New Blue Sun
“Warning: no bars,” reads a label on the packaging of the first-ever solo album from André 3000. The idea of such a thing has haunted hip-hop fandom’s collective consciousness for nearly two decades: a full-length solo effort from Outkast’s Gemini counterpart, not counting his half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. In the Outkast years, André was known as the far-out yin to Big Boi’s earthier yang, and while the latter pursued a solo career following the duo’s 2006 hiatus, Three Stacks forged a less orthodox path. He designed clothes, produced a cartoon series, and took on a handful of acting roles, popping up every so often to rap a guest verse for Frank Ocean or Beyoncé. Meanwhile, he walked around playing the flute—a habit that, when caught on camera, was something of a meme, but had privately become a passion. The title of the first track on New Blue Sun, whose 87 minutes of cosmic flute experimentation are entirely wordless, is at once a caveat and a mission statement: “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a 'Rap' Album But This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.” In a poetic sense, it’s also a truth: The instruments he and his collaborators play here (contrabass flutes, Mayan flutes, bamboo flutes) are powered by wind, or, rather, breath. And it’s reflective of the kismet which guided the album into existence: He hadn’t intended to release his flute music until a chance Erewhon run-in with Carlos Niño, the Los Angeles percussionist and producer of spiritually oriented jazz. Basement jam sessions with Niño became the series of improvised compositions that make up the eight tracks of New Blue Sun, along with a community of like-minded players, including guitarist Nate Mercereau and keyboardist Surya Botofasina. From the players’ deepening chemistry, transcendent songs materialized—not unlike the bonds that once inspired the Dungeon Family from which Outkast emerged in early-’90s Atlanta. And though its meandering and meditative (though often hysterically titled) compositions exist in the tradition of Alice Coltrane, Laraaji, and Yusef Lateef more than anything conceivably hip-hop-adjacent, they’re animated by a similar spirit to that which made Outkast’s music stand apart: a dauntless dedication to one’s own vision, alongside a belief in the power of creative communion. In that sense, it’s the André 3000 album we’d been waiting for all along.