Back in the day I was a music journalist. I interviewed some wonderful artists like Dianne Reeves, Donald Byrd, Omar, and Bahamadia. I grew up in an apartment filled with jazz records, I became a hip-hop fanatic, an NYC club enthusiast, an avid concert goer and a writer. Back then I was also a budding poet. One day my most beloved mentor told me that I didn’t need to be doing the music journalism thing because I was just doing public relations for multimillion dollar corporations. I took his words to heart and shifted the focus of my journalism.
When the brilliant poet Nikky Finney talks about poetry she says, “don’t leave the arena to the fools.” Music journalism is an arena that has been left to many fools. When my mentor told me not to waste time on music journalism, he was not taking into consideration the real work of it, the craft, the study, the ways a music journalist steeps sound in history, traces lineage and legacy. A music journalist does way more than say “I like this” “I don’t like this.” Or at least they used to do more than that.
Just what does this have to do with André 3000’s offering New Blue Sun? Everything.
I don’t judge soccer players by the rules of tennis. I remember when OutKast dropped their first single. I was a student at Clark Atlanta University and my boy Walter was all about “Player’s Ball.” I usually hated the music that Walter liked but that wasn’t the case with OutKast, I started listening right away. And I never stopped. When 3000 said he was coming out with an album with no rap, I knew right away that I would have to listen to it like I had no idea who he was. The rules of OutKast were not going to apply. And they don’t. A lot of opinions will be thrown around about this album but listening to many of those is gonna be like listening to a tennis commentator fumble through describing the action at a soccer game. So listen here…
A person who loves Black music, or a real music journalist would tell you that to listen to New Blue Sun it would help to be familiar with Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Eric Dolphy. It would be wise to consider Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants. It would help to think about the legacy of Black musicians who turn to otherworldly sounds because we need other-worldly possibilities to help us move beyond the hellish situations we find ourselves in as Black people in the United States. We need sounds to dream with and André is offering us those. I say “thank you.” 3000 used to give us poems to provoke thought, but now he is giving us a soundscape, a space where we can dream, imagine, hear our own thoughts.
In his GQ video he talks about how engineers say we are at the loudest point we have ever been at in human history and so even at the boards they turn the sound way up. He explains that they engineered New Blue Sun differently. He also says that what we are hearing on the album is a conversation, a call and response that comes from listening deeply. Listen. What are you called to do? Who are you called to be? How are you called to be that? New Blue Sun gives us space to ponder these questions and more. I think Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Eric Dolphy are smiling at this ATLien Sun sprouting into another version of himself.
The greats take heat when they switch things up. John Coltrane was lambasted by jazz critics when he went full-fledged free. Now they say he is a legend. Full-fledged free. Think, my husband says, about when Alice Coltrane went to the ashram. Think about art as a process and not a commodity. Think of an artist as a person not a product. Determine your own adventure, André. We are right here with you. New Blue Sun. Lighting a path. Full-fledged and free.