If not now, then when? It's a question that constantly ran through my mind as Rock The Bells planned our celebration of the 25th anniversary of OutKast's classic, ATLiens. If not now, then when? More specifically, when would there be a more appropriate time then to talk to André 3000?
As the events of 2020 and 2021 have shown us, time is precious, and tomorrow is never promised. In Hip-Hop, we tend to forget about the icons, and only in death, celebrate their storied careers. For all intents and purposes, André 3000, is semi-retired — save for a guest verse here and there with artists like Goodie Mob and Anderson.Paak. Three-Stacks pops up unannounced, like summer rain; refreshingly unexpected, only to disappear as quickly as he rolled in.
I'm reminded of what the literary critic, Orville Prescott, wrote in The New York Times in 1963 about J.D. Salinger.
"Rarely if ever in literary history has a handful of stories aroused so much discussion, controversy, praise, denunciation, mystification and interpretation.”
Salinger rebuffed the press, memoirs about his life and life with others, and a continuation of Holden Caufield's tale in The Catcher in the Rye. He wanted nothing to do with the spotlight. He told the Times in 1974, "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing."
I can't help but think that André 3000 feels the same way about recording new material.
It's unfair to call André 3000 a recluse. In fact, there's a sense of whimsy attached to his public sightings — often toting a flute — as if Hip-Hop's version of Puck from A Midsummer's Nights Dream. For all intents and purposes, he is out and about. One industry source close to Rock The Bells told me, "If you want to talk to André, it has to be in person." When I press for more details, she tells me going through conventional means (like through an agent or publicist) is as effective as treating dehydration with a thimble full of water.
"Got it," I said.
I'm told my best bet to find André 3000 is outside of Ruby's Cafe on Mulberry St. in Lower Manhattan. Perhaps Key and Peele were onto something when they did that hilarious sketch which explored André and Big Boi's relationship.
“I'll have a green half-caf, half-decaf mint mocha latte, foam on the bottom, in a vase.”
Sadly, I was unable to get to New York City to perform this important stake out, so I instead opted to give the assignment to a trusted friend who I thought would be up for the task. Since this friend was not a veteran journalist, I knew that I probably only had the opportunity to ask one question.
This whole mission stemmed from the desire to highlight what is unquestionably one of the best Hip-Hop albums of all time. ATLiens found OutKast embracing the roles of both MC's and producers on a project that sounded equally nostalgic as it did futuristic. But given what I assumed would be a major time constraint with André, it seemed rather ambitious to try and distill such a work of art into a single question.
Given the state of the world — with COVID deaths, political unrest, and just a general sense of hatred amongst people who may have been able to a civil discussion four years ago – I searched for a question that seems to fit the tenor of the country 25 years after ATLiens hit shelves.
Then, I discovered an excerpt from Mike Ayers' book, One Last Song, where he asked musicians about the song they want to hear before they die. André chose Prince's "Sometimes It Snows in April."
“Both of my parents are gone and they both died early,” he said. “Just out of the blue, when I least expected it. Even the lyrics, ‘Sometimes it snows in April’ is kind of like...it’s not the time it’s supposed to snow. So, it means something really serious happened when it wasn’t expected. The mood of the song always clicked in that sort of way. I never knew what Prince was talking about, but it sounded like he was talking about a life.”
A lot of us have been left to ponder the why of it all? Why did this pandemic happen? Why can't there be bi-partisan politics? Why is there a war on science? It seems — much like the idea of snow in April — that we're dealing with problems that shouldn't become the norm.
I had no luck finding André 3000 this time around. But perhaps that's the whole point of this exercise: classic albums don't require an explanation. They exist in time capsule form whenever anyone needs them.