André 3000 is an enigma.
Rarely sitting down for interviews and largely avoiding industry events, the rapper has been followed by questions: Where has he been? What is he up to? Will we ever get another OutKast album?
It turns out it’s easier to get in touch with André than you might expect. Just don’t look for him in the studio or front row at A-list events. If you want time with Three Stacks, your best bet is to run into him at restaurants, book stores, or busy city streets.
Dozens of fans have been sharing stories of fluke interactions with the 44-year-old rapper. Similar to the way a legend has grown around Bill Murray for wild stories about the actor crashing bachelor parties and photobombing engagement shoots, André is developing a reputation for being extremely approachable on the streets of major American cities and doing things like playing a flute for 40 minutes in an airport or signing someone’s dad’s cantaloupe in a grocery store.
For years, there have been rumors of André casually strolling the streets of New York City’s SoHo neighborhood by himself and sharing words of wisdom with fans. But more recently, stories of run-ins with the rapper have gone viral and attracted extra attention to his approachable ways. At first, there were photos of artists like Aminé running into him in SoHo. Then a fan shared a viral tweet about meeting the rapper in New York while she was wearing a shirt with his face on it. Later, witnesses saw him playing a Mayan flute in a Philadelphia. Eventually, these sightings evolved into a series of fan stories around the country from New York to Philly to Atlanta and Los Angeles.
It doesn’t take long to notice André 3000. He often downplays his appearance by wearing simple clothes and rocking headphones, but his recognizable mannerisms and signature gentle voice usually give him away. Aaron Heard, a vocalist and bassist in Philadelphia, says his “head spun around like I was in The Exorcist” when his girlfriend noticed the rapper while shopping in Chinatown: “We locked eyes and André looked away immediately as to not draw any more attention to himself. But it was too late.”
Many of the fans who have run into him say they don’t understand why or how a superstar of his stature casually walks around without an entourage or flashy jewelry. “Do you realize how much of a legend you are?” asked Jason Holzman, who was taken aback by their January 2019 meeting in Soho. André responded by telling Holzman that he “doesn’t always feel like a legend.” Although André did acknowledge his lasting impact on music and pop culture, he explained that he prefers to be a “regular dude.”
When Erik Vance ran into André at Atlanta’s popular chicken joint, J.R.’s Cricket, the rapper took a seat at his table to get to know him and discuss their love for teaching. “I told him I was a teacher for Atlanta Public Schools, and he told me that was always one of his dreams to become a teacher,” Vance recalls. That moment meant so much to Vance that he bought a 2014 photo of André at the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park wearing a jumpsuit with “Teachers Deserve More” printed on the chest. “Now I have this picture in my classroom to remind myself that my all-time favorite considers our career as educators and sees our importance.”
In May 2019, Zahara Jaime was onstage playing a small indie shoegaze show with her band Eyedress when she was startled to see André hanging out in the crowd. The rapper had ducked into a small venue called The Smell, which is “small inside like someone's living room” and somewhat hidden from the public down an alley. “He was dressed sort of incognito with a giant coat on,” Jaime remembers. “He watched our whole set then a bunch of people started coming up to him in the crowd for pics and he suddenly left.” Poof. Just as quietly and mysteriously as he had entered, the rapper was gone, on to his next adventure.
André 3000 is much more willing to stop and listen to aspiring artists than the average rapper. When Franklin Oliver (who performs as Feight Da Dawn) walked up on André as he was playing the flute in Philly’s Old City, he got to play some of his music on the spot. “I told him that I was known as a Little André 3K my way and it made him smile,” he explains. “I was already playing one of my songs on the phone so he leaned in a little to see if he heard himself in my style.”
Chiyeung Lau, who met André in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, remembers receiving creative advice: “He told us that the best artists take from other fields and make it their own.” Lau remembers André advising inspiring musicians to “get inspiration from other genres. If trap artists only listen to trap music, it’s like incest. You need outside inspiration to create new things.”
Some fans say they connected with with the rapper most deeply when talking about family. When Aaron Heard told Three Stacks that his girlfriend was expecting a child, Andre’s “face lit up with a genuine smile.” Heard asked him, “How did you keep a healthy balance of making your money and being a father?” In response, André gushed about raising his son, Sevyn, who he shares with Erykah Badu. “He talked about focusing on what’s important and pushing aside trivial distractions,” Heard remembers. “He also stressed to me that children aren’t being bad, but are genuinely curious about everything happening. Patience is key.”
André’s lesson about patience is a rule he extends to everyone he crosses paths with. Aley Arion, who crossed paths with him at a Whole Foods in downtown Los Angeles in June 2019, can confirm it’s an innate quality. “As I was getting my phone out [to take a photo], my hand began to shake uncontrollably,” she recalls. “I told him about my current inability to calm my nerves, so he grabbed my forearm and warmly told me, ‘It’s gonna be okay,’ Once I got a worthy photo to commemorate the encounter, I finally asked him for a hug. He gave me the warmest embrace of my life. It was magical.”
Most fans leave their conversations with André 3000 feeling excited and full of superlatives. Arion goes so far as to compare the experience to a spiritual awakening. “I honestly never felt more connected to God,” she asserts. “I really felt like he had come into Whole Food at that very moment for me. Seeing him was like a divine reminder that I am in fact on the right path.”
Many of these interactions include a photo, which André happily indulges in. But fans leave with much more than an Instagram post.
“It felt empowering, especially from someone who played a big part in making me feel comfortable with being an alternative black kid growing up,” Heard says. “I get to tell my child about this someday.”