André 3000 on his surprise flute album: ‘It’s pure excitement – like a child seeing bubbles for the first time’

As one half of Outkast, he helped invent southern hip-hop, sold 20m records and won six Grammys. So why is his debut solo album a rap-free epic of new age and ambient music for woodwind?

For the past four years, André 3000 sightings have practically become a thing of folklore. The circumstances tend to fit a pattern: someone stealthily films the Outkast legend playing a wooden double flute in public, which triggers a social media frenzy. It’s like glimpsing Pan, the Greek god of the wild, jamming in solitary reverie at an outdoor yoga class in Philadelphia. He has also popped up in coffee shops, the streets of Tokyo and airports worldwide.

You are most likely to spot André in Venice, California, where this reclusive rap great resides when he is on the west coast. Here, on a Friday afternoon in late October, this mystic apparition is tooting his cedarwood Mayan instrument among the organic cafes and haute couture boutiques. Two professional camera operators are shooting the scene for a documentary about the creation of his long-awaited debut solo album, New Blue Sun, an instrumental epic of celestial new age and meditative ambient music. The lunchtime crowd at the Michelin-recommended restaurant where he sits down is delighted.

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