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André 3000

Boundless imagination, technical excellence, and bold eccentricity combine to make André 3000 not just one of the best rappers in the game, but a transcendent, once-in-a-generation talent. As half Atlanta rap group OutKast, André 3000's intricate, often cosmic bars served as a weird and colorful foil to his partner Big Boi's more earthbound street rap tendencies, and this chemistry resulted in albums that became increasingly ambitious as OutKast's influence grew. 3000 became even more enigmatic following his group's shift to dormancy in the mid-2000s. Having fully arrived at the status of world-class, paradigm-shifting music star, he largely stepped away from rap to pursue acting, fashion design, flute, and other creative avenues while showing up every so often to surreptitiously deliver a head-spinning feature on tracks for Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Kid Cudi, or James Blake. More than 15 years after OutKast's last album was issued, André 3000 again defied expectations when he released his debut solo album with little lead-up. 2023's New Blue Sun was not the return of one of rap's greatest superpowers many fans may have been expecting, but an entirely instrumental album focused on André 3000's flute playing. André 3000 was born André Benjamin in Atlanta, Georgia in 1975. In high school, he met classmate Antwon Patton (aka Big Boi), and they began rapping together under the name 2 Shades Deep in 1992 when they were both 16 years old. The group quickly rebranded themselves OutKast and signed with Arista Records subsidiary LaFace for the release of their 1994 debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. OutKast were an immediate hit, with a mellow, funk-heavy, and distinctively Southern style that fit perfectly among the best of hip hop's mid-'90s golden age. The album went platinum, and the duo's next few albums (1996's ATLiens and 1998's Aquemini) became more musically experimental and stylistically diverse. Still performing as Dré at this point, Benjamin's rap style often had a distinctively interstellar character to it, and his complex, speedy flows could be emotionally naked or outlandish depending on the line. He had also begun producing in addition to rapping, and outside of the studio he was learning to play guitar and paint. The eventual breakup of a relationship informed OutKast's 2000 chart-topping hit "Ms. Jackson" off their fourth album Stankonia. By then, OutKast were a verified force in both rap and music writ large, winning Grammys, releasing albums that consistently debuted in the upper reaches of the charts, and influencing subsequent waves of new artists. Benjamin had officially started going by André 3000 (in part to avoid being confused with similarly successful rap presence Dr. Dre) and had begun moving further away from strict rap and hip-hop styles to explore different forms of musical expression. OutKast's fifth album, 2003's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below highlighted this, presenting a double album where each member of OutKast guided respective individual halves as quasi-solo albums. Big Boi's Speakerboxxx material consisted primarily of hyped-up party songs and roughneck rap workouts, but André 3000's songs for The Love Below were wildly eclectic, trying on different jazz, pop, electronic, rock, rap, funk, and other styles like casual costume changes. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was a commercial smash hit. It was the group's first album to debut at number one, and it would spend more than a year in the charts while generating two number one singles, Big Boi's "The Way You Move" and André 3000's peppily melodic acoustic guitar-led tune "Hey Ya!" It was awarded Album of the Year at the 2004 Grammys and would go on to become one of the best-selling rap records of all time, eventually going platinum 13 times over. The final OutKast album would be 2006's Idlewild, which doubled as the soundtrack to their film of the same name. Idlewild was even less rap-adjacent than The Love Below, with André mostly singing on tracks that drew from swing, jump blues, big-band jazz, and other forms of music that seemed antiquated compared to the futuristic funk rap the group got their start with. Following Idlewild, OutKast parted ways, with Big Boi going properly solo and 3000 taking a year off before he began showing up as a guest on other artists' songs in 2007. From that point forward, André 3000's creative output changed gears significantly. He still worked on music (steadily appearing on tracks by John Legend, Beyonce, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, A Tribe Called Quest, and many others, and even briefly reuniting OutKast for a run of festival appearances in 2014), but he spent a lot of time acting, designing clothes, and learning how to play the flute. He would sometimes show up unannounced playing flute in public places, which usually led to fans recognizing him and sharing videos online of one of the greatest rappers of all time furthering his strange, ever-unpredictable mystique. In 2018, he released two songs on his SoundCloud page, the emotional piano-based R&B tune "Me&My (To Bury Your Parents)" and a 17-minute instrumental duet between André on bass clarinet and James Blake on piano called "Look Ma No Hands." More rap-centric collaborations followed, including work with Anderson .Paak, Kanye West, Goodie Mobb, and Killer Mike. In 2023, with very little lead up, André 3000 released his debut solo LP New Blue Sun. The album was 87-minutes long, made up entirely of instrumental tracks with André playing various woodwinds, mostly different kinds of flutes. New Blue Sun was made in collaboration with jazz multi-instrumentalist Carlos Niño, and included guests Mia Doi Todd, Nate Mercereau, Matthewdavid, Diego Gaeta, and others. The album was released by Epic in November of 2023.
© Fred Thomas /TiVo


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