As the audience at the 1995 Source Awards lustily booed the hip-hop duo OutKast when Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and André “André 3000” Benjamin received the award for that year’s best new artist, André dropped one of his most memorable lines. “The South,” he told the crowd of East Coast and West Coast hip-hop heads, “got something to say.”
Not only did André 3000 have something to say, he had the most creative, rhythmically clever, Southern-inflected, word-splitting way of saying it.
Not only did André 3000 have something to say, he had the most creative, rhythmically clever, Southern-inflected, word-splitting way of saying it. Though he hasn’t recorded with OutKast in 17 years, his legendary guest verses on other artists’ songs have often been the best parts (sometimes the only good parts) of those songs.
I can’t be the only one who, for example, listens to André 3000’s verse and skips Ye’s on the 2021 single “Life of The Party.” There he questions the concept of heaven even as he tries to send a message to his mother and father there. He’s wondering if his father’s smile masked unhappiness and considers it unsurprising that both died of heart conditions.
He’s always, it’s seemed, had something to say.
But now he says he doesn’t. At least not through rap. Explaining his decision to release an album, out Friday, called “New Blue Sun” that features him playing wooden flutes, André 3000 told GQ in a video interview that he finds himself out of things to say.
“People think, ‘Oh, man, he’s just sitting on raps’ or like, ‘He’s just holding these raps hostage.’ I ain’t got no raps like that,” he said. “Sometimes it feels inauthentic for me to rap because I don’t have anything to talk about in that way. Like, I’m 48 years old and, not to say that age is the thing that dictates what you rap about, but in a way it does. Like I gotta go get a colonoscopy? Like what do you rap about? My eyesight is going bad?”
“I get beats all the time,” André 3000 said. “People send me songs like to get on remixes and stuff like that, but I don’t be knowing what to talk about most of the time.”
“I get beats all the time. People send me songs like to get on remixes and stuff like that, but I don’t be knowing what to talk about most of the time.”
André 3000 to gq Magazine
During this year’s 50th anniversary of hip-hop, we’ve seen plenty of legendary hip-hop emcees, many older than André 3000, rock the mic before adoring fans. But in the main, those old-school acts and their fans are cabbage-patching down memory lane. They’re not performing new (and certainly not cutting-edge) music.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Artists — even genius artists — peak. There’s no shame in an artist running out of things to say. Nor is there any shame in a hip-hop artist exiting the stage (or pursuing a new musical direction) when the words don’t flow the way they once did.
I’m the same 48 André is, and I can’t help but wonder if his admission that he doesn’t have anything left to say reflects a belief that, for people our age and older, hip-hop can speak to who and what we were, but not to who or what we are now. Snoop Dogg, for example, may still rap about smoking weed, but according to a social media post he made Thursday, he’ll no longer be smoking it.
Those of us who’ve been longing for an André 3000 hip-hop album or the reunification of OutKast aren’t wrong to want it, but there’s a time and a place for everything, including artists and the art they make, and the 3000 he made a part of his stage name is probably a signal from André that he never had any intention of going backward.
Many years ago, I watched a documentary called "Coming Back for More” made by a filmmaker determined to find Sylvester “Sly” Stone, the leader of Sly and the Family Stone, who had withdrawn from the public after a stellar hit-making career. The documentary made me uncomfortable. “Why am I watching a film,” I asked myself, “that effectively makes me a participant in a hunt for a person who’s given every indication that he wants to be left alone? Why does the director feel that just because he likes Sly’s music, he deserves to know where Sly is?”
More generally, why do we feel our favorite celebrities owe us their presence, owe us new albums that sound like their old albums, owe us anything at all, really? It seems especially problematic to demand such from André 3000 who has been open about his social anxiety. In his guest verse on T.I.’s “Sorry,” he apologizes to Big Boi: “I’m sorry I’m awkward. My fault for f---ing up the tours. I hated all the attention so I ran from it.”
Why do we feel our favorite celebrities owe us their presence, owe us new albums that sound like their old albums, owe us anything at all, really?
“It’s really unnatural to have that much attention as a human,” André 3000 told GQ, “or to have that much expectation as a human. I had to adjust to people filming you all of the time or just coming up to you [here he mimics someone taking a picture with a mobile phone] and that was so weird to me. Like very, very weird to me, and I didn’t like it.”
On “Aquemini,” the third OutKast album, the title track (a portmanteau of the duo’s Zodiac signs) begins, “Even the sun goes down / heroes eventually die / Horoscopes often lie / and sometimes Y / Nothin’ is for sure / Nothin’ is for certain / Nothin’ lasts forever / But until they close the curtain / It’s him and I, Aquemini.”
The curtain appears to have closed on him and Big Boi reconnecting. And though André 3000 isn’t dead, he appears to have sunset his rap career. “The New Blue Sun” is what’s rising. He’ll likely be OK if folks don’t like it. He’s been booed before.