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André 3000 on his new album, the first in 17 years

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Andre 3000 is best known for being one half of the legendary rap group Outkast.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY YA!")

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OUTKAST: (Singing) Hey ya. Hey ya.

SHAPIRO: That's their 2003 smash hit, "Hey Ya!" The group's distinct sound made them stars, and Andre 3000's style, artistry and lyrics turned him into an icon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSA PARKS")

OUTKAST: (Rapping) Many a day has passed. The night has gone by. But still I find that time to put that bump off in your eye. Total chaos for these players thought we was absent. We taking another route to represent the Dungeon Family.

SHAPIRO: But his new album is a departure from the sound that made him a superstar - all instrumental, no words.

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(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "THE SLANG WORD P**** ROLLS OFF THE TONGUE WITH FAR BETTER EASE THAN THE PROPER WORD VAGINA. DO YOU AGREE?")

SHAPIRO: The album is called "New Blue Sun," and he recently discussed it with NPR's Rodney Carmichael. Andre 3000 says he's always loved playing instruments, and it comes easier to him than writing lyrics, especially when compared to rapper Big Boi, the other half of Outkast.

ANDRE 3000: You know, Big Boi, he just kind of going down, like, really - like, he's so fast and, like, efficient with what he does. And I - like, it'll take me a minute to throw them down. So, you know, in these times, it's just - it just comes harder for me to do it.

SHAPIRO: He says the title, "New Blue Sun," stands for the new direction his music is taking. He began by explaining why he loves the instrument at the center of this album, the flute. And a warning - this interview contains a description of drug use.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "THE SLANG WORD P**** ROLLS OFF THE TONGUE WITH FAR BETTER EASE THAN THE PROPER WORD VAGINA. DO YOU AGREE?")

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ANDRE 3000: I'm happy when I'm playing. I'm exploring when I'm playing. I'm thinking when I'm playing. I wouldn't say that it's a set-out meditation, but I do think you get into a meditative practice for, you know, staying in the moment. So yeah, I'm very happy when I'm playing. I'm very in the moment when I'm playing. Like, if I was on the corner, and somebody said, oh, man, that's Andre 3000. Man, rap - it would feel so weird for me to just start rapping.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: (Laughter) Yeah.

ANDRE 3000: But if somebody said, hey, play - what does that sound like? I'm so gung-ho to play. Like, I love to play it.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah.

ANDRE 3000: Like, it's so - yeah, I don't know. It's just a completely different - maybe because it's completely free.

CARMICHAEL: So let's get to the song titles 'cause you got some real clever wordplay going on with these song titles. I mean, they feel like part mind-altering and all, like, super humorous but also really lyrical and, like, literary, you know - and long.

ANDRE 3000: Yeah, they were long...

CARMICHAEL: (Laughter).

ANDRE 3000: ...On purpose because I knew, OK, if this album has no lyrics, that I would try to give as much, you know, thought or information in the titles.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. I would really love if you could read some of them for us, starting with the first song title 'cause I think it really addresses the elephant in the room right off the top.

ANDRE 3000: For sure. So the first song, the title is, "I Swear I Really Wanted To Make A Rap Album, But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time."

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "I SWEAR I REALLY WANTED TO MAKE A RAP ALBUM, BUT THIS IS LITERALLY THE WAY THE WIND BLEW ME THIS TIME")

ANDRE 3000: For me, like, I already knew how people would be looking at it, and I didn't want to, like - I didn't want to troll people. I didn't want people to think, oh, this Andre 3000 album is coming. And you play it...

CARMICHAEL: Sure.

ANDRE 3000: ...And you're like, oh, man, ain't no verses. So even actually on the packaging, you know, you'll see it. It says, warning - no bars. But also, like, this is true, man. Like, I love rap music because it was a part of my youth. So I would love to be out here rapping with everybody rapping because it's almost like fun and being on the playground. But it's like, it's just not happening for me. So this is the realest thing that's coming right now. Not to say that I would never do it again, but the title, you know, "I Really Wanted To Make A Rap Album, But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time" because this album is about wind and breathing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "I SWEAR I REALLY WANTED TO MAKE A RAP ALBUM, BUT THIS IS LITERALLY THE WAY THE WIND BLEW ME THIS TIME")

CARMICHAEL: Do you find that you're able to say things through the music that you can't with words?

ANDRE 3000: Yes. Now that, you know, people are finally hearing it, everybody has their own translation. And that's kind of cool because it's for you. You know, it's your thing. You can have your own thoughts with it. I have my own thoughts. And one cool thing about flute, like, whatever mood I'm in, if I'm playing, I can be saying anything. And, you know, it's for me. Like, some - it's funny, like, some things, like, in society, you can't say out loud, especially now. You know, everybody's kind of, like, really sensitive about things.

CARMICHAEL: Right.

ANDRE 3000: But you can say them with an instrument.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "I SWEAR I REALLY WANTED TO MAKE A RAP ALBUM, BUT THIS IS LITERALLY THE WAY THE WIND BLEW ME THIS TIME")

CARMICHAEL: Let's jump to track three. If you can say the title for that one, that would be good.

ANDRE 3000: OK. So track three is titled, "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."

(LAUGHTER)

CARMICHAEL: Now, I ain't going to lie, man, this sound like a straight-up ayahuasca trip or something like that.

ANDRE 3000: That is exactly what I was talking about.

CARMICHAEL: OK (laughter).

ANDRE 3000: Yeah.

CARMICHAEL: Well, you got to tell me the story behind this night, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "THAT NIGHT IN HAWAII WHEN I TURNED INTO A PANTHER AND STARTED MAKING THESE LOW REGISTER PURRING TONES THAT I COULDN'T CONTROL... S*** WAS WILD")

ANDRE 3000: Yeah. I was actually in Hawaii, and it was my second night of the first time I'd ever taken ayahuasca. The first night was inviting and beautiful and, like, the most powerful love and connection with all things I've ever felt in my life. The second night was different.

(LAUGHTER)

CARMICHAEL: So the second night, my stomach was hurting. My mouth contorted like a panther, and I actually turned into a panther. And I was doing like, (growling).

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "THAT NIGHT IN HAWAII WHEN I TURNED INTO A PANTHER AND STARTED MAKING THESE LOW REGISTER PURRING TONES THAT I COULDN'T CONTROL... S*** WAS WILD")

ANDRE 3000: And it holds you for so long. I'm like, where's this breath coming from? And then you end off, and you go - (deep breathing) - and do it again. And I'm like, whoa, what is happening right now? So that's what I'm talking about on that title.

CARMICHAEL: Was it scary at the time? Or was it - like, how did it make you feel at the time?

ANDRE 3000: It was kind of intriguing at the time because, I mean, the sound listener in me, I'm digging the sound. But at the same time, the shaman is coming - he comes over, and he's, you know, fanning me. And, you know, he's saying, oh, that's like 20 years of therapy happening right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "NINETY THREE 'TIL INFINITY AND BEYONCE")

CARMICHAEL: What is it that you hope this generation, you know, takes from this particular project and this moment in your creative art?

ANDRE 3000: Explore, man. Explore. That's what it's about. Like, you don't have to stay in a certain way. And I think, I mean, do you - they know it now. Like, if it calls you, you know, test it. So I just really want to be inspiring for people and to look at it and be like, yeah, I want to explore.

SHAPIRO: Andre 3000 speaking with NPR's Rodney Carmichael.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRE 3000'S "NINETY THREE 'TIL INFINITY AND BEYONCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rodney Carmichael
Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Tinbete Ermyas