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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Andre 3000's 'NY Times' Q&A is a frustratingly brilliant read

Andre 3000 as Hendrix in the biopic <i>Jimi: All Is by My Side</i>, opening Sept. 26.
  • Patrick Redmond for XLrator Media
  • Andre 3000 as Hendrix in the biopic Jimi: All Is by My Side, opening Sept. 26.

The word "reclusive" has never felt right when used to describe Andre 3000.

J.D. Salinger was a recluse, before his 2010 death following more than 50 years out of the public eye. Phil Spector was a recluse, before a 2009 murder conviction sent him to a California prison. Sly Stone is still a recluse, even after that startling appearance at his Grammy Awards tribute in 2006.

Despite the geniuses who've been characterized by the word, it's always sounded like a curse. An adjective reserved for tormented souls who wilt away in silence leaving an adoring following in their wake. OK, so maybe that does fit Andre 3000 to an extent. But he's also consistently come across in interviews as "un-self-conscious." Which sort of contradicts what one would expect from a typical recluse.

New York Times music writer Jon Caramanica uses both words — "reclusive" and "un-self-conscious" — to describe Andre Benjamin in a new interview that went live on the Times' site today. The Sept. 26 theatrical debut of Andre portraying Jimi Hendrix in the biopic Jimi: All Is by My Side serves as the basis for their excerpted conversation. But they talk about a little bit of everything in between.

All in all, 3000 appears to be aging gracefully, even if he admits to often being in the dumps creatively, on the fence with rap, and over the OutKast nostalgia. Some of his revelations may be frustrating if you're a longtime fan of the band, but those who favor the kind of frankness associated with reclusive, un-self-conscious artists will understand why it's quite possibly the best Andre 3000 interview ever.

Here are some highlights, below, and a link to the whole thing at the bottom.

When asked whether there was any reluctance on his part to take on this Hendrix role after being attached to past Hendrix biopics, Andre admits to dealing with his own bouts of depression:

I may have said it to John [Ridley]: “Man, I’m old. I have gray hair. Get some young unknown kid to play Hendrix.” I turned it down. They kept at it. I actually asked my son, [Seven]. He said, “Yeah, man.” Honestly, I needed it in my life, too. Hendrix kind of saved me. I was in a not-so-great space, just in a dark place every day. I needed something to focus on to get me out of my depression and rut. Sometimes, when you’re alone, you can let yourself go. I knew if I got on a train with a lot of different people, then I couldn’t let them down.

On Hendrix willingness to be influenced by women and Andre's former relationship with Erykah Badu:

It’s funny, the parallels [to me]. People like to joke about [his former girlfriend] Erykah Badu, the mother of my child: “Oh, you completely changed.” I was on my path before I even met Erykah. But one thing I can say. I’m singing around the house, and Erykah’s like: “That sounds great. Why you not doing it?”

On the loss of both parents in two years and how that affected Andre's onstage reunion with Big Boi:

... it was actually the biggest blessing ever. These shows force me to have to be in front of those people, so it was good therapy for me.

When asked whether the outfits and costumes he wears onstage are his form of hiding, he offers a critique of the response to Coachella and calls nostalgia "a cage":

It’s always easier to play characters. They actually got André Benjamin the first night [at Coachella], and I clearly saw they don’t want André Benjamin. He loves what he’s done, but I hate cages, and sometimes nostalgia is a cage.

Why he decided to tour anyway:

Honestly, I never planned to go onstage again in that way. If I feel like I’m getting to a place where it’s mimicking or a caricature, I just want to move on. But I felt like: Let me do it now ’cause these kids [in the audience], it feels good to know that they’re happy. I really don’t actually get anything from performing.

On the advice Prince gave him after that first night at Coachella:

Yeah, I think people could see it at Coachella, the very first show. It was foreign. My head wasn’t there. I kind of fluffed through rehearsals. A few hours before the Coachella show, I get a message that Prince and Paul McCartney are going to be there. My spirit is not right, and idols are standing side-stage, so as the show started, I’m bummed. This is horrible. In my mind I was already gone to my hotel room halfway through. So Prince called a couple days after. It was my first time actually talking to Prince. He said: “When you come back, people want to be wowed. And what’s the best way to wow people? Just give them the hits.”

I’m explaining to him that I really didn’t want to do it. He said: “I’ve been there. I’ve tried to do other things. After you give them the hits, then you can do whatever.”

On his lack of inspiration to rap in recent years:

... My thing is I’m an idealist. What I get off on is doing things people said could not be done. And so if I’m at a place where I feel like I’m regurgitating or doing the same thing, it’s doing nothing for me. I get bored really fast. I saw a certain thing in rap. It started becoming acceptable. It wasn’t rebellious. So what could be more rebellious than singing love songs, emotional songs [on his half of “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”] when everybody else is mean-mugging, saying “I’m a player.” I want to say: “I love these bitches, man. I really do.”

When asked about those amazing, out-of-nowhere feature verses he's occasionally dropped on other people's songs over the past seven years, he says he "struggle[s]" with them. (If only more rappers did):

I struggle with the verses. I don’t sit around and write raps, I just don’t. Now the only time I’m really inspired to write raps is if an artist that I enjoy invites me to their party. So if Future calls and says, “Hey man, I want you to do this,” I don’t want to let Future down. I don’t want to let Lil Wayne or Drake down, because I love them.

And finally, on the likelihood of new music:

... No, I’d love to put out an album.

Sung or rapped?

It’s hard to say. [Laughs.] I’m just going to call it honest. I know this may sound morbid, but I was like, if I were to die today, I have all these half-songs on my hard drive, and I don’t want that.

Though I'm tempted, I'll refrain from posting Caramanica's entire freaking interview here, ’cause that would be wack. But do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. Still a lot of good stuff, including his experiments with visual art, how life as a full-time dad has affected his bachelor status, and his hatred for folding clothes etc.

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