André 3000’s “New Blue Sun” Models How Classical Music Can Engage New Audiences

Artists often comment on the pressure they feel from fans to produce new music and bring freshness and creativity to each project. But depending on how far artists stray outside of their normal style, experimentation can also cause pushback from supporters, who, it turns out, actually want to hear the music they’ve come to expect from that artist.

Known for his melodic “lover boy” approach to rap, Drake shocked listeners with his dance album Honestly, Nevermind in 2022. Jack Harlow faced widespread criticism for his second studio album, Come Home The Kids Miss You, which highlighted an inflated bravado, an undoubtedly different approach from his previous, highly-charismatic projects. Sister duo Chloe x Halle began releasing solo projects after their 2020 album Ungodly Hour, but despite achieving large-scale success as individuals, fans still implore them to release new projects together.

But granting artists the freedom to explore and expand their craft creates space for projects like André 3000’s New Blue Sun, released Nov. 17 on Epic Records. Best known as half of the rap duo OutKast, the rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer can now add “flutist” to his multi-hyphenate identity. The unexpected new solo album is a masterclass in creating soundscapes that are both spontaneous and deliberate; a far cry from “Roses” and “Ms. Jackson,” New Blue Sun is a visceral and ambient experience, offering a glimpse into the mind of an artist who has not released an album in nearly two decades.

André 3000 -- Photo by Kai Reagan

André 3000 — Photo by Kai Reagan

The album’s first track, “I swear, I Really Wanted To Make A ‘Rap’ Album But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time,” sets the tone with gentle electronic and percussive bursts that float in and out of soothing repeated chords. On a fully improvised album where words are noticeably missing, André 3000 ensures that listeners are never left to fend for themselves, grounding each track in familiar, cyclical patterns and providing descriptive titles. The title of the opening track is the most effective; tracks like “BuyPoloDisorder’s Daughter Wears a 3000Ⓡ Shirt Embroidered” and “Ants To You, Gods To Who ?” less so. While the track titles are unique and whimsical, liner notes or music videos might have been a better choice for creating a distinct point of departure for each improvisation.

While referred to colloquially as “André 3000’s flute album,” New Blue Sun deftly showcases collaboration. Performing on handmade flutes, contrabass flute, and EWI (electronic wind instrument), André contributes beautiful ideas and flourishes to the overall texture of each track, but the flute is not central to the album. “Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Your Lord & Savior J. C. / Bundy Jeffrey Dahmer, And John Wayne Gacy ” features pianist Diego Gaeta’s sensitive balance between  coming to the foreground and fading into the background. Moving effortlessly between repeated block chords, short flourishes, soloistic statements, and echoes of ideas presented by André, Gaeta is a notable standout while simultaneously fitting into the texture.

André 3000's "New Blue Sun" album cover

André 3000’s “New Blue Sun” album cover

“Dreams Once Buried Beneath The Dungeon Floor Slowly Sprout Undying Gardens” opens with the trance-like beauty of Nate Mercereau’s guitar playing that evokes a garden slowly coming to life. The track gains momentum as the garden comes alive, highlighting percussive outbursts of Carlos Niño’s instinctual artistry and exclamatory flute interjections from André before ending with a “fade to black.”

New Blue Sun is a testament to the importance of not tying artists down to any one particular genre, and instead, allowing them to explore their innate creativity. Regardless of the expectations placed on mainstream artists, people like André 3000 should have room to experiment with the sounds, rhythm, and styles that appeal to them.

This project also lends itself to a discussion about how classical music can engage listeners who were fully engrossed in this album, but have never set foot in a concert hall. Simply framing New Blue Sun as music without lyrics helped introduce André 3000 fans to the premise of the album and contributed to its success. Younger audiences and other thinkers and creators who are steeped in our chronically online culture are open to new styles, sounds, experiences, and genres if approached in an open and unpretentious way. By using colloquial language to describe what is happening in compositions, classical music institutions can work toward creating a culture conducive to learning and exploring in order to attract new, unexpected fans.


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