“Let’s not front / It’s my year,” Aminé announces in “Shimmy,” the first single from his album “Limbo,” which came out last month.
It’s a bold proclamation given the current state of the country. COVID-19 has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, civil unrest has gripped his hometown for months, and wildfires are burning largely unchecked throughout much of the West, including the musician’s adopted home in Southern California.
But coming from the Portland-born rapper, it’s entirely plausible. In many ways, he was made for this moment.
Four years ago, Aminé experienced a meteoric rise, almost entirely bypassing Portland’s local music scene on the way to mainstream success. The appeal was easy to understand. Propelled forward by the summertime jam “Caroline,” he existed in a (mostly yellow) technicolor world. The songs on his debut record were marked by catchy, keys-driven beats and the kind of cutting pop culture references that involuntarily curl the corners of your mouth. But it was his ability to deftly mix serious social commentary with irreverent humor and an almost unsinkable buoyancy that hinted at greater staying power.
On “Limbo,” that’s where he firmly plants his flag, establishing himself as one of the Northwest’s finest musical exports along the way.
The joyful quirkiness is still there, but on the album’s 13 songs (and one skit) it’s tempered with a healthy dose of what the musician refers to as “brutal honesty.” While that turn is certainly a sign of the distressing times we live in, Aminé also hinted at a deeper, existential cause in a recent conversation with opbmusic that also touched on his complicated relationship with Portland, his thoughts on the city’s protest movement, and the early musical influence of spending Sunday mornings with his parents.
Aminé will be the musical guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC this Thursday, Sept. 24.
Listen to the interview above or read the full transcript below.
Jerad Walker: I’m here with Adam Aminé Daniel, better known as Aminé, whose new album “Limbo” came out last month via Republic Records. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
Aminé: Yeah, thank you. Appreciate it.
Walker: I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I think you sound a little lost — maybe existentially — on some of these songs.
Aminé: I do feel lost. I’m kind of 26 years old, going through a quarter-life crisis, just becoming an adult, really coming into my own. And this is just a very honest album. I think it takes a lot of guts for an artist to just be honest like this on an album, because you don’t get to hear that that much in 2020 at least from a hip-hop perspective.
When I started making “Limbo” I though a lot about legacy. I was inspired by a lot of albums, but one that inspired me a while ago was “4:44” by Jay-Z where I got to hear this veteran and one of the all-time greatest rappers alive be brutally honest in his music. And I thought that is just dope. That to me is what makes somebody’s legacy really cool and something that would last forever, when you could just be honest. I thought I wanted to make something that I could play formy kids 10 years from now and listen to it and smile because what I say in a song really happened.
Walker: I think being jolted by a moment is not uncommon in your 20s or 30s, but one catalyst for you on this album seems to have been the death of Kobe Bryant. You reference his influence mostly on the song “Woodlawn.” Why Kobe?
Aminé: Kobe just affected every kind of young Black man in America who played sports. And for me, he was like a second dad that I saw on TV. I never knew a life without Kobe. So, um, seeing him die was tragic, you know, for me and my friends. So that was definitely something I wanted to touch on. But it isn’t the main focus of the album.
Walker: “Woodlawn” also prominently references your home neighborhood of Woodlawn Park. You were born and raised in Portland and went to Benson High. What was your experience like growing up here?
Aminé: It was OK. I mean, I lived in a very Black neighborhood, but throughout the years it got very gentrified and things changed. It’s not really the same anymore. It was bittersweet. You never, as a minority, you never felt welcome or felt like you belong there.
Walker: When you come back to visit your family, what are your impressions of the area?
Aminé: You know, I go back to Portland very frequently. It’s not like I stay months away from Portland. I was just there yesterday and I literally saw, like, five new buildings that I hadn’t seen last month. It’s just kind of crazy just how things change in the city.
Walker: You’ve never been one to shy away from political and social current events. And during an appearance on The Tonight Show, you famously launched one of the first artistic broadsides against then President-elect Trump in 2016 right after the election. I’m curious. Have you been following the protests in Portland?
Aminé: Yeah, very much so.
Walker: What’s your general take on all of it? Are you worried that the central message that “Black lives matter” might get co-opted by outside interests and political posturing?
Aminé: Yeah, because for me I’ve said this before as well, but it’s a beautiful thing to see the city come out in protest, of course, on their 100th day and everything. But you know, the same Black lives that they’re protesting for are the same Black lives that Portland doesn’t deem worthy. The people that have the Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns are the same people that are gentrifying the neighborhoods and kicking out Black families out of those neighborhoods. So it’s a bit hypocritical, and the city of Portland just has a lot of work to do. A lot, you know what I mean? I think it’s a beautiful thing that you can go out there and protest, but do you really deem a Black life worthy? That’s the real question I have.
Walker: Can you tell me about the song “Pressure In My Palms”? I feel like its vibe encapsulates a lot of people’s daily stress levels right now.
Aminé: Yeah, I guess that’s actually a good way to put it, but I don’t think I made that song with that intent. “Pressure In My Palms” was kind of this sample of my voice that we made two years ago, and it was at the end of another song and it was just a skit. And then we sampled it and made it into the song that you now hear, which is one of my favorite tracks on the album just because it embodies all these like pop culture references that I love to usually do in my music. And it involves two artists who feature on it that I’m fans of as well.
Walker: I was going to ask you about that. I really enjoy the features on this record, and this track, in particular, has Vince Staples and slowthai on it. Vince is nearby you in LA, but slowthai is based in Britain. How do collaborations like that come together?
Aminé: Well, if you know me, you know that I love to travel. So when I was in London, I recorded slowthai’s verses a year ago, and Vince pulled up in LA to the studio and recorded that. Those were just genuinely friends of mine, so asking them for verses on a song like this wasn’t hard.
Walker: One of my favorites on the records is the track “Shimmy.” It’s almost a love song to Old Dirty Bastard’s 1995 release “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” You were literally in diapers when that song originally came out. You were a 1-year-old. How did you come to music? You grew up in a home with parents from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Were they the main driver of discovery for you as a child?
Aminé: Definitely. The way my Sundays would start was I’d be woken up by loud music playing in the kitchen and my mom cooking, playing nothing but like Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and anything soulful. So that was my introduction to D’Angelo, to Erykah Badu, and my father was heavily into Bob Marley and just Ethiopian music in general. So I was raised in a very musical household.
Walker: What Ethiopian music, if you don’t mind me asking?
Aminé: A lot of Mulatu [Astatke]. Yeah, just like a lot of Ethiopian jazz.
Walker: What do your parents make of your success? How are they dealing with this?
Aminé: They didn’t really understand it at first, because it’s kind of out of the norm for a first-generation African kid, you know? So this was something that, genuinely, took them time to grow to understand. But they’re really proud and they’re like my biggest fans.
Walker: What were they pushing you to do before your music career?
Aminé: Yeah, just like any anyone coming from an African household, a doctor or a lawyer or something in marketing or advertising. So something simple like that and secure.
Walker: Well, a wildly successful hip-hop artist does not sound like a bad second choice, I suppose.
Aminé: Definitely not.
Walker: The record is “Limbo” and it’s out now via Republic Records. Aminé, thank you so much for chatting with us.
Aminé: Thank you. Appreciate that so much.