foray into a new realm of musical expression, setting the tone for his future projects.

A window into 'New Blue Sun'

André’s NPR interview offered a deeper understanding of “New Blue Sun.” He discussed the meanings behind the album’s tracks, each representing a facet of his experiences and the newfound artistic freedom he now cherishes. The interview provided a window into the soul of an artist who has continuously sought to reinvent himself.

“New Blue Sun” emerged as a spontaneous composition, a far cry from the structured creativity of André’s past. The album’s creation involved improvisational sessions with Niño and other collaborators, allowing the music to flow organically. This approach mirrored André’s journey – spontaneous, exploratory, and deeply personal. The album is not just a collection of songs but a manifestation of André’s journey of rediscovery and rebellion against conventional musical norms.

In “New Blue Sun,” the flute is not just an instrument but a narrator. Each track in the album showcases the flute’s versatility, from its ability to convey deep emotions to its capacity for intricate melodic storytelling. The flute’s voice in the album is a reflection of André’s inner world – contemplative, introspective, and deeply personal.

The track list: Narratives and meanings

New Blue Sun features titles that reflect André’s idiosyncratic approach to music and life. Each track title serves as a window into his thoughts, experiences, and the creative process. The album is devoid of rap but rich in storytelling through its instrumental compositions, challenging listeners to find their own interpretations and meanings.

  1. “I Really Wanted To Make A Rap Album, But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time”: Reflects André’s shift from rap to wind instruments, symbolizing the natural flow of his creative instincts.
  2. “The Slang Word P(*)ssy Rolls Off The Tongue With Far Better Ease Than The Proper Word Vagina . Do You Agree?”: A playful, provocative title, showcasing André’s humor and linguistic playfulness.
  3. “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”: Inspired by an ayahuasca trip in Hawaii, representing a profound personal and spiritual experience.
  4. “BuyPoloDisorder’s Daughter Wears A 3000™ Button Down Embroidered”
  5. “Ninety Three ‘Til Infinity And Beyoncé”
  6. “Ghandi, Dalai Lama, Your Lord & Savior J.C. / Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, And John Wayne Gacy”
  7. “Ants To You, Gods To Who ?”
  8. “Dreams Once Buried Beneath The Dungeon Floor Slowly Sprout Into Undying Gardens”: A nod to his roots with OutKast and the Dungeon Family.

Lessons for artists: The beauty of evolution

André 3000’s journey teaches the importance of evolution in art. His transition from a renowned rapper to an introspective instrumentalist underscores the necessity of exploring new territories and staying true to one’s evolving artistic vision. His story is a reminder that true artistry involves constant growth and the courage to follow one’s creative instincts, even when it means venturing into the unknown.

Embracing the journey: A message to fans

Fans of André 3000 are invited to embrace this new chapter, not as a departure from his past but as a continuation of his artistic evolution. New Blue Sun is not just an album; it’s a milestone in a journey that transcends genres and speaks to the core of what it means to be a creator in an ever-changing world. It challenges the artist and the audience to embrace the beauty of change and the endless possibilities of creative exploration.


André 3000’s transformation from a hip-hop icon to an introspective instrumentalist is a testament to the power of personal growth and artistic courage. His journey, enriched by his collaborations and personal revelations, is a compelling narrative of an artist refusing to be defined by past successes but continuously seeking new forms of expression. New Blue Sun represents a change in musical style and a deeper exploration of his identity and artistry, inviting us all to witness and embrace the beauty of artistic evolution.

Written with assistance from ChatGPT.

Director of Digital | Radio Milwaukee