Review: Andre 3000′s ‘New Blue Sun’ is less about soul and all about peace

The album is daringly experimental, but it doesn’t firmly nail the landing
Andre 3000's "New Blue Sun" is his first album in 17 years. Photo: Courtesy of Tretorn

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Andre 3000's "New Blue Sun" is his first album in 17 years. Photo: Courtesy of Tretorn

“Let that Black man be creative.”

Someone shouted that from the audience at Atlanta’s Tara Theatre on Friday night as the credits rolled for the visual companion to Andre 3000′s flute-centric album “New Blue Sun.” The theater was one of three locations across the country where the legendary emcee chose to have listening experiences for his first LP in 17 years. Across the street, an apartment complex is in utter wreckage. The damage is so loud and lurid that it’s hard to ignore. Because around the same time last Friday, a massive fire blazed. And apartments were shattered. And cars were destroyed. And streets were blocked off. And what some called home no longer looked like home anymore. Some lost everything. It’s hard to fathom that exactly a week later, Atlanta’s most mysterious rapper appeared at the same scene and conjured peace, albeit temporarily, amid destruction.

But that’s what music does.

New Blue Sun” is all roll and no rock, all blues and no rhythm. It’s often painfully soulless. But its peace is patient. Of the eight-track surprise album that dropped yesterday, the OutKast member told NPR’s Rodney Carmichael, “I guess in a sci-fi way, the next world or the next beings will be under a bluer, cooler burning sun. It will burn cooler, but it will be larger. So when you look up at the sky in these times, there’ll be this larger globe of bluish, still bright but bluish because it’s cooler. It’s kind of like this whole album and this whole direction is a new world for me.”

In turn, the music feels and sounds like an otherworldly ambient dreamscape that rewards tranquility. This new world order is not the youthful brash of Andre 3000 when he declared “The South got something to say” at the 1995 Source Awards (An AJC documentary of the same name explores the rise of Atlanta rap). It’s not the Andre 3000 whose futuristic style and southern-inspired bars about life in Atlanta made him one of rap’s most premier trendsetters as one half of OutKast—the best-selling rap duo of all-time. It’s not the post-OutKast Andre 3000 whose sporadic guest verses throughout the years would remind listeners of why he’s a goat lyricist without having one solo rap album under his belt. And it’s not even the enigmatic Andre 3000 whose random sightings of playing the flute became a meme for fans to adore.

New Blue Sun” is an extension of the rapper’s boundless creativity that’s often meditative and often hard to navigate. Co-produced by renowned percussionist Carlos Niño, the album features a stellar collection of collaborators including keyboardist Surya Botofasina, guitarist Nate Mercereau and more. It’s purely instrumental and thrives on improv. Its sound lies between the enduring tonality of Alice Coltrane and the whimsical stylings of Pharoah Sanders.

The song titles are the album’s most dramatic element. And they’re as long as the songs themselves. “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time,” the album’s opener, is over 12 minutes long and has haunting synths that anchor the beginning and chimes that sound like you’re entering an enchanting garden. Throughout the track, the digital wind instruments build an alluring melody that grows more intense as the song progresses, inviting listeners into Andre 3000′s foliage of wind-inspired musicality.

BuyPoloDisorder’s Daughter Wears a 3000® Button Down Embroidered” features short and patchy Mayan flute sounds that are often so dizzying that you feel like you’re embarking on a long trip with no destination in mind. “Dreams Once Buried Beneath the Dungeon Floor Slowly Sprout Into Undying Gardens,” is the longest song on the album at roughly 17 minutes. It’s a nod to the Dungeon Family, the pioneering Atlanta-based hip-hop collective that made a star out of Andre 3000 and so many others. It’s awash in loopy guitar synths, blaring cymbals and meditative chords that sound like the type of track you listen to when you want to become grounded. And the longer you listen, the more immersed you become in the scattering cacophony of sounds. Because patience is indeed a virtue.

A shining moment on the album arrives on its third track, “That Night in Hawaii When I Turned Into a Panther and Started Making These Low Register Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control ... [Expletive] Was Wild.” Inspired by an ayahuasca trip that the 48-year-old will never forget, the track sounds exactly like something that’s even more alluring if heard under the influence of drugs. The song leans on panther toning and drums that are menacing enough to make you feel as if you’re experiencing your own mental battle.

“New Blue Sun” becomes less interesting in its most minimalist moments. “Ninety Three ‘Til Infinity And Beyoncé” is a potent and poetic title, but the song itself is prosaic and doesn’t continue the album’s propensity for introspection. The album’s second track “The Slang Word [Expletive] Rolls Off the Tongue With Far Better Ease Than the Proper Word Vagina. Do You Agree?” is riddled in monotony. But even as the album’s intensity builds, its lack of soul and rhythm is often so biting that the appeal to listen to it again and again wanes. It contains the rich lineage and daring creativity of Black artists drifting away from sounds that they’re far too often pigeonholed in (from Stevie Wonder’s “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants,” and D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” to Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” and Lil Yachty’s “Let’s Start Here”), but “New Blue Sun” doesn’t firmly nail the landing.

When translated in film, this becomes even more true. The visual accompaniment, directed by Terence Nash (”Random Acts of Flyness,” ”An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”), attempts to be avant-garde minimalism but instead just becomes utterly confounding. It was like watching peaceful chaos unfold.

“What you hear is how we heard it as it was happening, so I hope you enjoy these formations or whatever you want to call them,” the rapper said at the beginning of the film. “I hope y’all are in a good place and happy somewhere.”

Outside of the introduction, the rapper never spoke throughout the film. He just performed a series of movements as the album played. There were times where I didn’t know what Andre 3000 was doing in the film or why he was doing it. It primarily featured the rapper, who donned blue-striped overalls, Jordans and a red beanie, against a blue backdrop adorned by candle. Sometimes he walked around on his heels while holding his flute. Sometimes he looked disgruntled while seemingly struggling to tie his shoe for five minutes. Sometimes he placed his shoes underneath a cone and rested on it. Sometimes he waved his flute like it was a sword or a cane or a toy or a basketball. Sometimes he revealed items like a white figurine and a rubber duck and positioned them extremely close to the camera as if it were show-and-tell.

And sometimes there were no movements at all―just him lying on the floor with his arms stretched wide like he wanted to completely surrender himself to the music. Maybe that was Andre 3000′s plan all along.