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Music / August 22, 2022

An oral history of André 3000 and his flute

Alessandra Hankinson on Twitter
Music / August 22, 2022

An oral history of André 3000 and his flute

Words: Dylan Murphy

Since the de facto split of Outkast, André 3000 hasn’t released much music. Since 2019, you are more likely to find him making unprompted public appearances with a double mayan flute. He’s played it in Starbucks, open mic nights and it’s even featured it on film soundtracks. Over the weekend it featured in a video by Supreme only adding to a growing mystique around an artist that’s been hiding in plain sight

Outkast fans will be acutely aware that André 3000 hasn’t released any material with Big Boi since the 2006 eponymous soundtrack for Idlewild. For artists that are precious about their releases and fall into the one-of-a-kind category, entitled fans on social media are a constant reminder of their perceived inactivity. Just look at Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar; each public appearance is documented and retweeted, every interview is forensically dissected and the sparsity of their movements only adds to the lore.

So when Supreme shared a video of André 3000 talking about creativity over the weekend, fans were rejoicing in the comments section. In the clip, he’s wearing his trademark blue and white pin-striped dungarees and is armed with a double mayan flute. It’s been his uniform in pretty much all his known public appearances since 2019 which have largely consisted of unprompted showcases of his double barrelled sidekick in coffee shops, open mics and streets corners across America.

It all started in June of 2019, when Antonia Cereijido posted a tweet celebrating the unexpected novelty of the hip hop icon playing the flute in an airport in Los Angeles. Since then, there’s been a regular stream of tweets and posts documenting André playing in various locations. It’s become one of the most unexpected fixtures in hip hop pop culture, but a wholesome one that acts as a feed reset.

In that same time period, André hasn’t really featured often in music. He’s had some features on music with the likes of Kanye West and James Blake, but for the most part he’s retreated from the industry. In the same year he started making the appearances with his flute, André featured in an interview with Rick Rubin on The Broken Record podcast. In the conversation at Shangri-La, he explained that he’d lost his confidence and the online examination of his art was paralysing.

“I haven’t been making much music man. My focus is not there. My confidence is not there. I tinker… I tinker a lot,” he said. “Like I would just go to my piano and just sit my iPhone down and record what I’m doing. Move my fingers around. I haven’t been motivated enough to make a serious project. I’d like to… but it’s just not coming.”

“Any little thing I put out… people nitpick it with a fine-tooth comb. ‘Oh, he said that word!‘ And that’s not a great place to create from. And it makes you draw back”.

The Atlanta icon did note that going against the grain was giving him the most joy right now.

“I’m trying to find out what makes me feel the best right now. What makes me feel the best is when I do these random… instrumental kind of things. They make me feel the most rebellious. I don’t like to go with the flow really. I don’t know why, but I just feel best when I don’t. So, I have to honour that. I have to honour that in a way.”

It’s not hard to see how someone who has felt uninspired and retreated from public life could scratch their rebellious itch by picking up a new instrument and playing it in public unprompted. Before the public appearances, he played the clarinet on ‘Look Ma No Hands’ and ‘Me&My (To Bury Your Parents)’ after his mother passed in 2018. Then earlier this year, his famed Mayan flute finally made it to a recording as he created four tracks for the soundtrack to the A24 film Everything Everywhere All At Once.

It’s even led to talk of some potentially special flute-powered collaborations. In an interview with Complex in 2020, Madlib even said he’d love to work on an album with André 3000 that features the flute throughout: “I mean, he can do a flute album with me if he wants. Pied Piper and the beat conductor.”

Sure, André hasn’t been releasing music in the same guise, but he’s finding joy in new outlets. Who knows when his next solo work will be released. Who knows if it ever will be released. We’re just happy he’s happy.

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