top of page
Edition #8
Conflict and Context
Weronika Brzezińska
Edited by Laurine Heerema

I Swear, I Really Wanted to Write About “conflict” but This is Literally the Only Thing I Can Fall Asleep to These Days

So I am going to write about peace. Specifically, the feeling you get when listening to André 3000’s debut solo album, New Blue Sun. André 3000 is half of the legendary rap group Outkast, who after releasing their final and most ubiquitous album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (which gave us the ultimate classic “Hey Ya!”), took home three Grammys and disappeared. André fell off the surface of the Earth for almost two decades, doing only guest features and quietly releasing two tracks on Soundcloud, before announcing his solo return. Dubbed “the flute album,” New Blue Sun is a collection of New Age ambient, jazz-like, spa music led by André on different kinds of flutes, from digital wind instruments to contrabass. This amounts to eight meditative tracks that ooze tranquility and sound like they should be played on repeat in a fancy yoga studio. I didn’t manage to get through the whole album on my first listen, and the second time I fell into the most relaxed slumber.

It takes practice and patience to really give New Blue Sun the attention it requires. An entirely instrumental album that is introspective, open-ended and repetitive to the point of resembling wallpaper, it is a demanding listen for those of us who have only ever known how to shake it like a polaroid picture. Besides, the Canadian author and music critic, Carl Wilson, is right in saying that “flute parts usually aren’t as flamboyant and assertive as, say, a horny saxophone solo, so even the finest tend to recede into the collective consciousness” (2023). One thing is for sure: New Blue Sun is not what André’s fans were expecting, though it may be less surprising, perhaps, for those who have been following news about him more closely over the past years and have watched him pop up playing flutes at airports, in cafes, parks, street corners and laundrettes around the world. The reactions that the album has received over the past weeks are conflicted to say the least. While most people seemed to be intrigued, or at least amused by the idea of it, some were genuinely angry that André had given up his lyrical flow to pursue a career as a flutist. As Jordan Klepper put it on The Daily Show: “you don’t always have to stay in your lane. But try not to drive completely off the road into a damn flute store!” (2023).

André himself is self-conscious about this, and playfully addresses it in the title of his first track: “I swear, I Really Wanted To Make A “Rap” Album But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time”. Indeed, New Blue Sun was born out of a long and draining internal conflict. In an interview with Zach Baron for GQ, the musician opens up about the context in which he produced the album, admitting that for the longest time he was torn between what was expected of him and what felt authentic. Given that “Outkast’s first four albums not only helped invent and define southern hip-hop, but they also expanded the possibilities of music itself,” even the idea of André releasing “anything short of axis-shifting” was already a disappointment (Weiss, 2023). I am not one to judge whether New Blue Sun is or isn’t axis-shifting, but it doesn’t take much to see that the pressure of André’s fame and reputation as a rapper had become restrictive:

“There was a certain point where I just didn't know where else to go. You know, even now, people think - Oh man, he's just sitting on raps, he's just holding, holding these raps hostage. I ain't got no raps like that. It actually sometimes feels inauthentic for me to rap, because I don't have anything to talk about in that way.” (André 3000, interviewed by Zach Baron, 2023).

Since the beginning of his career, André 3000 always looked towards a sense of “authenticity” in his work. He created for himself and produced what he thought sounded good, even when his friends thought it would ruin his career, which famously was the case with “Hey Ya!”. So if what feels authentic to him now is playing the flute, then who are we to stop or judge him for it. And even though this isn’t strictly hip-hop, as Jeff Weiss put it, “it’s a continuation of his approach: the same breath control, ingenuity, experimentation and creativity” (2023). New Blue Sun can be understood as a form of rebellion against celebrity culture; an attempt to get people to consume the music, rather than the image of the artist behind it.

Oh, but asking us, contemporary pop culture consumers whose attention span is at a historical low (Lorenz-Spreen et al., 2019), to stop, clear our minds and actually listen for 90 minutes is an ambitious request. Nevertheless, for those of us who are up to the challenge, New Blue Sun can act as an entryway into a genre that offers a particular kind of “spiritual nourishment” in times of enduring existential dread and global conflict (Sherburne, 2021). Constantly surrounded by news of war, epidemics, gun violence, terrorism, genocide and the climate crisis, most of my contemporaries, including myself, are convinced that the world is ending. The “ambient-jazz renaissance,” as Philip Sherburne calls it, forces a much needed calm and patience in a world of constant overstimulation (ibid.).

According to Brian Eno, an artist who popularized the genre in the 1970s, an irrefutable quality that makes ambient music worthwhile is that it needs to be equal parts intriguing and ignorable (in Richardson, 2002). It needs to be based in conflict, in tension, but only very subtly so, resulting in the strange effect of making the background more interesting than the foreground. In other words, it’s a question of distributing sound in space. New Blue Sun has unofficially been produced by multi-instrumentalist and legend of the Los Angeles alt-jazz scene, Carlos Niño, who is extraordinarily successful at this in his own work. Knowing this, I was disappointed at how static the album felt in comparison, and how little control most of the tracks had over the space they occupied. For the longest time it remained unclear to me whether there was such a thing as a comfort zone for André 3000 in this album, not only as an artist, but also as an incredibly celebrated public figure. Was he seeking it or trying to step out?

In one of the best reviews of New Blue Sun so far, Sadie Sartini Garner writes that “it’s more successful as a symbol than as an album” (2023). Perhaps this is why the majority of articles and interviews about it pay little attention to the music per se, compared to the sociocultural context in which it was produced. However, my experience of the album changed precisely when I stopped thinking about it as a symbol and began thinking about what it meant to me; what it means to be active in the music. I began to trace the personal context in which I was listening. Specifically my experience of liminal spaces, because that is what New Blue Sun is about - the sensation of hovering somewhere between belonging and unbelonging; like standing in a door frame, unsure whether to step inside.

Let me tell you a story:

Many years ago, when we were twelve years old, dumb and fearless, in an act of rebellion and perceived invincibility, my friend and I used to climb the school fence and go exploring. There were two abandoned buildings nearby. The one next to us was an old school, which, according to a legend that may have been real or we may have made up, was haunted. Although the entrances and windows were barricaded, we soon took over the courtyard, where, in a world of our own, we lived our first kisses, first cigarettes, first sensations of real and autonomous danger, first heartbreaks. We used to go there often, even later as we grew softer into our teenage temperaments; until one September, when we came back from a long and hazy summer, we found that the building had been knocked down. The wild grass, which used to reach our knees, was mowed and removed. It was as if the school had never existed. Eventually a clean, elegantly glazed, international kindergarten appeared in its place. They built their own fence too, tougher and much harder to jump over.

The other building, the one across the main road, still stands abandoned, though I’d be afraid to go inside now. Twelve-year-old girls are never afraid. We found it in the first weeks of the year. In our trainers and school clothes we ran across the road and into the bushes, careful not to slip in the wet mud. There was no fence, only trees that stood between us and the box-like wooden building painted gray. I watched it rise between the branches, imitating the sky, and my friend, who was always the braver one, went in first. There was a pronounced, self-aware silence inside, and dust swiveled in the room as we did, with our heads tilted upwards. The ceiling was miles away, hanging inaccessibly above us with peaceful streaks of shadow.


There were books on the ground, moist and burnt, and I thought that maybe, when it was alive, that this place was a library. We went up the stairs, covering our adrenaline up with reverence. Inside one room was a window, which probably wasn’t stained glass, but I remember it as if it was; inside another was a sofa and several syringes on the floor; inside another a charred wall. Each new space that opened itself up before us held its own story and we invented ghosts to follow us through the corridors. Oh, how free and curious and dangerous we felt! Descending the stairs into the cellar, where daylight did not reach, we thought we heard someone breathing.

Entering this place felt like leaving our world, or at least transcending it, and there was an unspoken agreement between us that we could not let this become familiar. We knew that every entrance risked irreversibly breaking the silence of the space, so we only went back once and then promised each other that we would never return. Yesterday, I broke this promise.

I had tried to listen to New Blue Sun many times before and, while it was great to intellectualize and fall asleep to, I came to the conclusion that, musically, it really wasn’t anything more than what you would expect to hear while getting an overpriced, yet underwhelming acupuncture somewhere in Los Angeles. But yesterday, when I woke up halfway through the third track, half-asleep and too tired to think about its pop cultural symbolism or genre context, suddenly I found myself back in this building. I can’t quite explain it, but I think I understood something about André 3000’s approach that I hadn’t been able to grasp before: if you don’t know the space, you cannot control it, and maybe you’re a little afraid to go too far in, cautious not to break the silence that keeps it sacred and undefined. To quote Sartini Garner one more time, “it can be incredibly moving to witness one of the most self-assured musicians of all time put himself in vulnerable artistic situations and enjoy figuring out how to navigate them.” In an almost child-like way, André seems to be exploring his lost musical building, venturing deeper into its uncanny corners and, every once in a while, indulgently immersing himself in its silence or its resonance.

Therefore, it’s not about moving around, it’s about peering inside. Depth, rather than movement. Listen to the third track in the album, “That Night In Hawaii,” and you will find yourself on the edge of the staircase, looking down into the dark cellar; listen to “BuyPoloDisorder’s Daughter” and you will find yourself looking into a corridor through the window at its end; listen to “Ants To You, Gods To Who ?” and you will be in the main hall, trying to find where the shadows end and the ceiling begins.

While there are many better albums that are able to do both, depth and movement, and are therefore much more interesting on the whole, what compels me about New Blue Sun is that, rather than with the confidence and control, or even caution of an adult, André explores his space with the curiosity, fearlessness and reverence of a twelve-year-old-girl, which I sincerely mean as a compliment and which I cannot help but relate to.


Baron, Z. (2023) André 3000 on his new album and Life after outkast: The gq video cover story, GQ. Available at: 

Lorenz-Spreen, P. et al. (2019) ‘Accelerating dynamics of collective attention’, Nature Communications, 10(1). doi:10.1038/s41467-019-09311-w.

Richardson, M. (2002) As ignorable as it is interesting: The ambient music of Brian Eno, Pitchfork. Available at: 

Sartini Garner, S. (2023) André 3000: New Blue Sun, Pitchfork. Available at:  

Sherburne, P. (2021) Ambient Jazz’s quiet, forceful return, Pitchfork. Available at: 

Weiss, J. (2023) André 3000 on his surprise flute album: ‘it’s pure excitement – like a child seeing bubbles for the first time’, The Guardian. Available at: 

Wilson, C. (2023) A Brief History of the Flute in Popular Music. Slate Magazine. Available at: 

Read more
Big Dipper

Idil Emiroglu

Fate and Reality: How Photography Afftects our Perception

Alexandra Steinacker Clark updated_edited.jpg

Alexandra Steinacker Clark

New Paths for Arts Engagement through the Emergence of the “Artfluencer”

bottom of page