A solo album by André 3000, the artist best known as one-half of pioneering Atlanta rap group OutKast, has been among the most sought-after projects in the rap world over the past two decades. On Friday, fans finally got their hands on the long-awaited 3K album, New Blue Sun, but it’s not exactly what hip-hop heads have been hoping for: As promised by the artist himself, the album features no rapping or singing of any kind. Instead, André 3000’s debut solo album features eight lengthy instrumental tracks comprised of experimental music performed on a variety of flutes.

While his OutKast partner, Big Boi, has continued touring and recording as a solo act since the duo went on ice after 2006’s Idlewild, André 3000, real name André Lauren Benjamin, has largely shied away from releasing new music of his own. He has in recent years, however, made a habit of showing up with show-stealing verses on tracks by a slew of notable artists including Kanye WestFrank OceanTravis ScottA Tribe Called QuestKid Cudi, and N.E.R.D.

Rumors of a solo album from the lauded rapper have come and gone in waves over the last ten-plus years. It was widely reported in mid-2013 that Benjamin was working on a solo album with producer Mike Will Made It, but a representative for the artist quickly denied the reports. In 2018, André 3K made hopeful headlines once again when he released a pair of songs on Mother’s Day, “Me&My (To Bury Your Parents)” and “Look Ma No Hands”, but those remain his only official solo tracks five years later. Earlier this year, longtime OutKast collaborator Killer Mike (Run The Jewels) confirmed on Sway’s Universe that an album from Three Stacks was imminent, but he later walked back the claim, saying “I was stoned out of my mind playing, teasing with y’all. … Y’all done took the joke too seriously. But you know, [André 3000’s] always making music. He’s never not making music. So I got a chance to hear a lot of cool stuff.”

André 3000 has never been shy about his latter-day aversions to putting out new rap music. In a 2019 podcast interview with acclaimed record producer Rick Rubin, he explained that the widespread accolades for his work with OutKast have often deterred him from rapping again and noted his growing inclination toward free-form music: “In my own self, I’m trying to figure out where do I sit, you know?” he explained. “Maybe my history is kinda handicapping, in a way. And so I’m just trying to find out what makes me feel the best right now, and what makes me feel the best is when I just do these kind of random instrumental kind of things. They make me feel the most rebellious. I have a really rebellious spirit, I don’t like to go with the flow, really. I don’t know why, but I just feel best when I don’t, and I have to honor that, in a way. … The problem with being an artist, a successful artist, is you have to find a comfortable place to do that again—a comfortable place to feel uncomfortable, is what I’m saying.”

If the comforts of success were alreay pushing André away from rapping in 2019, the ensuing years have likely only deepened those feelings: This past summer, OutKast’s 2003 double-album, SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below, comprised of half Big Boi-led material and half 3K-helmed tracks, officially became the best-selling rap album of all time, despite the fact that André’s shift away from a conventional “rap” designation was already abundantly clear on his The Love Below half of that release 20 years ago. As Benjamin explained to GQ during a discussion about the new album, “One of my homies told me, like, after I finished ‘Hey Ya!'”—now widely lauded as one of the most successful songs of all time—”and I played it for him, he said, ‘Man, if you put that out, man, your career’s over.'”


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André’s penchant for wandering around public places with exotic flutes has also, strangely enough, been well documented over the last several years. Here‘s a clip of him playing a Mayan double-flute at LAX in 2019. Here‘s another from earlier this year in Tokyo, Japan. Here‘s a whole article about his flute wanderings in Philadelphia. Hell, his turn toward ambient, experimental music and away from the eclectic rapping that made him a star was even skewered in a 2015 Key & Peele sketch: As Keegan Michael Key‘s André 3000 tells Jordan Peele‘s Big Boi in the segment, “I got a new idea for a album, man. It’s gonna be just the sound of screeching metal, and then only one spoken word per track.”

Turns out, the comedians weren’t all that far off. New Blue Sun features plenty of exotic sounds and no spoken words at all, though the tracklist does its best to fill in the blanks with outlandish, scene-setting names like “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time”, “The Slang Word P(*)ssy Rolls Off the Tongue With Far Better Ease Than the Proper Word Vagina . Do You Agree?”, and “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”.

In the lead-up to the release of the release, André 3000 took part in a number of rare interviews that peeled back some of the layers of intrigue behind New Blue Moon, on which he plays an assortment of flutes, contrabass flute, Mayan flutes, and bamboo flutes, as well as digital wind instruments alongside percussionist Carlos Niño, keyboardist Surya Botofasina, and guitarist Nate Mercereau.

In a wide-ranging discussion with NPR‘s All Songs Considered, he explained of “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” was inspired by his first experience with the plant-based psychedelic ayahuasca. “I was actually in Hawaii and it was my second night of the first time I’d ever taken ayahuasca,” he explained. “We did it like a three-night kind of phase. The first night was inviting and beautiful and the most powerful love and connection with all things I’ve ever felt in my life. The second night was different and everybody knows that aya will do you that way. The second night my stomach was hurting, my mouth contorted like a panther and I actually turned into a panther. And I was doing like, GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. … Toning is another way of purging. And toning is where you make these vibrational noises that you can’t control. It started playing me like an instrument.”

As he said the GQ story, “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. 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….”

“My training was living. My direction was living,” he told NPR. “And what I mean by that is, like you said, I’ve been kind of preparing you to always be expecting the unexpected from me. That’s what’s been given to me. When I was a kid, I liked to draw and paint. My mom thought I was going to go to art school. I was supposed to go to Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. And that just didn’t happen. I discovered rap. I didn’t know I’d be rapping. I didn’t know I’d start producing. I didn’t know I’d start singing. I didn’t know my style would go a certain way. I didn’t know I’d put a wig on. Like, I didn’t know none of this. So I’m on the ride with y’all. I’m expecting anything just like y’all. I didn’t know I’d be playing a flute.”

“I love rap music because it was a part of my youth,” he added in the NPR interview, “so I would love to be out here with everybody rapping, because it’s almost like fun and being on the playground. I would love to be out here playing with everybody, but it’s just not happening for me. This is the realest thing that’s coming right now. Not to say that I would never do it again, but those are not the things that are coming right now. And I have to present what’s given to me at the time.”

After listening to the album and diving into his thoughts on its stylistic shift, it’s clear that André 3000 realized his out-there vision for the project—even if that vision likely doesn’t mesh with your own wishes. I guess we all have to take a page out of the Three Stacks playbook and accept what’s being presented to us at this time—or, you know, just go listen to Stankonia.

Listen to New Blue Sun, the new instrumental flute album from André 3000, on the platform of your choice here or stream it below.

André 3000 – New Blue Sun – Full Album