(CNN) — André 3000, half of the beloved rap duo Outkast and obscure flute aficionado, hasn’t released a proper solo rap song since he and Big Boi recorded their final album in 2006.
André’s fans have relied on memorable but brief features (his verse on Beyoncé’s “Party”) or barely-there snippets (the two words he sings on Kanye West’s “30 Hours”) to hear the rapper’s velvety voice.
Now it seems fans will have to keep waiting for Dré’s grand return to rap: In an interview with GQ tied to last week’s release of his instrumental flute record “New Blue Sun,” he said it sometimes “feel inauthentic for me to rap because I don’t have anything to talk about in that way.”
“I’m 48 years old. Not to say that age is a thing that dictates what you rap about, but in a way it does,” he told GQ. “What do you talk about — I gotta go get a colonoscopy? What do you rap about — my eyesight is going bad?”
Those who have followed the Atlanta favorite since Outkast’s first album nearly 30 years ago would undoubtedly be thrilled to hear Dré rap candidly about aging. But 48 is by no means rap’s retirement age. Genre stalwarts like Jay-Z, Eminem, Missy Elliott, the duos Black Star and Run the Jewels and even former bandmate Big Boi have found material to mine well into their late 40s and early 50s.
Others have set rap down to enter new phases of their careers beyond music — Pharrell is leading Louis Vuitton’s men’s division, and Dr. Dre became one of the richest men in rap after he sold his popular headphone brand Beats to Apple for billions of dollars in 2014.
André, as ever, is charting his own path, appearing in recent films by acclaimed directors Noah Baumbach and Kelly Reichardt, while still being spotted by fans across the world, often with a woodwind in hand. He even hinted to GQ that he secretly played on some of the flute-heavy tracks released by beloved rappers in the last several years.
His new album has courted acclaim for its ambient, engrossing musical landscape. But if André ever decides to return to rap for more than the occasional feature, he’s got plenty of influential artists’ examples to follow.
Rappers have stayed relevant for decades by finding new strengths
André and Big Boi started recording their debut Outkast record, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” when they were teenagers. That album was about growing up in the South, a region the music industry had long ignored at that time when it came to rap, and the lengths the two had to go through to receive recognition.
Their rap matured over several acclaimed albums, and it became more distinctive, too: The 2003 double album “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” saw the duo recording what were effectively solo albums that explored their respective strengths, and André emerged a master of funk love songs in the vein of Prince, albeit with his own off-center spin.
Now, 20 years later, André has debuted another new side, heavy on woodwinds. But aging hasn’t stopped many rappers of his generation from pushing their own boundaries and ascending to new levels of success and acclaim as they age.
Jay-Z was 47 when he released “4:44” in 2017, a starkly candid portrait of his marriage, familial history, anti-Black racism and the darker sides of his prodigious success. It was met with glowing reviews, Jay’s best in years, and was rewarded with eight Grammy nominations.
“Older” rappers can still produce a prolific output: Run the Jewels, a rap super-duo comprised of frequent Outkast collaborator Killer Mike and indie rapper-producer El-P, have released four albums in 10 years. Mike, 48, came up with Outkast in the Atlanta rap scene in the early 2000s, and he’s since leveled socially conscious lyricism into activism, maintaining his influence across industries.
Rappers who take years, even decades, between albums are often met with heightened anticipation despite their absence. Mos Def (who now goes by Yasiin Bey) and Talib Kweli formed their duo Black Star in 1996, when both men were in their early 20s, before launching successful solo careers. They reunited for the 2022 album “No Fear of Time,” promoting it with performances on “Saturday Night Live.” Rolling Stone’s Will Dukes, in a five-star review, called the album “searingly relevant” 24 years after the duo’s debut album.
Many rappers are not discarded when they age; they’re celebrated. Jay-Z and LL Cool J were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, with Eminem following in 2022 and Missy Elliott this year. Their inductions came more than 25 years after their respective debut albums, and all, with the exception of LL, have at least featured on tracks in the last two years.
And artists like Big Boi, André’s longtime friend and the other half of Outkast, have stayed relevant in rap among changing trends and emerging styles by staying true to themselves. Big Boi’s last solo album, 2017’s “Boomiverse,” was released the same year as Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer-winning opus “DAMN.,” Jay-Z’s “4:44” and Migos’ breakthrough “Culture.”
Critic Jayson Greene, writing for Pitchfork, praised Big Boi for forgoing hip-hop’s defining trends of the time to make something entirely his own: “Everyone on Boomiverse sounds out of touch and fantastic,” Greene wrote.
Outkast fans have largely embraced “New Blue Sun” as a new phase for their beloved Three Stacks, though many of them remain hungry for their favorite rapper to return to rapping. André knows his fans are hungry, too: The opening track to “New Blue Sun” is titled “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.”
He hasn’t completely starved his listeners, though: Earlier this year, he appeared on Killer Mike’s album “Michael,” opening the track “Scientists & Engineers” with a meditation on success that includes the following line: “Hope I’m 80 when I get my second wind.” There’s hope for those who desperately miss his idiosyncratic rhymes and dulcet tones that he may one day record a solo album — even if it takes another 30 years.
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