OPINION: Andre 3000′s lesson on attaining middle-age bliss

Andre Benjamin, also known as Andre 3000 of OutKast, talks about his Benjamin Bixby clothing line during the 2008 debut at Neiman Marcus. On Nov. 17, the artist, age 48, released his first new album in 17 years, an experimental, flute-focused journey that is a far cry from his previous recordings as part of the rap duo, OutKast.

Credit: ALLEN SULLIVAN / aesullivan@ajc.com

Credit: ALLEN SULLIVAN / aesullivan@ajc.com

Andre Benjamin, also known as Andre 3000 of OutKast, talks about his Benjamin Bixby clothing line during the 2008 debut at Neiman Marcus. On Nov. 17, the artist, age 48, released his first new album in 17 years, an experimental, flute-focused journey that is a far cry from his previous recordings as part of the rap duo, OutKast.

The one and only time I interviewed Andre 3000, we didn’t talk much about his music.

Back in 2008, we sat together on the sales floor at Neiman Marcus and discussed fashion.

The Atlanta artist, who had soared to fame as part of the rap duo OutKast, had just introduced his menswear line, Benjamin Bixby, and it was as clear then as it was earlier this month that this is a man who both embraces and defies convention.

He told me a story about making fake designer jeans as a teenager — cutting the triangle-shaped labels off of Guess by Georges Marciano apparel and sewing them onto Gap denim before dunking them in orange dye just to make sure he put his own spin on the clothing.

In the next breath, he shared how he spent time researching Americana, specifically 1930s football culture, to find the inspiration for his clothing collection.

Andre funded the Benjamin Bixby clothing venture himself, knowing that bringing on investors would mean compromising his vision of new-era khakis, oxfords and leather varsity bomber jackets.

The story I wrote about the clothing line included an opening sentence that makes me cringe now, though I thought back then that I was being clever. (And, no, I’m not going to repeat the sentence. Once is enough.) But, in my defense, I think I recognized in Andre a spirit of experimentation that inspired me to try a different approach to my storytelling.

One thing he said to me during that interview stood out: With music, with acting, with fashion, he didn’t have a particular plan. Just a willingness to try.

Andre 3000 in 2023 hasn’t strayed from that. On Nov. 17, one of the greatest rappers of all time released an instrumental flute album, “New Blue Sun,” leaving many of his fans surprised and confused.

But he’s doing what he always has done. And, for anyone who has reached middle age without having followed true passions, his journey offers an important lesson.

I like “New Blue Sun.” It feels good. But I’m not here to review his album. I’ll leave that to our very talented music critic.

I’m here to applaud Andre 3000′s willingness to keep doing what makes him happy, to not be more beholden to his fans than he is to himself.

If we’re lucky, when we reach a certain age, we learn to stop trying to be someone’s idea of who we should be. We’re freed of the need to prove something to everyone else. We’ve decided, at last, that we’ve earned the right to just be.

Now, as back in 2008, Andre is moving in whatever direction feels right to him.

“Sometimes it feels inauthentic for me to rap, because I don’t have anything to talk about in that way,” Andre told GQ magazine. “I’m 48 years old. Not to say that age is a thing that dictates what you rap about, but, in a way, it does.”

Certainly, there are artists who continue along the same path well into their 40s and 50s. But we also know that the middle years can be moments ripe for self-reflection and experimentation, for musicians or anyone else.

It’s a time to reassess life and tap into whatever is most meaningful to you. It is a time when you recognize your limitations.

Andre had the good sense to realize he wasn’t in a place to make a return to rap music. He wasn’t worried about meeting the expectations of others.

Since the 1960s, when Canadian psychologist Elliot Jaques coined the term “midlife crisis,” we’ve approached middle age — a time when our identities are shifting, and when some begin to question whether their best years are behind them — as a traumatic period that needs to be managed. But I think it should be viewed as an opportunity.

Jaques spent the years after age 48, when he came up with “midlife crisis,” writing prolifically, getting married and becoming an independent thinker whose most original ideas surfaced in his 70s and 80s.

I hope Andre’s new album has brought him new insights and closer to the things he values.

Whatever you think of its musical merit, “New Sun Blue” is a reminder of the importance of self-discovery later in life.

And it’s a call to explore the range of possibilities still out there.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.

About the Author