André 3000, the unpredictable rapper, producer and songwriter best known as one-half of Outkast, is finally releasing a solo album. In a twist, it has no words.
Instead, “New Blue Sun,” due out Friday, “is an entirely instrumental album centered around woodwinds,” according to an announcement on Tuesday. Citing Laraaji, Brian Eno, Alice Coltrane, Steve Reich and Pharoah Sanders as influences, the musician has traded beats and raps for flutes and clarinets — a swerve he began some two decades ago as Outkast was winding down.
“I’ve been interested in winds for a long time, so it was just a natural progression for me to go into flutes,” André, 48, said in the announcement. “I just like messing with instruments and I gravitated mostly toward wind.”
The artist, born André Benjamin, last released an album with Outkast in 2006: “Idlewild,” the soundtrack to the duo’s movie musical. “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” the group’s Grammy-winning double album, arrived three years earlier.
In the time since, André has surfaced as a featured rapper on songs by Kesha, Beyoncé, Future, Kanye West and others, appearing most recently on Killer Mike’s “Scientists & Engineers,” which was nominated last week for two Grammy Awards (best rap performance and best rap song). In 2014, André and Big Boi reunited as Outkast for a run of festival concerts.
“I remember, at like 25, saying, ‘I don’t want to be a 40-year-old rapper,’” André told The New York Times in 2014, when he was 39. “I’m still standing by that. I’m such a fan that I don’t want to infiltrate it with old blood.” He added, “I don’t sit around and write raps, I just don’t. Now the only time I’m really inspired to write raps is if an artist that I enjoy invites me to their party.”
The first track of “New Blue Sun” is 12 minutes long and titled, “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album But This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.” (Other tracks on the eight-song ambient album include “Ninety Three ’Til Infinity and Beyoncé” and “Ghandi, Dalai Lama, Your Lord & Savior J.C. / Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy.”)
The album was co-produced by André and Carlos Niño, and includes contributions from the guitarist Nate Mercereau and Surya Botofasina on keyboards and synthesizers. André’s playing encompasses a digital wind instrument, a Maya flute and others of wood and bamboo, the announcement said.
For years, he has hinted at his new, preferred musical direction. On Mother’s Day in 2018, André released two songs on SoundCloud, “Me&My (To Bury Your Parents)” and “Look Ma No Hands,” centered around bass clarinet. And spotting the musician around the world with his woodwinds, from the Los Angeles airport to the streets of Japan, has become something of a game for fans.
In a new interview with NPR, André cited positive feedback for his ambient music from younger artists like Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean. “I don’t want to troll people,” André said. “I don’t want people to think, Oh, this André 3000 album is coming! And you play it and like, Oh man, no verses. So even actually on the packaging, you’ll see it says, ‘Warning: no bars.’”
“In my mind, I really would like to make a rap album,” he added in the announcement. “So maybe that happens one day, but I got to find a way to say what I want to say in an interesting way that’s appealing to me at this age.”